Every weekday evening, millions of Americans are plagued with the same dilemma as they leave the office and head home: "What should I have for dinner?" For many people, the easiest option is to have dinner prepared for them. Although fast food is always an option, consider opting instead for home-prepared meals.
Fast food serves a purpose. On short notice, if there are no groceries in the house or no time to prepare them, a fast food meal may be an acceptable alternative if you make healthier choices. Most fast food restaurants have a grilled chicken option with a side salad instead of fries. Substitute diet soda or unsweetened tea for sugary beverages. Fast food restaurants should not be your main source of nutrition because most menu items are high in fat, sugar and sodium.
Groceries and Cost Control
If you find yourself thinking that healthy foods are just too expensive, think again. The cost of regular dining in fast food restaurants adds up quickly. Dr. Tim Harlan explains that the same $14.00 spent on fast food hamburgers could pay for twice as much food at the grocery store. Skilled grocery shopping, however, takes some practice. Grocery shopping has the potential to save you and your family money when executed properly, but done recklessly, it can cost as much, if not more, than fast food dining. Shop the circulars, buy some foods frozen instead of fresh, clip coupons, buy store brands when you can and don't go shopping on an empty stomach.
Having a grocery list based on a planned weekly menu is key to saving money and buying healthy foods at the grocery store. A study done by the University of Arizona reports that Americans throw away roughly 14 percent of the food they purchase. To minimize waste, buy only the items you already have a plan for. When you have a few extra minutes in your day, download some healthy recipes you would like to try. Inventory your refrigerator and pantry to determine which ingredients you need, and purchase only the items that end up on your list.
Groceries and Health Benefits
Aside from having greater cost control at the grocery store, you also have a wider variety of foods to choose from. Fast food restaurants specialize in highly processed foods with a long shelf life that can be easily transported across the country without spoiling. This limits the menu significantly. Grocery stores will have more fruits and vegetables of all colors that can provide health benefits beyond the standard refined hamburger bun and fried white potatoes. Dr. Julie Garden-Robinson of the University of North Dakota explains that produce of different colors provide antioxidants and nutrients unique to that specific pigment. She recommends consuming a variety of colorful foods in your diet.
Elizabeth Donahue is a clinical dietitian in a pediatric special-needs clinic. She is a registered dietitian with the American Dietetic Association, a licensed nutritionist with the State of Florida and has been certified as a breastfeeding specialist by Lactation Education Resources. Donahue holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and nutrition from Florida International University.