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The new fast food: Quick, healthy options

Not too long ago, fast food only meant fried goodies and chicken patties made from questionable animal parts. If you wanted something healthier, there weren’t many fast options to accommodate…or you made do with the meager “healthy” options on menus like dried-out salads or a plain grilled chicken breast — minus the bun.

But a recent surge of fast take-out restaurants in WNY has changed all that, with menus featuring real ingredients, fresh fruits and veggies, and lean sources of protein.

“Things have been trending in this direction for a few years now,” said Dr. Charles Lindsey, University of Buffalo associate professor of marketing, who focuses on consumer behavior and understanding consumption patterns and trends in the marketplace. “Millennials show a strong preference for healthy eating, especially once they began working and having families. They are looking for convenient and healthy options in the form of natural and organic in-store options, pre-prepped boxed meals that can be cooked at home, and healthy casual dining establishments.”

The one thing these new places are missing is the traditional rock-bottom fast-food pricing. But people are willing to spend more money on these items…to an extent. There is good news on the horizon, though, said Lindsey.

“Prices for natural and organic foods have been coming down due to competitive pressures. Whole foods just lowered their price point on many items after being purchased by Amazon and is actually starting a second chain called 365 (named after its private label brand) designed to appeal to more price conscious millennials.”

The big question is, will these healthy eating establishments die out due to price or are they here to stay?

“This is a solid trend, not a fad,” said Lindsey. “I believe it’s here to stay.”

So what are some current local options in your neighborhood?

The decor at Homegrown Kitchen in East Aurora mirrors its healthy, mostly organic menu.

CoreLife Eatery
5175 Transit Rd, Amherst; 772-8232;

Hours: Monday-Sunday 11 a.m.- 9 p.m.

Although Core Life is a national chain with 24 restaurants (first launched in Syracuse two years ago), this location is locally owned. You simply wait in line, place your order, and name which toppings you’d like. Menu examples include the Tuna Poke ($8.59-12.45), loaded with fresh ahi tuna, cabbage, cucumber, quinoa, carrots, scallions, avocado, kale, almonds, sesame seeds and edamame, or tasty broth bowls like the Spicy Ginger Steak & Rice Noodle Bowl ($8.95) with beef broth, steak from grass-fed cows, rice noodles, shredded kale, broccoli, carrots, scallions, sliced almonds, ginger, cilantro, and sriracha. CoreLife also offers a variety of salads (or as they call them, green bowls), grain bowls, broth bowls, and hand crafted beverages to choose from.

Whole Foods Market
3139 Sheridan Dr., Buffalo; 398-4502;

Hours: Monday-Sunday 8 a.m.-10 p.m.

Not only does Whole Foods offer healthy, organic fresh food options in its produce section (including a variety of veggie “noodles” made of squash, zucchini, beets and carrots), there’s also the same on its prepared bar ($8.99 per pound). Each item on the prepared bar is labeled with calorie count, and there is a wide variety of tasty low-cal foods like tabouli (a Mediterranean parsley salad), roasted seasonal vegetables, coconut curry white fish and so much more. They also support over 30 different local businesses by selling their healthy products in house.

Lexington Cooperative Market
807 Elmwood Ave, Buffalo; 886-2667; 1678 Hertel Ave, Buffalo; 886-0024;

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 7 a.m. - 11 p.m.

Each co-op store has a wonderful bulk section and spices, as well as fresh produce, cheeses, and prepared items like sushi ($5.99-10.99), salads, sandwiches ($4.99-7.99), soups ($3.49-7.99), the hot bar ($7.99 per pound) and more. The company mission is to provide natural, wholesome foods, and locally farmed and organic products are clearly labeled throughout the store.

414 Amherst St., Buffalo; (Also coming soon to 69 Delaware Ave.)

Hours: Monday-Saturday from 7 a.m. - 10 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

In addition to smoothies and juices — Ashker’s specialty - they also offer all-day breakfast (including plates, portable sandwiches and wraps, and omelets), coffee, paninis, sandwiches, salads and more ranging from $4-9. The majority of the items on the menu are on the healthier side, but if you feel like indulging somewhere in the middle, you can pair your Green Machine Smoothie (spinach, cucumber, celery, and apple) with some pancakes.

The Healthy Scratch
75 Main St #4, Buffalo (Inside HarborCenter); 855-4404;

Hours: Monday-Saturday 8 a.m. -7:30 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

The Healthy Scratch, owned by Jessie & Kelly Pegula, offers fresh pressed juices, smoothies, fancy toasts and bowls. Whether you’re trying to stay energized throughout the day or boost your immunity, there’s a specific juice for you, like the Loving Life ($7) made from apple, lemon, kale, red grape, and tart cherry (good for heart health and immunity). For something solid, order one of their specialty toasts: The Jalapeno Peach ($6.50) combines One Buffalo Beer Bread, chèvre, jalapeño peach jam, and jalapeño slices.

Newbury Salads
470 Elmwood Ave, Buffalo; 886-6466; (Also located in Expo Market, 167 Main St., Buffalo)

Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.

At Newbury, you can choose from a variety of smoothies ($6.50), in addition to build-your-own-salads, grain bowls, and wraps (starting at $7) with a menu featuring toppings like roasted beet hummus, creamy cheeses, and loads of fresh veggies. If you don’t feel like creating your own, they also offer creative signature bowls and salads ($10-10.50), like the Elmwood Hipster Salad with baby spinach, romaine, herbed chicken, feta, dried cranberries, walnuts, radishes, and carrots, served with a lime cilantro jalapeño dressing.

Homegrown Kitchen
640-650 Main St., East Aurora; 714-6028;

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

A healthy outpost located in a sea of burger and wing joints, Homegrown Kitchen is a newer addition to the village of East Aurora. The simple menu features two categories, “Greens” or “Grains,” available as either bowls or wraps. Sample menu items include the The Cuban Cashew Bowl, which features arugula, spinach, wild rice, quinoa, avocado, black beans, roasted chicken, red onion, tomato, sweet potato with cilantro, jalapeño and lemon cashew dressing; The Curried Away has kale, spinach, wild rice, chickpeas, roasted chicken, red onion and raw corn with spicy carrot curry dressing. Most bowls and wraps are under $10, and you can also build your own choice of ingredients.

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