Eating Healthy on the Go

Healthy food fast...and healthy fast food

With work, kids, fitness and other activities, our lives today are busier than ever, and most of us find ourselves frequently eating on the go.

Eating healthy meals and snacks will provide the energy needed for everything on your schedule.

But that can be hard.

Studies show Americans, on average, eat 100 fast food meals a year - roughly 30 percent of their total meals. 

While many chains have increased the number of healthy choices on their menus, it can still be tricky to keep fast food meals healthy.

While it can be better to prepare meals at home, it’s also a challenge to make healthy meals fast. 


What to do

You can get an energy boost from your favorite coffeehouse treat, but those lattes and frozen concoctions can be loaded with sugar and fat. 

You are better off choosing snacks and meals that give you a mix of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats to give you all-day energy instead of a quick spike followed by an energy crash. 

To avoid the temptation to stop for a fast food meal when you’re on the go, it helps to plan ahead. 


Healthy snacks

Take a healthy snack with you, and you may not need to stop.  Some good portable snack choices include:

  • Nuts – for protein and healthy fat to curb your appetite.
  • Fruit – fresh is best, but dried keeps well and still provides fiber. Another portable option is single-serving cups of fruit or applesauce.
  • Trail mix – mix those nuts and dried fruit!  Low-fat granola bars are also very portable.
  • Cut-up vegetables – lots of fiber and few calories.  Take along dip or even hummus -- find single-serve containers of hummus at Costco and other stores.
  • Low-fat cheese and whole-grain crackers – string cheese is especially convenient.
  • Low- or non-fat yogurt – make sure it’s also low in sugar.
  • Hard-boiled eggs.
  • A can of vegetable juice – lots of nutrients, just watch the sodium.

Prep meals in advance

Preparing meals ahead of time or bringing them along with you can also steer you clear of the fast food drive-through:

  • Eat the most important meal of the day at home. A quick, healthy breakfast before you leave the house lets you bypass the drive-through on the way to work.  Whole-grain toast with nut butter, a hardboiled egg and a bowl of fruit, or a whole grain-tortilla with a scrambled egg and some vegetables or salsa all contain protein and healthy carbs to give you energy to start your day and take just a few minutes to prepare.
  • Pack a lunch. A sandwich on whole-grain bread, a salad with no- or low-fat dressing, or last night’s leftovers ready to warm up all make for easy lunches to take to work.  A wrap of lean protein and fresh vegetables on a whole-grain tortilla makes for an ultra-portable lunch on the go. Or skip the tortilla entirely and use your lettuce as the wrap.
  • Plan for a speedy dinner. Put something in the slow cooker before you leave for the day, cook a large batch of something on the weekend for weeknight reheating, or chop vegetables ahead of time for a quick stir-fry. Still want a burger? Keep veggie burgers and whole-grain buns on hand; throw together a quick green salad; and you have a balanced meal in minutes. 

If you do need to eat fast foods

If you do stop by that favorite fast food or carryout place, try these tips to make the healthiest menu choices:

  • Find the healthiest options on the menu. Look beyond burgers and fries for options like side salads, baked potatoes, fruit, or yogurt.
  • A sandwich – like turkey on wheat with lettuce and tomato – can be a more balanced option than a burger on a white bun.
  • Order sandwiches plain without mayonnaise or “special sauce.” Stick to colorful condiments like ketchup, mustard or barbecue sauce. Even better is salsa, which is full of vegetables and almost nothing else. 
  • Don’t supersize!  Keep portion sizes reasonable. 
  • If you are concerned about carbs, choose a salad instead of a sandwich or wrap, but go easy on toppings like croutons or cheese, and opt for low or no-fat dressing.  Still, salad isn’t always the healthiest choice: at Taco Bell, the Fiesta Taco Salad with beef has 780 calories and 42 grams of fat (with the shell), while a Fresco-style chicken soft taco has only 150 calories and 3.5 grams of fat.
  • Choose grilled or rotisserie chicken, not fried.  Or remove the skin, which can save up to 200 calories per piece.
  • Skip the French fries or other fried sides. Choose vegetables or fruit instead. If your meal just wouldn’t be complete without fries, share them with someone else. Or if you need your potato fix, try baked or mashed instead. 
  • When you go for pizza, make it as healthy as possible. Many restaurants offer whole grain crust. If you choose thin crust and load up on the vegetables instead of pepperoni or sausage, pizza can be a balanced meal. 
  • Make healthy drink choices. Skips the soda, milkshake or coffee drink and choose water, milk or unsweetened iced tea instead. 

Wherever you eat, check the nutrition information.  Even seemingly healthy choices can be loaded with sodium, or may be higher in calories and fat than their names might imply. 

At some restaurants, chicken and turkey are healthier choices than beef, but not always.  For example, at Panera Bread, the Sierra Turkey Sandwich has 920 calories, while the Asiago Roast Beef is 700 calories.  

Fast food can be healthy food, and healthy food can be fast. When picking up food to go, make sure to choose healthy options that won’t slow you down. 


Recipes

Oven-Fried Chicken Tenders with Five-Spice BBQ Sauce

Classic Oven Fries


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Visit our Healthiest Best Foods homepage for more great ideas to get you and your family eating healthier.