Many people must have access to affordable and practical food options, and fast food establishments are increasingly recognizing this need by broadening their list of accepted forms of payment to include SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) benefits. This significant advancement makes it possible for people and families who depend on government assistance to eat out like everyone else by providing them with a greater selection of dining options. This guide will highlight the restaurants that are ensuring that no one has to choose between taste and affordability because they serve wholesome and delectable food, whether you’re looking for a quick and affordable dining option or are simply interested in the changing landscape of accessible dining.
*DISCLAIMER* SNAP benefits and laws vary by state and locality. Check your state’s SNAP program rules to learn whether or not hot food is covered by EBT/SNAP under the Restaurant Meals Program.
Founded by David Edgerton and James McLamore in Florida in 1954, Burger King originated as a small town Florida-based chain of burger restaurants that the two partners revamped. Today, Burger King is the second-largest fast-food chain in the world, with over 18,700 locations in over 100 countries. They’re most famous for their classic hamburger or cheeseburger, known as the Whopper, but their menu also includes chicken nuggets, chicken sandwiches, fries, desserts, and specialty drinks. My favorite treat at Burger King is the Bacon King with two beef patties, American cheese, and thick-cut smoked bacon, garnished with a creamy mix of mayo and ketchup.
Subway was originally called Pete’s Subway for founder Fred DeLuca’s friend, backer, and culinary muse Peter Buck. DeLuca opened the first Subway in 1965 to fund his medical school education. Little did he know, Subway would transform into the most internationally beloved sandwich chain. The beauty of Subway is that you watch your meal being made in front of you as you direct your server on what fresh ingredients you’d like from their menu. I’m a big fan of their Chicken Bacon and Ranch sub with juicy rotisserie chicken smothered in Monterey cheddar cheese and topped with hickory-smoked bacon and a drizzle of creamy peppercorn ranch.
Taco Bell started as a California-based Mexican-inspired fast food restaurant by founder Glen Bell in 1962. To ingratiate the idea with fellow Californians, Bell originally featured chili burgers on the menu. However, he underestimated America’s love for Mexican food. Taco Bell’s genius marketing and publicity created some of the more memorable commercials, including one with a talking chihuahua. Today Taco Bell has a cult following from teenagers, college students, and young professionals with a hankering for creative takes on Mexican food like burritos, tacos, and nachos. I thought their Steak Chalupa Supreme was a perfect combination of a chalupa and a taco in one user-friendly hand-held meal. The initial chalupa crunch that cedes into a chewy soft taco is my new favorite texture profile.
As the name implies, KFC is a Kentucky-based fried chicken fast food restaurant that got its start in a small Kentucky town in 1952. Today, KFC and Burger King have merged to become the second-largest restaurant chain in the world with a popular menu of fried chicken. The KFC logo is of founder Colonel Harland Sanders himself, who began serving fried chicken during the Depression-era out of a gas station. His fried chicken survived the Great Depression, and Colonel Sanders triumphantly brought Kentucky-famous down-home cooking to the rest of the world You can get fried chicken in a bucket with classic sides like biscuits, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw. I love their thick and juicy fried chicken filet sandwich with sweet pickles, garlic oil, and creamy mayo.
Originating in Michigan as a friendly pizza shop in 1960, Domino’s is now an international household name for quality fast-food pizza. They have over 15,000 stores around the globe with enticing ad campaigns that put their employees to the test. Currently, the challenge is for employees to deliver your curbside pick-up order in less than two minutes, or the next pizza is free. Dominos has changed proprietary recipes over its 60-year tenure, inventing newer and better pies. My go-to order is their Philly Steak pizza with a thick, chewy crust and hearty slices of steak, onions, green peppers, and mushrooms.
Jack in the Box
Jack in the Box was founded in San Diego back in 1951, making it one of the older fast food chains still around today. The Jack in the Box menu is famous for unique burgers, chicken sandwiches and salads, and inventive sides like tiny tacos and jumbo egg rolls. This chain has found success by mixing up the menu – while they offer classic fast food like burgers and sandwiches, they often feature unusual toppings or other menu items to stray from the norm. Like the others on this list, Jack in the Box does accept EBT and other SNAP benefits, so regardless of income you can try out their menu!
A relative newcomer to the national fast-food scene, Rally’s is a classic American comfort food restaurant that has been a part of three major fast-food conglomerates including CKE and Checkers. Originally a beloved midwestern chain, Rally’s has now spread across the continental US, serving all the American favorites from hot dogs to burgers, to milkshakes. They’ve combined their logo and theme with that of their sister restaurant, Checkers, assuming an old-timey 1950s feel with checkered butcher paper. They make my favorite fries, which are thick, golden, and heavily seasoned. They taste great plain, but I like to make a meal out of them by ordering them fully loaded with cheese, ranch, and bacon.
If you’re a breakfast fan, Denny’s is the ultimate fast food diner experience, bringing you American breakfasts any time of day or night. Denny’s started as a donut and coffee shop in California in the 1950s, transforming into the beloved breakfast diner we all know by the 60s. Unlike most fast-food restaurants that are most popular as take-out and delivery establishments, Denny’s creates an authentic diner and soda fountain experience that makes dining in as popular as its wholesome breakfast menu. You can always get sandwiches, burgers, and entrée platters for lunch or dinner if breakfast isn’t your favorite. As a breakfast lover, my favorite menu section at Denny’s is their Slams, different combinations of continental breakfasts.
With close to 40,000 locations worldwide, McDonald’s is the world’s biggest fast-food chain. Founded by Richard and Maurice McDonald in 1940, McDonald’s was the original burger stand. It didn’t acquire its golden arches until it started to franchise in 1953. Today, there’s no more ubiquitous logo. Their menu keeps a core set of classic burgers, chicken nuggets, and fries, with new items popping up all the time. I’m always torn between a tasty Big Mac or a 6-piece chicken nugget combo. The Big Mac usually wins because of the bonus bun and the deliciously creamy and tangy Big Mac sauce.
Jamba Juice is a smoothie shop that helped popularize the idea that fast food can be healthy, delicious, and fit. Originating in 1990, Jamba Juice has become the leading smoothie chain, offering a wealth of fruit and vegetable smoothies, fresh juices, and protein-packed prepared foods. Whether you’re on a diet or not, Jamba Juice’s smoothies are refreshing, light, and full of nutrients, making the perfect morning meal or hearty afternoon snack. When I want light and fruity, I go for the Aloha Pineapple which combines my two favorite fruits, pineapple, and strawberries, with bananas and Greek yogurt.
Originating in New Orleans in 1972, Popeye’s is a NOLA-style fried chicken fast-food chain, offering Creole and Cajun-style sides to accompany their famously spicy fried chicken. Founder Al Copeland started Popeye’s to give Kentucky fried chicken a run for their money. Popeye’s gained wide popularity for its unique style, growing to around 3,500 locations around the U.S. When it comes to fried chicken meals, Popeye’s has always been my favorite because Cajun food is so hard to come by outside of Louisiana. Their heavily spiced breaded chicken baskets, buttery buttermilk biscuits, and red beans and rice were, and continue to be a special treat.
If you grew up in the 90s or early 2000s, you can probably remember founder Dave Thomas’ wholesome pitch for a delicious old-fashioned burger and fries at a friendly burger joint named for his daughter, Wendy. Thomas opened Wendy’s in Ohio in 1969, offering the characteristic square-patty burgers on circular buns you still get today. Wendy’s is the third-largest international burger chain, and, in my opinion, offers the purest forms of America’s favorite fast food. Their burgers are perfect in their simplicity. They also make my favorite fast-food milkshake, known as the Chocolate Frosty. There’s no better combination than a frosty and French fries to fulfill a sweet and savory craving. Check out our favorite Wendy’s items for your next visit, whether you’re using SNAP benefits or not!
There’s no more popular college student meal than pizza, making Pizza Hut’s creation story even more poignant. Started by brothers and Wichita State University brothers Dan and Frank Carney in 1958, Pizza Hut was an instant hit, growing to 6 restaurants in its first year alone. Today, Pizza Hut has nearly 18,000 locations worldwide and continues to provide millions of college students with study fuel. Of course, pizza is everyone’s favorite comfort food, no matter if you’re a student or not. Pizza Hut is famous for its pan-pizza, with a thicker and denser crust. My favorite pizza at Pizza Hut is the Italian Classic, with Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, roasted red pepper, and mozzarella.
Papa Murphy’s is an innovative fast food concept that makes a pizzaiolo out of any customer. Papa Murphy’s is a take-and-bake pizza restaurant where the client customizes the toppings they want on their pizza, picking up the uncooked pie to pop in the oven at home. While it may not be the fastest fast food concept out there, baking the pizza at home guarantees the freshest, hottest slice on the market. It’s an interactive experience that is both convenient and fun. Papa Murphy’s has a long list of fresh toppings and sauces to adorn their from-scratch pizza dough. They give customers free rein to create any kind of pizza they’d like. I like a thin-crust pizza and chose their gourmet vegetarian, topped with creamy garlic sauce, mozzarella, fresh spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, onions, and a three-cheese and herb blend.
El Pollo Loco
El Pollo Loco is a family-owned Mexican-Californian fusion restaurant and veritable American dream success story. Founder and Mexican American Pancho Ochoa founded El Pollo Loco in his new California hometown of Los Angeles, selling his Sinaloan family’s famous citrus-marinated grilled chickens. Their unique blend of Mexican and California cuisine won the hearts of locals, and there are now 500 El Pollo Loco restaurants in 6 US states. You won’t find more authentic Mexican food at any other fast food restaurant in America. They serve their famous grilled chicken family-style, with fresh tortillas, rice, beans, pico de gallo, and fresh salsas. They also have single chicken dinners, burritos, tostadas, nachos, and California-style bowls and salads with chicken as the centerpiece. Ironically, my favorite menu item is not chicken, but their authentic beef birria and crunchy birria taco combo.
Originating as a hot dog stand in California in 1941, Carl’s Jr. was the humble dream of Carl Karcher and his wife Margaret to begin an All-American family restaurant. Within 5 years, Carl’s hot dog stand had expanded to 5 Carl’s Jr restaurants, serving their signature charbroiled, made-to-order burgers. Now, Carl’s Jr. has 1000 restaurants across the US as well as locations in 28 countries around the globe. As a Californian company, Carl’s Jr. has come out with alternative-style menu items, being the first fast-food chain to offer a plant-based burger and the first and only chain with CBD-infused burgers. I’m a fan of tradition, so I stick with their tried-and-true original Star burger with cheese.
Known as America’s Sub Shop, Blimpie is a New Jersey-style sub sandwich shop that originated in 1964. The three founders and friends wanted to share the northeastern tradition of deli meats and fresh sub rolls with the rest of the U.S. The name Blimpie was born from the popular ad vehicle, the blimp, which coincidentally looked a lot like their beloved sub sandwich. Blimpie still uses the freshest sliced deli meats and veggies, made to order. They offer cold-cut deli subs, hot subs, paninis, and salads. I can never resist their ultra-comforting meatball parmigiana sub, made with a blend of Italian beef and pork with melted provolone, parmesan, and heaps of hot marinara sauce. Check out our favorite Blimpie’s subs – they accept EBT!
Aptly named, Dairy Queen is a historic midwestern American fast-food chain known for inventing soft serve, and subsequently the best frozen dessert menu on the planet. Originating in Illinois in 1940, Dairy Queen was the collaboration of a father and son duo and their ice-cream shop owner friend. Today, Dairy Queen has over 6800 locations worldwide, offering a full menu of burgers, chicken, sandwiches, and desserts. Their soft-serve items include the world-famous dipped cone and Blizzard. I go there for the blizzard alone, my favorite variation being the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard.
Who is eligible to use SNAP benefits at restaurants?
Unfortunately, SNAP benefits have limitations, and in many states no hot or cooked food is eligible under SNAP. To use your benefits at the fast food restaurants listed above, you must be in a state that offers the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP).
To qualify for RMP benefits, you must be either 60 years or older, disabled, or facing homelessness. Spouses of those who fit any of those criteria may also be eligible for RMP benefits with their spouse.
Which states offer the Restaurant Meals Program?
As of this year, only seven US states currently operate a restaurant meals program under SNAP. Those states include:
- Rhode Island
New York state has also applied to the USDA, so will soon join the list once approved. Keep in mind that every restaurant location may not participate in these states; restaurants must apply to the program to participate. All of the fast food restaurants above are eligible only in certain locations. Fast food can be as decadent or healthy as you desire, but all fast-food restaurants ensure quick, convenient service. Whether you want breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack, a fast food restaurant is never too far away. My list of fast-food restaurants that accept EBT has plenty of delicious options ranging from authentic Mexican food to classic burgers and fries.