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Make and Take Meals: Fast-Food Alternatives

Good nutrition and good fast food can go hand in hand.
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WebMD Feature

It's late, your kids are hungry, and you don't have time to cook. Put down the phone and pass up the drive-through. You can rustle up a number of fast-food alternatives in minutes.

Not only can you put together a faster, healthier meal -- with fewer calories and less fat and sodium -- but you can save money, too.

Editor's Note: Food Pyramid Replaced

In June 2011, the USDA replaced the food pyramid with a new plate icon.

"Americans spend nearly half their food dollars on food prepared away from home, but that only accounts for about 21% of the meals they eat," says Joanne Lichten, PhD, RD, author of How to Stay Healthy & Fit on the Road. 

Here are tips to show you how -- whether you're at home or on the road.

Healthy Fast Food: For the Road

When you want an alternative to the fast-food joints calling your name, think cool: an insulated cooler, that is. Then stock it with:

  • Water, low-fat milk, or 100% juice. But beware of the calories in drinks other than water, says Lichten.Take that cooled milk and douse it over whole-grain cereals that come in their own single-serve cups. A great snack or part of a meal when you're in transit.
  • Low-fat cheese sticks to go with rolls and fruit.
  • Tubes or cartons of yogurt.
  • Cut veggies or washed baby carrots and cherry tomatoes. Add a container of low-fat dip.
  • Sliced bananas, apples, grapes and pears.

Other single portion items for portable feasts include:

  • Peanut butter in a tube or a small tub to go with crackers or bread sticks.
  • Single-serve cans of tuna with easy-open tops and crackers.
  • Cans or cups of fruit packed in their own juice.
  • Dehydrated bean soups (get hot water at a roadside rest stop). 

"Always have fruit and vegetables along for the ride," Lichten recommends. "They are the foods we miss out on when traveling."

Trail mix made from dried fruits, nuts, seeds, pretzels, or cereal with a few chocolate chips thrown in for good measure makes a satisfying snack, adds Kerry Neville, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

And in a pinch -- when you're on the road with children and didn't plan ahead -- pull into the supermarket instead of the fast-food drive-in. You can pick up fresh fruit, cheese, and bread for a satisfying meal to go.

Healthy Fast Food: At Home

Stock Your Cabinets With Fast, Nutritious Food  

Planning helps you pull your own fast-food act together. Get out the calendar and figure out your food needs for the week ahead. Make a quick list. Now it's time to shop. Consider stocking:

  • Whole-grain breads and cereals, pasta, and prepared pizza crust.
  • Milk, reduced-fat shredded cheese, eggs, canned tuna, canned beans, peanut butter, lean ground beef patties, chicken, and meatballs.
  • Fresh, frozen, or no-added-salt canned vegetables; fresh and dried fruit; and fruit canned in juice.
  • Quick-cooking grains such as 10-minute brown rice and whole-wheat couscous.
  • Cartons of 100% orange juice, milk, applesauce, peanut butter, and yogurt in your fridge and cabinets. These work great for road trips, too.
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