Nutrition Talk: “I Have To Stop for Fast Food”

by tinareale on September 19, 2012

Many people hear “fast food” and think the following:

  • value (aka cheap to get)
  • easy and fits my schedule
  • tasty

With increasingly busy schedules, a desire for low-cost food, and the plethora of fast food stops popping up everywhere (we have THREE McDonald’s within 3 miles of each other – who needs that?!), fast food has become a more and more common part of many people’s diets.

I won’t pretend that I NEVER eat fast food, as we eat Subway and have the very occasional Chick Fil A grilled chicken sandwich. However, I hope to avoid fast food as a staple part of our diets. I also believe it doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) form the back bone of others’ diets. Once every few weeks is one thing. A few times a week every week is another.

So, let’s break down some of the reasons for turning to fast food.

fast food

Fast food often isn’t the cheapest meal for a family. Those “value meals” can run $3-4 minimum per person. Yet, there are plenty of meal options to make at home for cheaper than that.

  • Mix up a rice and beans dish.
  • Have a quick soup with some broth and a frozen mixed vegetable mix and lentils or beans.
  • Eggs and a sweet potato hash.
  • A box of pasta ($2) with some low-sugar, organic tomato sauce ($3), and even some quality meat ($10) could run cheaper than $16 for the meal and feed a family of four.

An easy, fresh meal can take the same amount of time to prepare as the time it takes to sit in line and order and get home from a fast food joint. So many meals can be quick and no-fuss. Believe me, I know. It’s the only way I cook. Want to know one of our meals this past week? Some hardboiled eggs mashed up with avocado and seasonings for a “healthy egg salad” sandwich along with some vegetables on the side. It cost about $10 to make that entire meal and took less than 10 minutes of “work” to cook (since I don’t really count the eggs sitting in a pot as “work”).

Fresh foods will not only taste good, but feel good to your body. Our bodies appreciate quality food. Foods full of grease, sugar, sodium, etc that often fill the menus at the local drive-thru won’t readily provide what our bodies need. Feed the body junk and it will feel like junk. It may be a hard habit to break, but once the body receives more quality nutrition, it will begin to crave those things. Plus, fresh tastes GOOD! It may take some creativity, but give it a try. With time, I promise you a fresh crisp apple will taste better and more satisfying than a half baked, fake apple “pie” for $1.

A few ways to make this easier to accomplish:

  • Plan ahead. Know your weekly schedule and try to plan meals that fill fit that schedule. Have a filled evening? Make sure to get a soup started in the crockpot in the morning. Need a meal on the go? Pack up some sandwiches and cut up veggies or fruit in a cooler to go. You can also pre-prep foods to use one day of the week to have ready for meals the rest of week – chop veggies, pre-cook chicken or meats or beans to toss in dishes, hard boil eggs, make a big batch of oatmeal/quinoa/rice/etc, and the list goes on!
  • Research recipes. Get online and you can find a world of resources dedicated to healthy meal ideas for cheap or re-creating old favorites in a healthier way.
  • Find favorites. Healthy foods exist that you like. Know what they are and make them readily available. Eventually, you may find yourself branching out even more, but as you get used to eating less “Combo #2”, make sure you’re subbing it with a healthy option you enjoy.
  • Use coupons. Buy less meat. Meal plan around sale items. There are plenty of ways to cut down on expenses for groceries. I’m not an expert by any means, but doing just the above (and I’m not a coupon master by any stretch of the imagination) has kept us at budget every month ($100/week for a family of four with fresh,whole foods the emphasis).

Your Turn – How often do you stop for fast food? Any tips or meal ideas you have to share?


1 Miz September 19, 2012 at 6:16 am

It’s funny.
IM IN NO WAY A SUPER CLEAN EATER—-but Id never ever eat fast food.
since I became an intuitive or mindful eater I still eat what others would deem…junk? (baked goods etc) but my bod really never shouts for the drive through.


2 Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers September 19, 2012 at 6:20 am

I hate that fast food has such a bad reputation. Yes – Big Macs have a bazillion calories, and they’re full of saturated fat. Tons of regular restaurants serve burgers with almost twice the calories and fat though. Fast food chains have made huge strides in the last few years to offer healthier options. I can’t say I eat fast food regularly (maybe once every three months or so on a road trip), but I don’t want to point the finger either.

Rant over… haha

You’re so right though. Even the “value menu” isn’t really the cheapest. Homemade veg/bean bowls are fast, portable, and usually quite cheap.

3 tinareale September 20, 2012 at 7:03 am

I certainly agree that there are fine options in fast food now. My main point was more that it doesn’t need to be the crutch that people fall back on *regularly* and that there ARE other options to the reasoning people will get it more and more often.

4 Meredith @ DareYouTo September 19, 2012 at 6:35 am

Good tips – there are more options and quicker/easier ways to eat than going out to fast food. on the road is tougher, but planning ahead and bringing snacks/meals helps!

5 Lindsay @ Lindsay's List September 19, 2012 at 6:51 am

oh gosh. i picked up a McDonald’s biscuit the other day. My first fast food in over a year.
it was great.
but it won’t happen for another year.

6 tinareale September 20, 2012 at 7:04 am

That’s the thing – it’s not your habit. Even more than once a year…no biggie! More than once a week? Then, it’s time to reconsider. Haha! ;)

7 Katie @wishandwhimsy September 19, 2012 at 6:55 am

Fast food is so unappealing to me any more. It’s definitely not always the cheapest option, and sometimes, it’s really not so fast. I can whip up something faster, more creative/healthy/tasting better that’s cheaper in my kitchen than the nearest fast food joint. It is about planning, though and having things on hand.

8 Jill @ Fitness Health and Happiness September 19, 2012 at 7:03 am

I never stop for fast food except for the rare occasion of Subway. I’m pretty sure there was a time when I was in college when I lived on fast food. If I only knew then what I know now.

9 Coco September 19, 2012 at 7:05 am

Fast food doesn’t appeal to me anymore either. I just know I will feel gross after eating it. I hate when I get stuck out running errands and need to eat, though. Once I popped into a grocery store and bought a Chobani to tide me over! My quick dinners are tacos (with ground turkey) and spaghetti (with frozen turkey meatballs).

10 Steph September 19, 2012 at 7:20 am

great post! I was never a big fast food eater growing up because my mom is a big believer in the home-cooked meal, but I picked up the habit in college…mostly because a cheeseburger is delicious at 1 AM! I recently decided that I was going to stay away from fast food as much as possible, except for maybe a Chick-Fil-A milkshake occasionally ;)

11 Kierston September 19, 2012 at 8:17 am

I seldom crave fast food … although as a child I loved my McNuggets. Now, I’d rather make my own :) Planning ahead is so important.

12 Lee September 19, 2012 at 8:18 am

Aside from Subway, which I eat maybe once every few months, I honestly never eat fast food. I just don’t crave it. Partially because I don’t eat beef or chicken, so there really isn’t much at a fast food restaurant that I would even want to eat.

13 Patty September 19, 2012 at 8:37 am

Lately fast food has been too much of a reoccurrence because there is “no time” but in reality it is bad planning on my part. Totally recognizing it. And its not cheap, $30+ dollars for McDonals for 3 people. I get so much more and healthier at Trader Joe’s for the same amount. Definitely will be cutting back on the fast food!

14 Julie @ Sweetly Balanced September 19, 2012 at 9:01 am

I hate greasy fast food and stopped eating it a long time ago (with the exception of taco bell- love it). Still, I rarely eat it but am trying to get my unhealthy fiancé To practice better eatig habits. Last week on a road trip we had no time for dinner so he planned to stop at McDonalds. I refused and said if we were eatig fast food I needed a better option, so we went to Subway, obviously not the BEST but it was better than frenh fries and cheese burgers…. Baby steps, I’ll get him there ;)

15 Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table September 19, 2012 at 9:27 am

I love you for writing this! There is no excuse for fast food these says. Even if you didn’t have time to prep something, there are other options. Swing by the Whole Foods got bar or grab a Publix sub. Anything but a big mac!

16 Ashley @ My Food 'N' Fitness Diaries September 19, 2012 at 9:28 am

I totally agree with you here! My husband and I will very rarely ever get fast food. If we do, it’s Subway or Chipotle, which I would say is once a month? Fast food has never really been my thing, and like you said, it’s really not that “cheap” like some people claim it to be compared to cooking a meal at home. I’d much rather have a PB&J sandwich or scrambled eggs for dinner than a hamburger from McDonald’s. I’m sure as we start having kids, we might be grabbing it a little more since our schedules will get busier, but I never plan to get in the habit of making it a regular thing.

17 Danielle @ Itsaharleyyylife September 19, 2012 at 9:44 am

I don’t really stop for fast food often! Usually my fiance is like why don’t we just grab some fast food and I usually pass and just wait until we get home. If I do eat fast food its usually subway… with the occasional chick fil a or mcdonalds but not very often! usually when I eat at those places I don’t get meals either. I might just get a cheeseburger off the dollar menu to hold me over and eat a chobani when I get home.

18 erin September 19, 2012 at 9:50 am

We use to live in a condo with many fast food options within walking distance of our home (McDonalds, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Five guys, KFC). I can honestly say that in the 5 years that we lived there I can probably count the number of time we ate at those places and when we did it was Five guys. Never once stopped at taco bell or KFC. So I never get the excuse that people eat there because they are all around them. I am not a perfect eater by any means, but I have also never gotten into the habit of eating at those place so stopping in when I am hungry never really crosses my mind.

I always bring a lunch to work with me so I don’t have a need for fast food and we cook most meals at home. Once a week we go out for dinner and chose better quality restaurants. Much rather spend my money there. We recently drove to the beach and packed food to eat along the way to save money and our health. I am proud to say that my son is 3 and has no clue what McDonalds is and I have no intention of introducing it to him.

19 Danielle September 19, 2012 at 11:05 am

Man, that is exactly how I feel. If I’m going to drop $10-12 on food from a restaurant, it had better be good. We live in a city where the food options are quite amazing, and I’d rather make the effort to eat at home most of the time and have a well-prepared delicious meal at a quality restaurant than use the convenience of fast food places any time!

20 Katie @ Talk Less, Say More September 19, 2012 at 9:56 am

I LOVE this! I don’t eat fast food (hardly ever) and if I do it’s usually because I’m traveling and even then I try to pack my lunches. And for the few times that I do eat fast food, I try to make healthier choices because I know my body does not respond well to greasy fried foods.

21 Elle September 19, 2012 at 10:01 am

I always take my own food along when I go out just to avoid this situation. Good post and lots of great tips! Planning is key.

22 Laura @ Mommy Run Fast September 19, 2012 at 10:12 am

I haven’t been to a fast food restaurant since college (10 years?) and am not tempted by them at all. You listed some great tips! There are so many easy to whip up foods that are also cheap (eggs, bean burritos, tacos, frozen veggie burgers, pasta…). Great post, Tina!

23 Maria September 19, 2012 at 10:22 am

I think fast food can be a part of a moderately healthy diet, you just need to know what to order and what to avoid and like you said, not make it a habit multiple times a week! My husband and I gave up “traditional” fast food (Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King) about 4 years ago and haven’t looked back, but some favorites like In and Out, Subway and Chick Fil A are still okay with us. We just try not to go overboard and choose healthy meal items most of the time. Though, I can’t pretend that I will always avoid waffle fries and a spicy Chick Fil A sandwich – too good to completely rule out!

24 tinareale September 20, 2012 at 7:08 am

I 100% agree with this. I don’t bash fast food as a never thing…but it’s becoming a fall back for so many for reasons that it doesn’t really NEED to be one. I’m with you that Subway and CFA will always be sometimes options for us too.

25 Jamie @ StudioEats September 19, 2012 at 10:45 am

Couple of tips… have a couple of homemade meals that you have stored in the freezer, put together a quick sandwich, stop and pick up a salad if you really don’t want to make something (find places that do create your own salads or something!), instead of hitting up a typical fast food spot, go to a grocery store and get something from the pre-made section.. these can be much healthier!

Great post!

26 tinareale September 20, 2012 at 7:09 am

GREAT tips!

27 Julianna @ Julianna Bananna September 19, 2012 at 10:51 am

i loved this post!! there are so many reasons to not eat fast food. unless i’m starving on a road trip and have no food & that’s the only option, i try to avoid it at all costs! subway is equally as cheap as a fast food burger&fries and is a lot healthier. unfortunately the case is not the same for my older brother – he’s the typical college guy and his diet mainly consists of pasta roni, frozen pizza, bagels, and the occasional burger & fries. my mom and i try to get him to eat our healthy stuff and he won’t touch it with a 10-ft fork! haha :(

28 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats September 19, 2012 at 10:54 am

Haha those first three descriptions of fast food definitely did not cross my mind, my first thought is “ew” and the second “greasy”! I can’t even imagine eating Fast food everyday, I think I’d feel so sick! Meal prep for the week is definitely key to keep from eating out!

29 Danielle September 19, 2012 at 11:13 am

Lately I’ve been on a quest to waste less food. I hate cleaning out the fridge every couple weeks and finding $20 worth of wasted food in the fridge. This quest has really helped us stop eating out so much! If I’m determined to use all the food I bought, we have to cook more often.

Also, I think the key to building a good habit is to make it better than the alternative. In our case, we used to eat out all the time because I didn’t want to cook. I didn’t want to cook because I got home from school/work so exhausted that I didn’t want to think about doing more work. Eventually, I figured out that the “more work” wasn’t really cooking at all; it was washing the dishes I needed to use for cooking! Once we got a system of doing the dishes right after eating or finding a place with a dishwasher, cooking wasn’t such a chore anymore, and it was actually more convenient than eating out.

I also chop up all the veggies I buy and put them in individual containers, like snack bowls, for easy lunch items. I also chop up my chicken before I freeze it so I have to do less prep later. I make extra rice and freeze the extras so I don’t have to wait an hour for my brown rice next time. These sorts of habits are not that hard to get into, and when you can really be consistent with them, it makes life awesome. I have to make it more convenient to eat healthy in the moment, or I won’t do it.

30 tinareale September 20, 2012 at 7:10 am

Great, great tips! thanks Danielle!

31 Shannon ~ My Place In The Race September 19, 2012 at 11:22 am

Love this post :D

32 Heather September 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I used to be a big fast food eater growing up and in college. As a kid fast foods weren’t looked down on as they are now so we had it maybe once every week or two weeks and the habit got bigger when I went to college. After realizing one day how bad I felt everytime I ate it I just stopped. So now I’m meal planning for a family of 4 but would really like to know your secret to spending on $100 a week on groceries. I’m barely getting away with $250!

33 Sarah @ Blonde Bostonian September 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I love these tips! I love creating meal plans every weekend for the week of meals ahead. It keeps me on track at the grocery store so that I save money and don’t get tempted to just buy everything I see that looks delicious.

34 Simone September 19, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I never stop for fast food, buttt I have celiac and am allergic to dairy and eggs so that makes things a little more difficult.
my go to meal saver is on Sunday’s I often chop all my veggies, measure all my spices and whatever else is needed for my crockpot meals and I add them all to the same baggie, label them and throw them in the freezer. The night before I put them in the fridge to thaw and in the morning I put them in the crock pot and off to work I go… doesn’t get much easier!
also another tip is keep all the veggie ends and skins, store them in a bag in your freezer to make a veggie broth or add meat bones and make a meat broth, easy and a good money saver :)

35 Lisa September 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I never do stop for fast food, unless we have no food in sight. I do feel there are options you can have…if you plan on going out take a cooler full of snacks/meals. Meal prepping one day a week and putting a side a few hours to do it is key in my planning.
I definitely agree with what you’re saying.
When I suffered a binge problem, I loved fast food, but ever since I recovered from it I can’t look at it the same way at all.

36 [email protected] September 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm

AMEN! I never stop for it–because it is truly slower than just hopping home to the slow cooker ;)

37 Calee (@chimes) September 19, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I’m sharing this. I am 110% with you, but a lot of my facebook friends/twitter friends aren’t into health and fitness and don’t listen to MY opinions a lot of the time. However, regardless of if you’re “into” health and fitness, fast food is not really a choice.

Also, I heard on NPR that McDonalds is making their menus ‘healthier’ (i.e. they’re taking out some salt, sugar, and calories … but who knows what ingredients they’re using). It’s a step in a better direction because people are still going to eat fast food, but it’s still not FOOD.

38 RunEatRepeat September 19, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I think many people stop for fast food because it’s a money AND convenience thing. Sure, rice and beans is technically cheaper but I don’t think the majority of McD’s target audience is going to accept that swap. And cooking rice and beans is NOT more convenient for a single parent who works full time (from scratch they take an hour or more). I just wanted to chime in and say that I think people should be encouraged to make healthier choices at these places if going ‘cold turkey’ isn’t an option…

39 tinareale September 20, 2012 at 7:12 am

Definitely, Monica! I certainly own up to having it at times too and aiming for the healthier options available (bec there are more than they used to be). I guess this stemmed from seeing and hearing so many friends talking about “NEEDING to stop for fast food with their busy schedules”. It’s like…you don’t NEED to every week 3 times per week.

40 Sam @ Better With Sprinkles September 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm

I’ll hit up Subway on occasion, but I try to avoid it, for the most part. it’s not really that cheap and leaves me feeling like crap, so why bother?

41 [email protected] September 19, 2012 at 4:30 pm

We used to hit the drive thru at least 3 times a week, horrible. It is about $30 for our family to eat at a certain restaurant with yellow arches, and I can get an entire WEEKS worth of groceries for our family of five for $75.

42 Cassy September 19, 2012 at 4:39 pm

The only time we get fast food is when traveling but usually we try to pack food with us or stop as a grocery store and pick up french bread, cheese, and fruit. My kids wish I took them to fast food more often but not for the food, they want to play in the play area.

43 Melissa @ Be Not Simply Good September 19, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Planning ahead makes the biggest difference!

The one time I tend to think I “have to” eat fast food is on road trips. I remember the trip when it occurred to me to just pull off at a grocery store and buy conveniently packaged veggies, fruit, and cheese to munch on. Broccoli, carrots and cauliflower over chicken nuggets? Yes, please. Had I planned ahead and packed this sort of food myself, though, it would have been a lot cheaper. You definitely pay for the convenience of pre-cut produce. Too bad the grocery stores don’t put signs out at the highway like the restaurants do. Wandering around a strange town definitely slows down the trip, again emphasizing the benefit of planning ahead!

44 Tara September 19, 2012 at 7:47 pm

I agree!! Planning is key…I always have a little food around so I never end up in a bad situation!!

45 Kelly @ Laughter, Strength, and Food September 19, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Great tips! And…it’s definitely true that once you start to eat clean and healthy, the body will continue to want foods like that! Even though I try to totally stay away from fast food, when I occasionally get it, I can feel a difference in my body and how I feel. Clean foods just make me feel better about myself!

46 Brittany @Berries and Barbells September 19, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Wow!! I’m impressed that you only spend $100 a week for a family of four. I must be doing something wrong because I’m spending nearly double that! I would love some more tips about what to buy/make on a budget.

I completely agree with everything you said in this post. Fast food is horrible and doesn’t even taste good. Not to mention the crappy feeling I get after eating it!

47 tinareale September 20, 2012 at 7:14 am

Well, I try to use coupons and we meal plan ahead. We have lots of vegetarian based meals (so things like eggs, beans, etc). Also that price doesn’t include the meat we have in the freezer from a local cow share or some items that we buy in bulk. I think planning ahead, using what we have, using available coupons, and finding lower cost meals helped a lot for our budgeting.

48 Mariella Lombardi September 20, 2012 at 2:12 am

Hi Tina,
great post and totally agree. I eat fast food maybe once a year, but I only go for the subway sandwiches or french fries at most. I have eaten any mcdonals in like 12-13 years and I would never stuff myself with those so-called burgers.

49 Amy Lauren September 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I noticed the other day that McD’s puts calorie counts on the menu now (I don’t eat there, but there’s one in Walmart so I saw it). I wonder how many people pay attention to that, though.

I’m not big on fast food, and I’m surprised this hasn’t been mentioned much, but I like supporting local restaurants more than busy chains. If I’m going to eat out, I want good food, but I also like knowing where my money is going. A burger- I’m going to the local burger place about a mile down the road. The owner lives in my condominium community and greets us by name. Even the healthier options at fast food like sandwiches and salads, I can get the same type of deal for about the same price somewhere local, even using local ingredients, which is usually healthier too.

50 Melissa @ Live, Love, & Run September 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm

For me, the SMELL of fast food is what always drew me in. Ever notice that when you’re cooking, the smell doesn’t always overwhelm you like it does when you’re driving by McDonald’s or Bo’jangles and smell their fries? Or good Lord when you drive by a restaurant and smell a good steak? It’s terrible, but unfortunately true. (And I’m sure I’m not the only one.)

It wasn’t until I started planning meals (and moved out to the country) that I noticed that we’d been spending way too much time dining out. (Not necessarily fast food, though. I get the cravings for it when I’m pregnant.) Planning meals is HUGE in avoiding fast food.

51 VanessaG September 20, 2012 at 7:55 pm

I def don’t eat super clean(ice cream addict), but I hardly ever eat fast food. If I do, its my favorite place = Panera. The closest one is an hr away so I only eat there 1-2 a month when I go visit my bro and babysit my nieces. Its a good thing its an hr away or I know I’d eat there 3-4 times a week!! I also love Subway. I would prob eat fast food more if I didn’t feel bad for buying food, when I already have food at home.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: