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Fast food is no longer just a quick and easy option. It has become an epidemic response to the busy, fast-paced lifestyles of most Americans. According to author Eric Schlosser in his book, Fast Food Nation, 50 million Americans are spending over $110 billion on fast food daily. Fast food is quick, easy and inexpensive, luring in those pressed for time and money. It doesn’t require you to get out of the car or use a plate or utensils, which makes it easy to eat on the run.

You do not need to sacrifice your health or budget for heart-healthy “fast food.”

Most fast food meals are consumed mindlessly without any consideration on the effects on one’s health. Even though some of the fast food chains are adding healthier options due to the demand, most fast food is still highly processed and laden with saturated fat, trans fats and sodium. They also only offer beverages loaded with sugar, such as soda and sweet tea. As fast food chains continue to flourish, infiltrating almost every street corner of most cities, the rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension continue to soar.

The average cost of a fast food combo meal is $4 to $7, which may sound like a good deal; however, the real cost of fast food is not reflected in the price of the meal. The Centers for Disease Control reports that more than one out of four of us in the U.S has heart disease, costing over $444 billion in health care costs for heart disease alone. One health care dollar out of every six is spent on treatment. A report from The American Heart Association estimates that the individual cost of a lifetime of treatment of heart disease is $1 million. Heart bypass surgery alone can run from $70,000 to $200,000.

You do not need to sacrifice your health or budget for heart-healthy “fast food.” The average cost to feed a family of four three heart-healthy vegetarian meals can be as low as $6.50 a day. Buying basic ingredients such as dry beans instead of canned, or bulk oatmeal instead of instant, can make an impact on your grocery bill. Even adding some canned and pre-prepped convenient items such as pre-cut produce or veggie burgers is still a cost-effective approach that has a significant positive influence on your health. Here are some tips for fast yet healthy cooking:

1. Slow Cooker or Crockpot

Slow cooking for fast food. Toss a few basic ingredients into a crockpot, set a timer and leave them for the day. You’ll return to a home-cooked meal and plenty of leftovers. It doesn’t get much easier than this!

One day a week, make a slow cooker meal such as a soup or a chili. Split up servings for the week and freeze any additional leftovers for future fast food meals. Pressure cookers are another great kitchen tool to speed up cooking without sacrificing nutrition, especially when cooking beans, grains and soups. Other helpful kitchen tools that support healthy fast food are a dual steamer than can steam vegetables and grains at the same time, and a good high-powered blender in which you can toss a handful of ingredients for a quick meal.

2. One-Dish Meals

Toss leafy greens or steamed veggies with a plant protein such as beans, baked tofu or tempeh.

3. Batch Cooking

Make a big batch of any recipe for the week to have for multiple meals. Start a routine of freezing individual leftovers from your weekly batch for future fast food meals. Vegetarian soups, chili, stews are great along with recipes like this Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna (See Sample Menu 1) are excellent for batch and freeze cooking. Bake or roast a batch of sweet potatoes, roasted vegetables, or steamed veggies to have on hand and just add plant protein for a quick meal.

4. Pot of Weekly Beans

One day a week, cook a pot of beans in your crockpot or stovetop that can extend to a week of fast food meals. Here’s a quick sample of meals with beans that take 15 minutes or less:

  • Beans and brown rice or quinoa; add veggies or salad
  • Add black beans to meatless tacos (see recipe below)
  • Add to a salad of leafy greens and veggies
  • White beans with whole grain pasta and marinara sauce
  • Add garbanzo beans to a stir-fry with veggies served over brown rice or quinoa. Swap the seitan for garbanzo beans.
  • Add black, pinto or white beans to a pre-cooked polenta and top with salsa or marinara sauce and greens.

See our gift guide for some additional essential kitchen tools.

“Fast Food” Recipes

Ornish Kitchen (Please enjoy if you’re a member of Empower) offers many delicious recipes to make it easy to cook simple and fast meals at home.  Sample a few ideas from our sample menu.

There has never been a time when there are so many quick and easy options for healthy eating. Fast food can be healthy food!

What kind of fast and healthy recipes or cooking techniques have you discovered?

Contributed by

Carra Richling
Registered Dietitian

Eat well, be well!

Better Health Begins With You...

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