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What to Eat Instead of Fast Food

13 quick-fix ideas to help you drive past the drive-through.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature

You're starving. The kids are starving. A cheeseburger and fries would be the easy fix. But let's face it: a Happy Meal is not necessarily a healthy meal. You need nutritious food you can grab fast, whether you're on the road or have just walked into the house.

It's not an impossible dream -- at least, not with a little planning and a few essential items in your fridge or pantry, say experts who spoke with WebMD. Before you duck into the drive-through, try their lightning-fast tricks for healthy meals.

Healthy Meals on Wheels

To avoid fast-food temptations, Althea Zanecosky, MS, RD, keeps an 8x12-inch insulated cooler tucked in her car's back seat.

"It's like having a mini-kitchen in your car," says Zanecosky, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "We pack food for every member of the family -- bottled water, 16 oz bottles of chocolate milk, juices, nuts, seeds, pretzels, yogurt, fruit, cereal, health bars.

"It saves time, money, and it saves fat and calories. It keeps us from eating mall food or hitting the drive-through for french fries."

Healthy Meals at Home

At home, you can assemble a healthy meal in about the time it takes you to scoot through the drive-through.

Convenience foods -- anything frozen, canned, pre-cut, pre-washed, and pre-bagged -- is fair game for healthy meals, says Lynn Fischer, author of Lowfat Cooking for Dummies and Quick & Healthy Cooking for Dummies. "Try any new product that comes out. Use everything to your advantage.

"Some vegetarian burgers are very good," Fischer says. "But I don't go for turkey burgers. Unless you have a butcher grind the meat especially for you, ground turkey often contains a lot of fat."

The French concept of accoutrement -- accessorizing -- is key for healthy meals, Fischer tells WebMD. "That means a main dish with lots of side dishes, like a nice salad plus four or five vegetables. Your family can get full, they're eating a lot of vegetables, and there are plenty of choices. The kid who doesn't like the corn can eat something else."

Here are a few dinner suggestions:

Little Dippers: Set out a "party tray" of vegetables and fruits for your family, Fischer suggests. Mix it up with interesting, lower-fat dips -- even melted chocolate and strawberries once in a while for dessert.

Freezer-to-Table Main Dish: "For a dinner that's ready in seven or eight minutes, start with a frozen healthy meal like Healthy Choice or Lean Cuisine," Fischer says. "They don't give you a lot of meat, which is good." If you use a frozen-in-the-bag vegetable dinner, don't add much meat; keep it the size of your palm, she adds. "Some huge chicken breasts are enough for two servings."

Speedy Side Dishes: Keep frozen, canned, or fresh veggies on hand to round out a healthy meal. "A lot of frozen vegetables are frozen fresh, right on the spot, so they still have all the nutrients," Fischer says. "Canned vegetables are also good. And you need some fresh vegetables, like celery, carrots, and tomatoes and fresh fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, and grapes."

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