Convenient food vs. health food

Sep 25, 2010 at 10:48 p.m. ET

Convenience food can be fast and fuss-free when you're busy. If you need to eat meals or snacks on the go, it's all too common to sacrifice taste, quality and nutrition for convenience. Diets high in fast food have even been blamed for the nation's rising obesity crisis as a flailing economy has prompted more quick service restaurants and cafes to offer "value" menus that tout large portion sizes. Whether you're cooking at home or grabbing a bite on the road, there are ways to cut fat and calories - and up the nutrition ante - from the foods you and your family enjoy.

Woman eating salad


When you feel a pull towards the drive-through at the end of a tedious day, remember that not all fast food options are bad for you. In fact, you can enjoy fast food once in awhile without going calorie-crazy. Satisfy your yen for a burger by ordering from the kids' menu and adding a fresh, green salad (sans dressing) to your meal in lieu of fattening French fries. At Burger King,  you can save almost 500 calories by replacing your Whopper with a kids' portion. If you're eating somewhere that doesn't have a salad option, ask for extra lettuce and tomato on your burger


If you like to pick up meals at the grocery store, where hot food bars often offer a plethora of home-cooked classics, skip the chicken tenders or popcorn shrimp and opt for grilled meat. Not only will you save calories, but your selection will be more versatile: you can turn simply prepared leftovers into a stir-fry or quesadillas for dinner the next night.


If you rely on frozen entrees to feed your family throughout the week, you should do two things: read the label on the side of the box to make sure you know how many grams of fat, sodium and carbohydrates the meal will set you back. Then, make sure your meal contains enough vegetable servings. The American Cancer Society recommends eating 5 or more servings of fruits or vegetables daily, which means you should be eating at least one to two half-cup servings per meal. For a quick fix when your meal lacks greens, nuke your favorite frozen vegetable, such as spinach or broccoli, to add bulk and nutrition to your plate.


When you're relying on convenience foods such as fast food, take out or frozen entrees as meals, odds are you're eating more salt, sugar and calories than you would be if you were eating whole, natural foods. Even the scale by skipping desserts on nights that dinner comes from a bag, box or the deli down the street. If you're still craving something sweet after the kitchen has closed for the night, make it whole fresh fruit or fat-free Greek yogurt.