You probably saw the news this week about what’s really in chicken nuggets. Researchers at University of Mississippi Medical Center performed what they called an “autopsy” of nuggets from two different national fast food chains and found that chicken meat was not the predominate component–in fact, fat made up an equal or greater portion of the nuggets, in addition to bone, nerve, and connective tissue. Lovely, huh? If you’re grossed out enough to say sayonara to fast food all together (virtual high five!), I have several still quick, but much healthier alternatives.
Grocery stores are generally in the same vicinity as fast food joints. So rather than pulling into a drive-through, pop into the supermarket and stroll through the express line. Most chains now have prepared food sections, with ready-to-eat options like chilled vegetable salads and grilled salmon. Other healthy items that don’t require prep include baby carrots and hummus, mini bananas, and nuts.
The concept of fast casual is ‘fresh food fast,’ and establishments that fit the bill, including Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Pei Wei are popping up all over. Many of these restaurants serve up freshly prepared dishes, made-in-house, with ingredient lists that read like a recipe from a healthy cookbook. For example, the chicken at Chipotle is made from hormone and antibiotic free chicken, water, chipotle chili, rice bran oil, cumin, garlic, oregano, black pepper, and salt. (Note: according to the web site, some cities use soybean oil.) To be sure of what you’re getting, hop online, check out the nutrition facts, and always read ingredient lists. One of my favorite go-tos is a Chipotle salad, made with Romaine lettuce, fajita veggies, black beans, mild salsa, and guacamole. Super satisfying, and about as quick and clean as it gets.
Pack a meal
If you tend to be stuck with lesser-of-various-evil options, invest in an insulated lunch sack, and toss in a meal you can whip up in a jiffy. For example, in a sealable container, combine a few handfuls of veggies, like grape tomatoes, chopped red onion, baby spinach leaves, and sliced mushrooms, and a small scoop each of quinoa and chickpeas. Sprinkle with Italian herb seasoning, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, close the lid, give it a shake, and toss it in the bag. Easy peasy.
Whipped up options
Smoothies aren’t just for breakfast. Whipping one up and taking it with you can be a great way to sidestep processed alternatives. For the best nutritional balance, and to stay full and satisfied, include a combination of good carbs, lean protein, and healthy fat. Reach for: frozen fruit and a handful of leafy greens; organic skim milk or almond milk and a plant-based protein powder like pea protein; a dollop of almond butter; and a small scoop of old fashioned rolled oats. To add flavor, aroma, and an extra dose of antioxidants, season your smoothie with spices, like cinnamon or ginger. For convenience, make a few smoothies at a time, stock them in the freezer, then transfer to the fridge to thaw a bit before you head out the door.
Make ahead re-heats
Many of my clients have time to cook on weekends, but not so much during the week. To resist the temptation to grab fast food or order take-out Monday through Friday, I recommend making “homemade frozen dinners” that can be re-heated when needed, from soup or chili to stuffed peppers. Simple stews are another great option. For a single serving, sauté a few cups of veggies in a saucepan, in a little extra virgin olive oil, along with minced garlic and herbs. Add low sodium organic vegetable broth, bring to a quick boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add a small scoop of a healthy starch, like wild rice or cubed baked sweet potato, and a cooked lean protein, such as lentils, cubed chicken breast, or extra lean ground turkey. Ladle into a BPA free freezable container, and your future meal will be ready in minutes.
What’s your take on this topic? How do you feel about chicken nuggets, and fast food? And how do you stay healthy when you’re pressed for time? Please tweet your thoughts to @CynthiaSass and @goodhealth
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.