Whether we’re talking hamburgers and French fries, roast beef sandwiches and fried cheese sticks, or fried chicken with gravy-slathered mashed potatoes, fast food is usually high in refined grains, high in carbs, high in fat (and not the good fats), high in sugar and high in sodium. The only thing fast food is low in, in fact, is nutrition. With the frenetic pace of modern living making it harder and harder to cook three meals a day, finding healthy alternatives to fast food becomes critical if you want to eat a healthy diet.
Luckily, convenience food doesn’t need to be unhealthy. You can still eat healthy food when you’re on the go or in a hurry. You have two basic options: Pack some healthy food to take with you or stop somewhere. If you must go into a fast food restaurant, pick the pre-made salad. Otherwise, here are some ideas for healthy alternatives to fast food that are quick and easy.
The Sandwich Standby
Ever since there were lunch boxes, it seems, there were sandwiches. Banish the memory of mushy white bread covering globs of peanut butter and jelly. You can get a whole balanced meal in a sandwich, packed with calcium, protein and vitamins, as low in sodium as you need, and without any added sugar. Fix a cheese-and-turkey sandwich on whole grain bread—regular sandwich bread, pita bread or even roll-up bread—and spread it with tangy mustard. Pack it full of lettuce, tomato and bell pepper.
Another option is to rubber band little “cracker sandwiches” together, using whole rye sesame crackers or other whole grain crackers, mixed with a thin-cut flavorful artisan cheese and cucumbers.
The Versatile Trail Mix
Make your own trail mix. Go traditional—mix assorted nuts, raw or roasted, with toasted coconut, dried tart cherries and whole grain sesame sticks, if you can get them locally. This makes a quick snack that’s as good as a meal on the go, filled with protein and fat for endurance and complex carbohydrates for energy, not to mention antioxidants.
Go nontraditional and make a savory trail mix with cut-up beef or turkey jerky, unsalted blue corn chips and roasted almonds, adding some “fire” in the form of a dash of chili powder, onion powder and garlic powder.
Another on-the-go food that’s often neglected is yogurt. Yes, yogurt travels unrefrigerated for a couple of hours if the original seal isn’t broken. Get plain unsweetened yogurt or yogurt sweetened only with maple syrup to avoid refined sweeteners.
If you have a cool place to stash the yogurt, mix in a couple of spoonfuls of natural almond butter or cashew butter, and pop in a handful of dried fruit, and you have a filling meal-in-a-cup that’s a much more healthy alternative to fast food.
Veggies on the Go
Convenience vegetables exist. They’re called dehydrated vegetables, and they can be expensive. But then again, so can fast food, and dehydrated vegetables are a far healthier alternative to French fries. Look for snack packets of dehydrated peas, carrots and bell peppers in health food stores. If you have access to a refrigerator, then consider revisiting those days when you were sent to school with celery and peanut butter, raw carrots and ranch dressing, maybe even some raw cauliflower.
Whatever you prepare, remember the food doesn’t have to be fat-free and without enjoyment. After all, if it’s not fun to eat, you’ll force yourself to eat it, then pop into the local fast food joint afterward to get some real satisfaction. To prevent this, replace fast food with something better—something that provides nutrition and doesn’t add to your health worries.