That feeling deep within your bacteria-ridden gut that Veggie Grill must be good for you is completely justified. I mean, its very name represents a merger of two unmistakable concepts that have both been reinforced for decades at a minimum: Vegetables are healthier than other food sources, and grilled food is healthier than food that’s been prepared via other methods. When a restaurant chain slaps those concepts together within the same title, what choice do we have other than to believe that Veggie Grill must be offering some of the most nutritious food on the planet?
But when compared to similar menu items from its fast-food and fast-casual competitors, how much better are Veggie Grill’s offerings really?
Let’s take a look…
Veggie Grill’s Bowl of Mac and Cheese vs. Macaroni Grill’s Truffle Mac and Cheese
The Truffle Mac and Cheese comes in strong at 1,060 calories and 2,970 milligrams of sodium. It also packs quite the macronutrient wallop, with 89 grams of fat, 24 grams of carbohydrates and 45 grams of protein. Veggie Grill’s Mac and Cheese Bowl weighs in with fewer overall calories at 800, and has way less sodium at 1,310 milligrams. However, it also flips the nutritional formula on its head, with less than half as many fat grams, but with 90 grams of carbohydrates and 16 grams of protein.
All things being equal, I tend to prefer fat and protein content to carbs, so I’d lean in favor of Macaroni Grill’s protein-packed offering despite it containing 260 more calories. If you want to adjudicate this round in favor of Veggie Grill on account of the sodium disparity, feel free, but it certainly wouldn’t qualify as an easy victory.
Veggie Grill’s Catalina Taco Salad vs. Wendy’s Full Size Taco Salad (with Tortilla Chips)
Wendy’s Full Size Taco Salad delivers 690 calories, 1,890 milligrams of sodium, 68 grams of carbs and 30 grams of protein. In comparison, the Catalina Taco Salad with dressing is 670 calories, with 1,430 milligrams of sodium, 75 grams of carbs and 19 grams of protein. I’m not quite sure how much to deduct from Wendy’s totals in order to account for the presence of tortilla chips, but this is also no clear-cut victory either way, and if you prioritize protein, you might even be tempted to declare this round to be a win for Wendy’s.
Veggie Grill’s Double BBQ Mac Burger vs. Burger King Barbecue Bacon Whopper
The Barbecue Bacon Whopper is a hefty sandwich, packing 800 calories, 1,540 milligrams of sodium, 51 grams of fat, 53 grams of carbs and 35 grams of protein. By contrast, the Double BBQ Mac Burger has 980 calories, 2,380 milligrams of sodium, 42 grams of fat, 74 grams of carbs and 43 grams of protein.
Does Veggie Grill’s offering taste better? Probably, though it depends how beefy its “beef” actually tastes. Does the fact that a head-to-head comparison of a Veggie Grill burger and a ready-in-seconds burger from Burger King is too close to call reflect well on Veggie Grill, which should be winning these battles by knockout? God no.
Veggie Grill’s Turkey Melt Sandwich vs. Boston Market Turkey Carver Sandwich
If you want to make a turkey comparison, you’ve got to start with folks who offer Thanksgiving dinner all year long. The Turkey Carver Sandwich is 970 calories, 1,930 milligrams of sodium, 73 grams of carbs and 46 grams of protein. The Turkey Melt Sandwich is 780 calories with 2,010 milligrams of sodium, 80 grams of carbs and 41 grams of protein.
Once again, we’re trading a sandwich with slightly fewer calories for a similar sandwich with slightly less sodium that also has more protein. In all fairness, personal preferences and sustainability priorities may make this an easy decision for some consumers, but on a nutritional basis, this is a toss-up.
Veggie Grill’s Large Sweet Potato Fries vs. Outback Steakhouse Sweet Potato Fries
The sweet potato fry is the epitome of a food that’s positioned as healthy even though it’s prepared in a decidedly unhealthy fashion. The sweet potato fries at Outback Steakhouse bring 445 calories to the table, with 496 milligrams of sodium, 57 grams of carbs and 3 grams of protein. Veggie Grill’s sweet potato fries have 610 calories, 910 milligrams of sodium, 92 grams of carbs and 5 grams of protein.
Since we can assume that these servings differ somewhat in size, let’s equalize a few of these numbers on a per-calorie basis. The sodium-to-calories ratio of Veggie Grill’s fries is 3:2 as opposed to the roughly 1:1 ratio of Outback’s fries. Veggie Grill’s fries also contain 6.6 calories per gram of carbs, while Outback’s fries contain nearly 8 calories per carb gram, indicating that a significantly higher percentage of Outback’s fries must come from fat (carbs contain only four calories per gram). Once again, there’s a trade-off involved, but Veggie Grill has yet to score a clear victory over the opposition.
Carrot Cake vs. J. Alexander’s Carrot Cake
A slice of J. Alexander’s carrot cake is 520 calories, 510 milligrams of sodium and 63 grams of carbs, with 25 of those carb grams arriving by way of sugar. A slice of Veggie Grill’s carrot cake contains more calories at 610, along with 740 milligrams of sodium, 75 grams of carbs, and 46 of those carb grams make their presence felt in a sugary form.
Interestingly enough, Veggie Grill’s sodium-per-calorie and sugar-gram-to-carbohydrate-gram ratios are much higher than those of J. Alexander’s. What does this mean? Only that J. Alexander’s carrot cake is healthier than Veggie Grill’s on both a per-serving level and on a standardized basis. I know; I’m surprised, too.
Could I have picked ostensibly healthier selections from Veggie Grill’s menu to evaluate? Of course. However, that also means I would have needed to pit those offerings against similar items available at popular franchises, and the results would likely have been the same.
Regardless, we shouldn’t overlook how standard fare from the Veggie Grill failed to outclass the competition by any objective measure of healthiness on the macronutrient level. One thing this clearly demonstrates is that sometimes it doesn’t matter whether the menu prioritizes health and says things like “vegetarian and vegan,” or whether it promotes beef and reads “flame-broiled.” At their core, both places are reading from what’s essentially the same book of recipes, and cooking for the same sets of taste buds.