Everyone loves French fries. Their crispy, savory goodness can be enjoyed by vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike… or can it?

McDonald’s fries are probably some of the most ubiquitous out there. Most people assume that a simple fried potato should pose no issue to people who don’t eat meat or animal products, but that may not actually be the case. 

Are McDonald’s Fries Vegan?

McDonald’s fries are actually not vegan. Their fries contain natural beef flavoring as well as hydrolyzed milk. 

Surprised? Keep reading below to find out more about what vegans can enjoy at McDonald’s!

Why are McDonald’s Fries Not Vegan?

According to the official McDonald’s website, their fries contain:

Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Natural Beef Flavor [wheat And Milk Derivatives]*), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (maintain Color), Salt. *natural Beef Flavor Contains Hydrolyzed Wheat And Hydrolyzed Milk As Starting Ingredients.

As you can see, they are flavored with “natural beef flavor” that we can assume comes from beef fat. McDonald’s used to fry their food in a mixture of vegetable oil and beef tallow (or rendered, liquified beef fat) which certainly doesn’t sound very appetizing. It did give their food a signature savory taste, but it wasn’t so easy on heart health as it was super high in cholesterol. 

To make things slightly better, they changed to frying only in vegetable oil and added beef fat flavoring to their fries to preserve some of the taste. This natural flavoring also apparently contains milk, making it a double no-no for vegans. 

Is Anything at McDonald’s Vegan?

There isn’t a huge spread of vegan options available at McDonald’s, but it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll eventually find yourself needing to order something from the Golden Arches. So what’s a vegan to do?

Breakfast is a great time to find meatless products at fast food restaurants. A vegan staple at McDonald’s is the Fruit and Maple oatmeal. Packed with tasty apple pieces and raisins, this can certainly stand on its own or be paired with a black coffee. Some stores add cream to their oatmeal, so be sure to specify that you don’t want any. 

You don’t even have to be a kid to have some good old apple slices! They are even individually packaged so cross contamination won’t be an issue if that’s something that bothers you. The side salad is also a good choice, and the leafy green mix that it now comes with is a welcome upgrade.

The Southwest Salad can stand as a meal on its own, especially if you customize it with extra vegan toppings like black beans, corn, and tomatoes. Be sure to ask for no meat or cheese, and get the balsamic vinaigrette dressing to avoid possible dairy in the others. 

You’ll be a bit more limited in drink choices since most of their McCafé drinks or smoothies contain dairy. The Minute Maid slushies are dairy free, however, and so are their apple pies!

What Can Vegetarians Eat at McDonald’s?

Unlike a lot of its burger joint competitors, McDonald’s has disappointingly not come up with any kind of plant based patty of its own. There are still plenty of vegetarian options out there, but we certainly wish they would introduce some kind of “Impossible” style Big Mac!

As we learned today, McDonald’s fries are out of the question for both vegetarians and vegans alike. Unfortunately, so are their hash browns, as they too contain beef flavoring. This limits your breakfast options slightly, but you can still have a yummy egg and cheese sandwich and a filling (and dare I say healthy?) fruit and yogurt parfait. Smoothies are available all day at most locations and also make a great healthy-ish meal. 

Their salads minus the meat can sometimes feel a bit lacking, but you can certainly spice them up by adding extra toppings of your choice! Cheese is a personal favorite, but they even have black beans for some added plant protein. 

If you eat fish, the Filet-o-Fish is going to be one of the only ready-made sandwiches on the menu that you can enjoy. Otherwise, since there is no veggie burger option, you might be stuck ordering a burger sans-patty and loading it up with veggies. Definitely not a worst case scenario, but not always a super filling meal either. 

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What Are the Best Fast Food Restaurants for Vegans?

Let’s veer away from classic burger joint fast food restaurants, as these typically don’t have the most options for vegans. If they have anything, you most likely already know about it! Other fast food or fast casual eateries have just as many, if not more, options for plant based eaters, so let’s explore. 

Coffee chains almost always serve some type of food as well, and they have a lot of new items that cater specifically to vegans and vegetarians. For example, Dunkin Donuts recently rolled out their new Beyond Breakfast sandwich which features a meatless patty. Order with no egg or cheese for a vegan meal on the go. They also now have almond milk at most locations so you can have your favorite latte again!

Some Starbucks menu items are vegan by default, including their bagels. Their avocado spread is too. It’s spicy, creamy, and goes great with any of these bagels. They have had non-dairy milk options for quite a while including soy, coconut, and almond milks. In some test markets that have already introduced oat milk, and it is expected to be introduced nationwide very soon. This is great news, as variety is not something vegans are used to at most chain restaurants!

A lot of Mexican restaurants have been longtime favorites of plant eaters as well. Taco Bell, Del Taco, Chipotle, and Qdoba all have plant based proteins of some sort. Whether it’s simply black beans and veggies or a dedicated item like Chipotle’s sofritas, there is definitely something to suit every vegan’s taste. Just be sure to double and triple check that your order includes no cheese or sour cream!

What are Some Healthy Things at McDonald’s?

McDonald’s and other fast food places aren’t really known as beacons of health. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some healthier options on the menu, though! 

For starters, the apple slices are probably one of the least processed and healthiest things on the menu by far. Containing nothing but apple, they make a great snack for kids and adults alike. 

Next, I love their yogurt parfait. It has fruit, granola, and yogurt so it is minimally processed. I believe at some locations they are only available at breakfast time, but that may change as more and more stores start serving breakfast all day long. 

The salads at McDonald’s aren’t always as healthy as they may seem, especially those that contain bacon or fried chicken. You can change this by swapping out for grilled chicken or eliminating the meat entirely. The hidden calories tend to be in the dressing, so opt for a non-fatty dressing like balsamic vinaigrette so keep things on the healthier side. 

Lower calories do not always equal a healthier food, but if you’re craving some real fast food and want to keep from ruining your diet, one cheeseburger only has 313 calories. Ordering no bun or no cheese will reduce this even further so you can indulge guilt-free.  

Related Questions:

Where are McDonald’s Fries Vegan?

In many countries outside of the US, McDonald’s fries are not coated in any kind of animal fat whatsoever. The US fry processing plants seem to be the only ones that do this, so if you’re travelling abroad and want to enjoy some tasty fries definitely go for it!