The Convenient Diner

Do you grab for the phone for take-out more often than grabbing a cookbook?  Are you dashing into a drive-thru on your way home from work to pick up dinner most nights of the week?  You are not alone according to a 2004 study that says we are eating out more often. And when we do, we eat 200 calories more than when we eat at home.

But with such busy lives, it’s tempting and sometimes necessary to reach for these convenient foods. While fast food and pre-packaged convenience foods offer an easy choice, they also include a lot of waste, salt, sugar, and additives that affect our health.

So what are we to do when we are too tired to cook or feel like we have no other choice, but to choose convenience over health? The following strategies and ideas can help you make healthier choices when you dine out and help you to choose to eat at home more often.  You may even save a penny or too!

  1. Eat Smaller Portions: Instead of ordering a four-taco entrée served with rice and beans, order three tacos a la cart. Instead of the double cheeseburger, change to a single, no cheese. Split your entrée with another person—you will be surprised that the smaller portions satisfy your hunger and will appreciate not feeling overly full.
  2. Use Available Nutrition Information: Restaurants and fast food establishments are providing consumers with more healthful options and providing nutrition information. Gather the menus of your favorite restaurants by going to the restaurant or visiting their website. (Use this website as a general guide Print nutrition information and keep it in a binder, or even in your car, for reference the next time you are dining out to help you make healthier choices.
  3. Practice Quick Cooking at Home: Still want at a meal or treat that tastes good, but are too tired to cook? At-home versions of your favorite meal can be more healthful, lower in calories, and possibly just as quick.  Try these easy and quick meal suggestions.

Better BLT: Between 2 pieces of whole-wheat bread, place 4 strips of cooked turkey bacon, sliced tomatoes, romaine lettuce leaves, and 1 tablespoon of reduced-fat mayonnaise. Enjoy with a piece of fruit on the side.

Salad in a Pita: Stuff a whole-wheat pita with spinach, shredded carrots, and cucumber slices, 3 ounces of precooked chicken strips, tofu, or garbanzo beans. Top with 2 tablespoons of reduced-fat salad dressing. Serve with a broth-based canned soup.

Shrimp Caesar: Toss romaine lettuce with 3 ounces thawed precooked frozen shrimp, pre-sliced mushrooms, diced zucchini, and 2 tablespoons of reduced-fat Caesar dressing. Enjoy with 10 high fiber crackers.

Bean Burrito: In an 8-inch whole-wheat tortilla place ½ cup low-fat refried beans, 1/3 cup low-fat shredded cheddar cheese, shredded romaine, and salsa. Microwave until warm. Enjoy with a side salad.

Chili Cheese Potato and Broccoli: Bake a potato in the microwave for 6 to 8 minutes until tender. Top with broccoli, ½ cup canned vegetarian chili, and 1/3 cup shredded low-fat shredded cheddar cheese.

Ten Minute Spicy Chicken Fajitas: In a preheated skillet sprayed with olive oil, add sliced red and green pepper, shredded carrots and chopped zucchini; season veggies with chili powder, paprika and cumin to your liking. Once veggies are cooked (2-3 minutes) add precooked grilled chicken. Sauté together until chicken is warmed. Serve on top of a bowl of baby spinach for a fajita style salad or turn into lettuce wraps for true fajitas! Top with avocado, salsa, and Greek yogurt.

Try these strategies the next time you are feeling busy. Eating out less will lead to fewer calories and to more healthful eating habits for you and your family.

Share your quick-prepare recipes with us on Facebook and find them in our blog!


*Bowman SA, Vinyard B. Fast food consumption of US adults: impact on energy and nutrient intakes and overweight status. J AM Coll Nutr. 2004;23:163-168.


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