Cooking Healthy Fast Food

Does your car practically steer itself to the nearest fast-food joint when you’re driving home from work? Are you on a first-name basis with the counter staff at your local hamburger haven? If so, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone in the fast-food lane. These days, we’re all short on time and suckers for a quick meal.

Know, however, that you don’t have to sacrifice healthy food for convenience. It is possible—and easy—to prepare healthy fast food at home in the blink of a tired eye! Consider the following strategies for creating healthy fast food from Milton Stokes, RD, a clinical nutrition manager and freelance writer in New York City.

Cook Up a Plan

Like everything else in life, healthy fast food meals at home take some advance thought and planning. “Many people don’t cook, because of lack of planning,” says Heather Reseck, RD, author of the Fix-It-Fast Vegetarian Cookbook. “A willingness to climb out of food ruts provides a start, but planning ahead makes all the difference.”

Note, however, that if you are someone who has trouble boiling water, you need to take fast-food preparation slowly! Experts warn against getting too ambitious and advise novices to aim instead for cooking in 1 or 2 nights a week.

Once you have decided which nights you plan to cook healthy fast food meals, record those dates using your personal organization system, be it a yellow sticky note on your kitchen calendar or a reminder in your PDA (personal digital assistant). Why? Most people don’t commit to doing something that is not on their weekly to-do list, especially if they are tired and hungry.

Cook Smart

How can you save time on cooking? Try these ideas.

Stock Your Pantry. Many of the cookbooks designed for people on the run (see “Resources for Healthy Food”) contain helpful lists of ingredients so cooks have everything they need to follow through on their good intentions. “The secret is to have a well-stocked pantry so [that] when you [come] home tired, you have the ingredients on hand to prepare a meal,” says Holly Clegg, author of Meals on the Move: Rush Hour Recipes.

Cook More Than You Need. Save time by doubling your recipes when cooking and then refrigerate or freeze unused portions for dinner later in the week. You can also divide leftovers into single-serving containers that can be frozen and reheated individually when needed.

Cook for Convenience

Purchase precut, packaged vegetables, such as bags of prewashed lettuce or carrot sticks. Occasionally relying on frozen, canned or dried veggies can also simplify meal preparation, especially when these ingredients are added to stir-fried dishes or soups. Frozen vegetables cook up in a snap or can be placed in the fridge to thaw the night before. Try tossing some frozen broccoli or spinach on that otherwise plain cheese pizza before you pop it in the oven. Try canned tomatoes and beans; just remember to first drain the salty liquid they’re packed in and rinse them with fresh water before using.

Resources for Healthy Fast Food

Look for recipes that are simple and quick so you don’t get exhausted or intimidated when cooking at home. Nutrition experts recommend arming yourself with a few cookbooks that showcase healthy fast food recipes requiring 30 minutes or less to prepare and cook. For ideas, check out these cookbooks that feature healthy fast food recipes.

  • Bissex, J.N., & Weiss, L. 2004. The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers. New York: Broadway Books.
  • Clegg, H. 2002. The Holly Clegg Trim & TerrificCookbook: More Than 500 Fast, Easy, and Healthy Recipes. Philadelphia: Running Press.
  • Foco, Z. 1998. Lickety-Split Meals for Health Conscious People on the Go. Walled Lake, MI: ZHI Publishing.
  • Ponichtera, B.J. 1994. Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas. The Dalles, OR: ScaleDown Publishing Inc.
  • Reseck, H.H. 2002. Fix-It-Fast Vegetarian Cookbook. Hagerstown, MD: Review & Herald Publishing Association.

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    June 2005

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