It starts as the innocent microwavable dinner because you had the afternoon meeting that ran a
little long. Then it progresses to the several-times-a-week take-out from the neighborhood
burger joint because middle level management requires off-the-clock huddles and strategy
planning plus junior (and juniorette) has his or her thrice weekly soccer practice, or band practice,
or science club meetings. Before you realize it, your freezer resembles a holding bin for the local
Costco outlet and your local electric company could have disconnected your range 5 years earlier
without your knowledge.

Guilty as Charged

We’re all guilty of grabbing that quick meal on the run while rushing through that daily grind we
call life. It’s not done specifically to expand our waistlines, elevate our cholesterol and blood
pressure or lighten our wallets and purses. However, when these fast meals aren’t chosen properly,
they do expand our waistlines, elevate our cholesterol and blood pressure and lighten our wallets
and purses. The key is to order and choose these fast meals not just with speed in mind but also
nutrition. There’s no law that you have to order a double burger or supersize at the local golden
arches. Nor do you have to choose fried, salty or creamed selections at the local take-out joint.
Pizza does not always have to be the extra meat, extra cheese variety. Even the most diehard meat-
n-potatoes joints offer some healthier menu item… even if it’s just one item.

Where to Start

I’m sure most of America has met Jared, maybe not personally but I’m sure most of us have seen
him on the television, almost on a daily basis for his sponsor Subway sandwiches. While I don’t
like to push specific products or businesses, I do counsel my patients that if they do need to get
meals on the run, establishments like Subway are probably the most palatable (no pun intended)
from a nutrition point of view. They specifically offer lower fat items and you are allowed to omit
certain items as the sandwich is being prepared. If your neighborhood isn’t populated with a
Subway establishment, I’m sure your local sandwich shop would be willing to create healthier
sandwiches for you. The key is to avoid the salamis, pepperonis, bolognas and cheeses if possible.
Also steer clear of tuna and “seafood” salads which usually come with a hearty dose of mayonnaise
resembling tuna flavored mayonnaise more than tuna salad. Ask for extra vegetable toppings in
place of animal proteins or choose leaner animal protein such as turkey, chicken or lean ham. If
you do need to “dress” the sandwich, ask for the olive oil/vinegar instead of mayonnaise or the
house special sauce.

To Burger or Not To Burger

If you didn’t order a burger at the golden arches, would Ronald still be your friend? What I do
know is that he won’t pay for your 4 vessel cardiac bypass surgery which may be the unintended
consequence of a lifetime of supersizing. And forget about the usual nutrition rationale learned in
home economics. The fish “burger” with it’s fried coating, dollop of tartar sauce and slice (or two)
of cheese ends up with more fat and saturated fat than the “beefed” variety. And French fries are
well, French fries – a pure indulgence that simply add fat calories, starchy carbohydrates that raise
the blood sugar and salt. At least that other pure indulgence – chocolate – has antioxidants and
“love” simulating compounds. The pickens’ are usually a little slimmer at burger joints. Look for
grilled chicken offerings or salads (without the tortilla or wonton strips). And if you must have
the beef, your best bet would be the Clara Peller variety of “where’s the beef” burger. I’d leave the
meat-cheese-more meat-more cheese variety to the ball headed clown spokesperson of that other
burger establishment. At least his cardiac bypass surgery is probably covered by the company.

Pizza, Pizza

This is where it gets really difficult using “healthy” and “menu item” in the same sentence. Cheese
is where the bulk of the saturated fat and cholesterol resides but since dough, sauce AND cheese
constitutes the basic pizza, its difficult getting around this culinary cardiac landmine. And I haven’
t seen soy cheese or even reduced fat cheeses offered at your local pizza take-out joint. In fact, the
trend seems to be headed in the opposite direction with extra cheese, deep dish and cheese in and
between the crusts being offered. And this doesn’t even include the saturated fat laden toppings
such as salami, pepperoni and sausage. My advice would be to look for the “gourmet” pizza
establishments such as California Pizza Kitchens where the amount of cheese used is just enough
to hold the toppings to the crust. They also offer pizzas with barely any cheese and are actually
“salad” based pizzas. The “gourmet” pizza joints also usually offer salads or even pastas as take-out
options to broaden your choice of healthier items.

Make Your Own “Take-out”

When you know you’ll be pressed for time and would normally do take-out, make sandwiches,
vegetable salads or fruit salads the day or night before. Many fruit and vegetable salads are readily
available at the neighborhood market - you don’t have to only patronize the burger or pizza
joints for take-out. The friendly neighborhood supermarket offers a variety of healthy – yes, not
just healthier – ready-to-go food options. For sandwiches, making them ahead of time controls
exactly what goes into them and more importantly, what goes into you. One of my favorite make-
ahead sandwiches is a version of the Big Easy’s muffaletta. I just chop a bottle of Italian giardiniera
mix vegetables - available at any supermarket – and add an equal portion of chopped olive salad
available at Costco. Add one or two minced cloves of garlic, a couple dashes of hot sauce and one
or two tablespoons of olive oil. To make the sandwich, cut 6 to 8 inch portions from a crusty
baguette. I usually hollow out part of the bottom half and place several tablespoons of the
olive/vegetable mixture in the hollowed section. Add lean ham or smoked turkey breast and a
couple slices of low fat salami (there are 95% fat free salamis available). Add low fat cheese or soy
cheese then wrap the sandwich in plastic wrap. This sandwich also works with vegetable protein
based “cold cuts”. It’s actually better when refrigerated for several hours (or overnight) because
the olive salad soaks into the crusty baguette and flavors the bread. I just wonder if President
Clinton would still be in the news if he did selective take-out.
Bend, But Don't Break