Is Fast Food really that bad for your family?

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Remember to keep the meal balanced with vegetables, so have a side salad.
Remember to keep the meal balanced with vegetables, so have a side salad.

Tammy Wolhuter is a registered dietician - here she offers her tips and insights.


To put it bluntly: yes, fast food is not the best food choice.

Fast foods are generally low in micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and antioxidants) and fibre and high in fat, particularly saturated or trans-fats, sodium (salt) and calories.

By eating just one fast-food meal (depending on your choice), you can pack in enough calories for the entire day, although your micronutrient intake will be minimal.

Hence using the term 'empty calories' when you consume these types of convenience foods. But fast food can be cheap, convenient and even tasty.

Empower yourself

The point is: moderation is important, and fast foods should not be eaten regularly.

Finding a healthy, well-balanced fast-food meal can be a challenge, but there are choices you can make that are healthier than others.

By empowering yourself with the knowledge on how to make healthier choices when eating fast foods, you can improve your nutrition intake.

Ready? Let’s go…

Pizza

Pizza is often laden with cheese, which is high in saturated fat and calories.

Processed meat further increases one’s saturated-fat intake. When ordering your next pizza, ask for less cheese, preferably mozzarella, which has a slightly lower fat content compared to cheddar, and ask for more vegetable toppings, such as cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers and mushrooms.

Pineapple is a popular fruit ingredient among children, as it’s sweet, with the bonus of being nutritious. Lay off sausages or salami, and rather opt for skinless chicken strips, lean ham or tuna for a healthier protein topping.

Portions in restaurants are usually too big, so ask for a smaller base for your little one, or let your kids share a pizza. The more food you offer, the more food a person is likely to eat.

Read: Tired of eating animals? Here's how to move your family over to a plant-based diet 

Make it yourself:

Making your pizza is loads of fun for kids, so get them involved in the preparation. They will enjoy rolling out the pizza dough and decorating their own pizza with the ingredients you provide.

Remember to keep the portion of the dough small and make a thin base.

Prepare your base with brown or whole wheat instead of white flour to increase the fibre content. Use tomato base on the pizza, as it is low in calories yet high in lycopene, a beneficial antioxidant.

A variety of vegetables can be included on the pizza, such as pre-cooked carrot coins, button mushrooms, green, red and yellow pepper strips, snap peas, cherry tomatoes and broccoli “trees”.

Use fat-reduced cheese for the pizza, and control the amount. Other lean protein toppings you can consider include lean mince, beef strips or salmon.


Tip:

Order a thin instead of a thick base for your pizza to reduce the number of refined carbohydrates in your meal.

When at home, you can use whole wheat pitas as a base for pizza instead of dough, keeping the portion small with added fibre in the base.


Burgers

When ordering a burger, ask for a whole grain bread roll if available. Lay off the cheese, as it is high in calories and saturated fat. Ask for extra salad toppings, like tomato slices, cucumber, gherkins and lettuce.

Instead of having fried chips with your burger, opt for a side salad – this will cut the calorie and saturated or trans-fat content of the meal while increasing the fibre, vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content.

Condiments pack in extra calories, so avoid the mayonnaise, and rather have mustard or tomato sauce, and be sure to watch your portion size, limiting it to one tablespoon of tomato sauce, since it also contains salt and some sugar.

Once again, keep portions small: cut the burger in half, and share it, or take it home for another meal, and don’t ever super-size!

Also see: Trust your gut: Why your child needs a fibre rich diet 

Make it yourself:

When making your burgers, use wholegrain, seeded instead of white bread rolls, which are high in refined carbohydrates with no fibre. Use extra-lean mince for your patties, and be cautious with the amount of salt you add.

You can choose to rather add mixed herbs to the patties to flavour. There is no need for butter or margarine on your roll, as tomato sauce adds flavour and moistens the roll, so you can further reduce the calorie content of the meal.

Add plenty of vegetables to the burger.

'Vegetable sticks' are popular with children, and you can offer these with the burger, for example, carrot sticks, cucumber strips, and red and yellow pepper strips. You can make a low-fat hummus dip for the vegetables.


Tip:

Cut the fat content: ask the waiter for your burger patty to be grilled instead of fried.


Fish & Chips

Whether you’re eating out or ordering a takeaway, always ask for grilled and not fried fish to reduce the fat and calorie content of your meal.

Opt for a baked potato instead of fried chips, and stay away from the sauce (such as sour cream) offered with the potato.

Remember to keep the meal balanced with vegetables, so have a side salad. Be careful of vegetables that contain added unwanted calories, such as sweetened pumpkin and creamed spinach. Ask for steamed veggies instead.

Stay away from fish and other foods that are deep-fried, pan-fried, basted, battered, breaded, creamy, crispy or in a cream sauce, as they are high in calories and saturated or trans-fats.

Make it yourself:

Choose fatty fish such as salmon, sardines or trout to increase omega-3 fatty acid intake, necessary for brain development of your bright child. The omega 3’s are also beneficial for you, helping to keep your cholesterol under control.

Whitefish (like hake, sole and kingklip) is a brilliant source of protein and provides other nutrients such as iodine, vitamin B12, some iron and zinc.

Choose healthy cooking methods such as grilling or poaching as opposed to frying. Instead of frying chips, make oven-baked ones, as this further reduces the fat content of the meal.

Vegetables that tie fish and chips nicely together include a coleslaw salad and a carrot salad, which children usually love. Be sure to add a low-fat vinaigrette dressing, instead of mayonnaise, to your coleslaw.


Tip:

Polychlorinated biphenyls are contaminants found in some fish and accumulate in the skin or fat of fish, so always remove the skin before cooking. Frying seals in the contaminants – another reason to avoid this method of cooking.


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