Healthy “Fast Food”

healthy fast food

A lot of people like fast food. No wonder McDonalds serves about 47 million people a day worldwide! I probably do not have to tell you this, but fast food is definitely not healthy. This post is about the essence of fast food, my attempt to recreate a healthy version of a chicken nugget meal, and a comparison between my version and the regular meal you would get at a fast food restaurant.

What is good about fast food?

Fast food is fast

One reason people like it is because fast food is well… fast. Perhaps convenient would be a better word — I am sure there are people who drive to a fast food place in the time that they could whip up a healthy meal. But, in terms of convenience, driving somewhere, looking at the food you want, telling someone you want it, and having it in your hands a couple minutes later is as good as it gets.

It tastes good addictive

Most people who get fast food also enjoy eating it. But does it really taste good? Does it just have these amazing flavors, this perfect balance of tastes…? No, it does not. It is mainly incredibly greasy, salty and sweet (buns/sauces).

Even though we are evolved to prefer the sweet taste and like fatty foods, these preferences are mainly acquired. Try going for a couple of months without salting your food… eating a french fry will taste like eating a salt shaker to you. Same with sugar. Most people did not grow up eating mainly veggies and therefore love these tastes at least somewhat and crave them. Of course, the more you eat them the more you crave them the more you eat them…

Fun food

Convenience and taste aside, I think there is another element to fast food that makes eating it enjoyable. Most fast foods are foods that you can eat on the go, with your hands or finger. There is something playful about dipping a french fry into ketchup and picking up a chicken nugget with your thumb and index finger.

Good memories

Also, fast food is often enjoyed on a special occasion. Maybe when you drove on vacation or when you went to Disney land. This factor is a major one. When we link food to good memories that is reason enough to eat and enjoy it.

When I was a child we would only go to McDonalds once a year. Is was incredibly special. We would always get the chicken nuggets, french fries and cola (no pop at home). I remember how I loved having the different dips and having the food come on a little tray, the nuggets neatly stored in a little box etc. I loved it despite being a child whose favorite food was cauliflower.

Maybe fast food simply reminds you of being a child, because french fries and chicken nuggets is what you usually got in a restaurant when everybody else was eating goat cheese stuffed salmon…

My kind of fast food

While you could not pay me to eat at McDonalds, I still crave “fast food”. Whenever I make french fries or chicken nuggets I get some of the same feelings I had as a child sitting in front of my tray. I almost get giddy inside, even though there are other foods I prefer more taste-wise, there is something that feels special about this meal.

Capturing the essence

While my version of fast food is neither fast nor super greasy and salty, I think it captures the essence of fast food, at least for me, minus the sick feeling you get afterward and the fullness that only lasts about 30 minutes. Mark, of course, loves it too. Needless to say this meal is great for children.

Meet Asian nuggets and rosemary fries

Of course there are many different ways to create healthy “fast food”. This is one of our favorite version of chicken nuggets and french fries. The nuggets are asian marinated chicken breast pieces in a sesame crust. The french fries are rosemary/paprika baked oven fries with fresh olive oil. I serve it with homemade tomato ketchup and a sweet-salty dipping sauce for the nuggets. Here are the recipes for the asian chicken nuggets and the rosemary oven fries with homemade ketchup.

Nutrition comparison

Below is a table where you can compare a typical chicken nugget meal and my version of it (red and green respectively). The serving size for the ketchup is about 2 Tbsp. We also have about 12 oz. of french fries (two large). Then there are about 12 typical chicken nuggets and sesame chicken nuggets from one breast. The two amounts are equal in weight, but the recipe will make about 18-20 nuggets of sesame nuggets! You can tell from the picture that they are similarly sized to typical fast food nuggets.

Serving size

Keep in mind that there is no “right” serving size. Eat within your calorie budget if you have one or eat until you are comfortably full. The amount listed in the table is what Mark and I ate (with a salad). We were super full! Stuffed! Half of it would be plenty. The picture above shows only about half of the fries in one portion and about 2/3 of the chicken nuggets! Yes, it makes that much!

FoodCaloriesFat (g)Protein (g)Carbs (g)Sodium (mg)Fiber (g)
My ketchup300071002
Avg. ketchup300084000
My fries31077605508
Avg. fries11005612140>100012
My nuggets330203343805
Avg. nuggets56037243613000
My total670274071103015
Avg.total16909336184270012

Nutrition data mysteries

I got the data for the table above from food databases, but some information just does not make sense. I wonder how can the same amount of fast food french fries have more fiber, than fries with the skin still on? Plus, since a large portion of the fast food french fries weight is fat, the fiber content should be even lower (more potato in my fries). This really makes you wonder if “they” tweak the numbers to make things seem more healthful…

Also, how can they give you accurate information about the sodium content in their french fries. Have you ever seen someone measure the salt they sprinkle on there? Usually, they just shake some on there and then another person shakes some more. And whenever a new batch gets put in, they shake again, while the already salted fries are still in there. But of course, they all keep track of the sodium content in their heads…

Other important nutritional differences

The data in the table is not the whole story. It gives you no information on the quality of fats or on the amounts of micronutrients. While you get unhealthy oxidized and trans fats with the regular fast food meal, the fat in the healthy version comes mainly from sesame seeds and unheated extra virgin olive oil. Do I have to say more?

I hope you enjoyed this post and are excited to see the recipes for this meal!

– Christina

Let me know… ?

What is it that you like about “fast food”? Do you treat yourself to it once in a while?

42 comments

  1. Laura Tucker says:

    I love this post, Christina. I think you captured the universal appeal – the fun – of convenient fast food arranged neatly in a box. But, most of us know the feeling afterward – when we’re stuffed but not satisfied. I am lucky enough to have tasted your nuggets…and they’re delicious. I’ve taken them on elegant picnics with only adults…we were happy as could be sitting outside, sipping our wine and munching down chicken nuggets with homemade sauce. I’ll be happy to have these recipes in one place. Post them soon!

    • Thank you Laura! So true, all the fun is still in there. Eating with your fingers, dipping things… and it taste so good.

      I will post the recipes either today or tomorrow!

  2. Great post!! I rarely eat fast food…mainly because I can 9 times out of 10 recreate it BETTER myself. But I will say that my ultimate favorite french fries are Arby’s curly fries…holy greasy goodness!

  3. Brendon says:

    I’ve also heard that the colors they use (McDougles’ well known yellow and red) are known to make people hungry. I don’t know the mechanism but I’ve read about it and a lot of companies use this tactic.

    • Yes, you are so right about that! Color psychology. People find blue to be the least appetizing color (blue food anyone?) Red is very stimulating. They also design the restaurants etc. to increase appetite…

      There are also stories on how there are substances that they add to make you addicted to the food etc. I believe they also do that with some cat food. But of course, this is hard to verify. But even if they do not do add these additives. The salt, sugar and fat in those foods are enough to make you physically “addicted” and the amount of fat in there makes you more hungry within a couple of minutes…

  4. I’m glad we found your blog! It’s so informative! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and alternative methods of eating healthier. I always try to cut fat out of my cooking, so this is a perfect site to follow!!

  5. i agree about fast food being addicting…..i read somewhere that they put so much sugar and salt in the food to make us want it. it is also realted to happy memories for children too. you know if you are good we will go to mcdonalds etc…..
    great post!

    • Yes, you are right! I talked about that in one of the previous comments. It’s pretty bad.

      The memories is such an important point. It is important not to use food as a reward for children. While it was not a reward for us, it was a “treat”. And whenever I am in Switzerland and pass a McDonalds I get a little urge, remembering the feeling I had as a child. But interestingly it does not happen with McDonalds in the US.

  6. Great post! I will admit, I do think that some fast food does taste good. Around here, we have a little burger joint called B-Bops, and I swear, it’s amazing. I usually treat myself to fast food about once or twice a month, but I ALWAYS regret eating it afterwards. It always makes me feel sluggish and squishy, haha..

    Also, thanks for the comments on my blog! I’ve been too busy to post lately, but I haven’t forgotten about my blogging buddies. Have a great day!

    Hope

    • Thanks for stopping by and for your comment! No problem about the blog. I know how it is….

      Haha squishy… that made me laugh.

      Thanks again! Have a great day too!

  7. Great post! I love your comparison chart! I love making oven fries, and rosemary adds such a nice touch…

  8. Rachel says:

    I think you would really enjoy this book:

    http://www.amazon.com/End-Overeating-Insatiable-American-Appetite/dp/1605297852

    I’m looking forward to your recipes. I do love fast food and still get in a Taco Bell fix or some nuggets from Chick-Fil-A (even while on Weight Watchers) every now and then. But with your last post’s tips, my oven fries will be better than McDonald’s!

    • Thanks Rachel! I have already read the book when it came out! The message is an important one and that is why he repeats it like fifty times in the book! haha

      Since we are already on the topic, why do you think you like it? Is it the taste or do you think it is because of the convenience and because it is sort of a habit?

      I hope you will like the recipes! I hope they are better than McDonald’s!

      • Rachel says:

        Yep, he is a bit repetitive, isn’t he? LOL.

        I think I like fast food because of the taste…the fat and salt. I love salt so nothing tastes better than McDonald’s fries with lots of salt on them. But alas, I have high blood pressure. I’m doing pretty good on Weight Watchers and haven’t been eating processed foods. I bet now if I ate McDonald’s fries they would be too salty!

        • I know what you mean with the salt. I have always loved salt too. While I don’t eat processed foods I do salt my food enough. ;) I KNOW that if I stopped I would adapt, but I just hate to eat food that does not have enough salt. But I still think that I am under the daily limit for total sodium. I should find out I guess. :)

          High blood pressure is definitely in my family, so I do have to be careful. I do not have problems with it…yet. I am very young and healthy though. But I noticed that as soon as I get excited about something my heart speeds up and my blood pressure increases for a couple of days.

          I tried one of the salt substitutes once…that must be the single most disgusting thing I have ever had in my mouth. Ever tried that?

  9. What a great post! I often try to re-create fast food favorites at home, baked fries and my own burgers or chicken fingers. I do have a soft spot for “real” fast food though, just because I was treated to it as a kid on special occasions, so it always reminds me of those!

    • That makes sense… It was a treat for me too as a child. And we only got it when we visited my dad at his job. About once a year… Luckily, I do not like it anymore. It helped to think about what is in the food and how it is prepared. It just seems so gross to me now that random people, who are not even chefs (and who probably did not wash their hands) touch all that food, which is already gross to begin with. I think I went into a McDonalds-kitchen once when I was a teenager. That did it… haha

  10. Erica says:

    Amen! I’m all for making fast, healthy food! Yours looks fantastic! I made a “healthified” Irish dish tonight :)

  11. Jenn says:

    Great post Christina. While I don’t eat fast food on a regular basis I’m not ashamed to admit that I actually like the taste of McDonald’s and I love the taste of Long John Silver’s. Ha! However, I know it’s not a good choice for my body and I don’t like to support the practices of those companies so it’s rare to eat there but i’ts not never.

    • Thanks Jenn! I have never even heard of Long John Silver. Sounds fancy. haha Do they have restaurants in several states?

      If you like McDonald’s here, you should try it in Switzerland. So much better! OK, it’s also about three times more expensive. In High School I would always get the McChicken. So yummy. When I came to the US I saw that it was only a dollar (vs. $7)!!! I was so happy. Until I tried it… disgusting. If it costs only a dollar it is probably worth even less… haha If I had to choose one fast food chain it would probably be Wendy’s. But the fries taste bitter since they “stopped” using trans fats.

      • Jenn says:

        Long John Silver’s is totally high class. They even have this bell you can ring by the door on the way out if you like the food. Makes for an even finer dining experience!!! ;-) Yeah they are in several states. The fish and chips CAN’T be beat.

        Interesting about the McD’s in Switzerland.

  12. sophia says:

    Woo hoo! I can’t wait for the recipes…because I’ve actually been planning to make those sesame-crusted chicken myself sometime!
    Hm, I actually really DO think fast food taste good…but certainly there is an addictive quality to them…and they do instigate a lot of good nostalgia in me. I’ll still have my fast food…but I don’t enjoy them that much anymore. Just once in a while to fix that craving in me!

    • Recipe is coming up!

      Well, by not tasting good, I did not mean that it is not enjoyable or that it does not “taste” good. But it is just the grease and salt. I think really good tasting food, has a lot of flavor (spices etc.) and tastes good with minimal fat, salt and sugar. This is clearly not the case with fast food french fries or most burgers. Of course, it does not taste bad, or nobody would eat it. I love some fast foods, but it is because fat and salt tastes good.

  13. Karin says:

    Your childhood reminds me so much of mine! We also only went to Mickey D’s once a year and I felt exactly the same about the food like you did. However, these days I run far far away when I see fast food “restaurants”.
    I love making my own fries and burgers too. They’re easy to make and healthy. That can’t be beaten! :)
    Love that post!

    • Thank you Karin! So interesting! I have not eaten fast food in ages. But I do sometimes think about getting a McChicken in Switzerland when I am there. I don’t know why. Maybe I wonder if it still tastes good? But the chicken grosses me out, it only takes one hard piece or funny looking thing in there and I don’t want to eat it anymore. Now that I think about that nasty chicken, I don’t want that McChicken after all… Needless to say, I never had any fast food beef.

  14. Jessica says:

    I used to eat fast food about once a month. January 2009 I decided to go 1 year without it. Now, I hardly think about it, but McD’s has been doign a Big Mac promo lately, and when I see the billboards, I do want one.
    Now, when i want fast food, I make home made burgers, sometimes buy a ‘healthier’ version of chicken fingers in a box, roast some sweet pot. fries, or bread some shrimp in panko and bake it. I’m always just as satisfied after those meals as I would be after a Big Mac, and, I don’t feel sick. i wonder if I would feel sick if I actually ate one now?

    • That is great! You do think less about it if you don’t eat something for a while. But you are right advertisements can force us to think about it. It helps not to look! haha

      What is up with the sick feeling afterward? I sometimes eat an equal amount of fat without feeling sick…

  15. Lauren says:

    Great post as always Christina.
    I personally am ashamed to say that my buying ‘fast food’ is always down to laziness. It is definitely not cheaper, tastier or better in any way than home made except for the fact that I don’t have to do any dishes! One day I will have a dishwasher and then we’ll see if that excuse still holds up!
    This looks really yummy and once again, looks like a great meal for the littlies (as long as they haven’t any allergies).
    My fav. home made ‘fast foods’ are pizza or burgers, both of these are so fun to make and never the same twice.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Thank you Lauren!

      No worries, we are all human. I do have a dishwasher and even then am I too lazy sometimes to “do the dishes”. Food preparation and all the things related to it can take up a big chunk of our time. Unless you find a way to enjoy the process the only thing we can do is to find compromises. Luckily there are things you can make that don’t require a lot of clean up etc. But unless we know exactly how to prepare those dishes without thinking (habit) it is not helpful in those moments when we are weak. I think roasting is great for example, since you don’t need any pans. Theoretically you could just dump the food on a paper towel and eat off that! haha

      Pizza is fun to make! I have a video of me as a young child helping to make pizza. It was one of those rare foods that I could help with. But of course, I did not just want to make boring pizza…I took my dough and created cupcakes, turtles, breads etc. Of course, it was just some dough I deformed…. my imagination was pretty good. I also always turned to the camera and explained in detail how to recreate them…maybe I am destined to have a cooking show after all! haha

  16. […] I leave, I want to send a shout-out to Christina over at Health-Foodie.  She is doing a series on recreating healthy versions of fast food at home.  Obviously, this includes french fries, which […]

  17. Laura Tucker says:

    Christina…you MUST post a snippet of this video from your childhood. Pretty please?!

  18. Chaz says:

    I really like your website, did you design it yourself?

    Chef Chuck from foodbuzz
    Have a great weekend!

  19. Andi says:

    I just had our first in March and it was a wonderful exrineepce from start to finish. We lived in CT, but worked in Mass and I was fortunate to find a fantastic OBGYN office and hospital near work. Granted, it was about 45 minutes from where we actually lived, but completely worth it. From day one, they presented us with all the options, but not once were we ever pressured to do things a certain way. Every single nurse, doctor, person we dealt with was adamant that this was OUR birth exrineepce and it was important to do what worked for us. Incredible, really. My water broke around 4 am and we went to the hospital at 9am and I didn’t actually give birth until almost 8 pm. I did not get an epidural and no one tried to make me. They let me labor the way I wanted to labor and gave me a room with a birthing tub. Although I didn’t actually have a water birth, they allowed me to labor in the tub. I would get out and want to get back in a while later and they would refill it for me. I think about 4 times. Once kiddo was born, the doctor kissed my forehead and she told me I did a fantastic job. I thought that was the best. Not once did they take him from us and the room we actually stayed in had a double bed so my husband and I could both sleep in it. It was amazing. and then we moved!!!! We’re trying for #2 and I’m really trying to leave it in the Lord’s hands to provide me with a great OB and hospital. My exrineepce, I don’t believe, is very typical of most hospitals. We were blessed. I am more inclined to have a midwife and consider a home-birth if I can’t find a hospital and provider that would provide a similar exrineepce. Unfortunately {for them}, the bar is set pretty high.

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