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Healthy and fit on the go: Better fast food options

Yes, there is a place in an overall healthy diet for fast food. Sometimes you crave the taste, sometimes you only have time for drive-through food. Moderation is the key — choose the kids’ size meal or the smallest size available of the high-fat and high-sodium foods. Balance the fried fast food meal with healthier options for the rest of the day.

Choose healthy options

Try the salads, wraps, fruit and vegetable options and limit the amount of cheese, mayonnaise and other high-fat condiments and dressings. Plan ahead so you don’t mindlessly order the burger, fries and soda meal. Try the oatmeal — healthy, tasty, and inexpensive. Empower yourself by saying “I don’t eat french fries” rather than “I can’t eat French fries.”

Make your own fast food

Save gas and time by making your own fast food at home. Plan for a busy week ahead and include healthy quick-fix ingredients on your grocery list. Here are some ideas:

  • Pizza: Layer a whole wheat tortilla with sauce, peppers, onions, other vegetables, roast chicken, and a little sprinkle of cheese.
  • Wrap: Fill a whole wheat tortilla with your favorite lean meat, vegetables and little bit of Ranch dressing for moisture. Try mashed avocado instead of dressing.
  • Quesadilla: Sprinkle your favorite shredded cheese between two whole wheat tortillas and brown on both sides in a fry pan or on a griddle.
  • Breakfast muffins: Toast a whole wheat English muffin, top with a poached egg, slice of ham or Canadian bacon and a slice of cheese (or a slice of avocado). 

Watch out for sodium

Too much sodium, or salt, in the diet, plays a role in high blood pressure and can lead to cardiovascular disease. The message is loud and clear: cut back on salt in your diet. But how? It’s not enough to hold back on the salt shaker. Processed and restaurant foods provide most of the sodium we eat in a day. It’s impossible to judge how much salt is in a food just by tasting it.

How much is too much?

Everyone, including kids, should limit their sodium intake to less than 2300 mg/day — or about 1 teaspoon of table salt. For people over 50, African Americans, or those with high blood pressure, the recommended limit is 1500 mg/day.

Where does sodium hide?

Take a moment to think about the foods that you commonly eat and how often you eat out at a restaurant or fast food. Are any of the following high-sodium foods on your list?

  • Yeast breads
  • Pizza
  • Cheese
  • Processed meats such as lunch meat, hot dogs, and bacon
  • Restaurant grilled or fried chicken
  • Convenience, boxed, or canned foods

Make food at home

It is much easier to control your sodium intake if you cook at home from scratch. Read the nutrition facts label, it’s your most effective tool for reducing sodium. Find the sodium content on the label and compare brands before you buy. Restaurant food is likely to be high in sodium, so read the nutrition information or ask for low-sodium options when you eat out. Try to order dishes that are less than 140 mg/serving.

Reviewed by Jimmie Johnson, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2023

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