10 Tips to Stop Fast Food Guilt

Stop feeling guilty about takeout and delivery

home dinner takeout meal fast food junk burger

As a working parent, nutrition is always a priority both personally and parentally (is that a word?) and we all worry about getting a healthy meal on the table. But let’s face it, that’s easier said than done.

You leave work as early as you conceivably can. Make it through your commute, then maybe you have to pick up the kids from daycare. You get home and now what? Dinner? Where to begin?

The first year my daughter started eating real food, I was on crutches and couldn’t really cook. My family had to find practical solutions, and one was ordering in  a couple of times a week.

home dinner takeout meal fast food burger

When I went back to work, it didn’t get any easier. I would regularly pick up my daughter between 5:00 and 5:30 and that was with a herculean effort to get to the office early and leave on time. But sometimes that wasn’t an option. Sometimes I’d have a meeting run late. Or I’d get stuck in traffic. Or…

Next thing you know, I am in the car asking my mom to order in. “What should I order?” she would ask. Or I would be scrambling to get my husband to pick something up on the way home.

Make peace with compromise

So I’ve always had a list of “acceptable” order-in joints. I keep a list of delivery restaurants that are less awful than most. For each of them I have a list of favorite dishes that we like to order. Then we can make choices that my family enjoys and that I can live with. And anyone can place the order and still make the whole family happy.

When I was recuperating from surgery and still carrying the weight from the pregnancy, nutrition was paramount. Your body can’t heal if you eat junk all of the time. And I didn’t want to put on any more weight, which happens easily when your mobility is limited. I depended on healthy order-in options for all of us.

home dinner takeout meal fast food sandwich

The latest trends on child obesity and diabetes terrify me. I do everything I can to protect my family. My daughter may inherit a tendency towards obesity from both sides of her family, so we try to be vigilant. No pop or chips in our house; we eat very little foods from a box. We do everything we can to eat healthy, fresh foods. But time does not always permit me to be a perfect parent.

Studies show that those that eat out more than twice a week have a statistically higher chance of health problems. But everything in moderation, as my grandmother would say. The solution is not to overdo it. We have a policy of getting takeout or ordering in once a week, preferably through the week, when we have activities or we are just too tired to think about dinner. But I try to be prepared, and to make the most of it.

10 things you can do to make the best of fast food

  1. Throw out all the junk food flyers as soon as they arrive, so that the options open to us are the better ones (best not to court temptation).
  2. Check out the take-out and delivery opportunities at local places, where I know the people and know how they cook. Our neighborhood diner is awesome, we may have to pick the food up on the way home, but they are as close to home cooking as I can get.
  3. Choose the order ahead of time – the weekend or night before – so that the first person home can order for everyone. It also helps reduce stress from rushing to decide. You make better choices when you are not tired and hungry.
  4. Keep your favorites for next time. We write down what we like for next time, so that the process is faster or so that we can be spontaneous if necessary. When you do this, you don’t read the entire menu and get tempted into bad choices.
  5. Use it as a teaching opportunity. Kids eat out, teenagers and college students especially. Which means my kid needs to know how to make good choices. We talk about the studies and about the menu choices. She tries to keep an eye on what she’s ordering and to make sure she gets veggies, fruit – all the food groups. No, she’s not an angel, but she does make better choices than I did at her age.
  6. Make good choices – thin crust and light on the cheese pizza, veggies instead of fries. I’m not saying we don’t splurge and treat ourselves, because we do. But not every time. One of the reasons I don’t feel guilty about delivery every week is because we don’t use it as an excuse to eat junk. We treat it like any other meal choice.
  7. Skip the drinks. Juice and pop may come with the meal, but so can a bottle of water. We put them in the fridge for our next trip to the park.  Most people drink a good part of the sugar and calories they consume every day; we try to avoid to avoid that trap.
  8. Share. We find the portions are too large at many of the restaurants, so we often will order 3 entrees for 4 people and share. Otherwise, we take some of the meal out, before we eve start and put it aside for the next days lunch. My daughter especially loves it when one of us orders pasta and she can take leftovers for lunch the next day.
  9. Use your own sauces and dressings. Many of the restaurant salads are worse than the burgers, and it is mostly the dressing. If I am eating at home, I just use my own oil and vinegar dressing from the fridge. Skip some of the toppings too, especially if there is a lot of bacon involved (I miss bacon, but all those trans fats…).
  10. Do splurge sometimes. We do it once a month, nobody should be good all the time. We order junk,and take turns choosing the restaurant. It is usually on the weekend, when we are out running errands. My daughter always chooses MacDonald’s (shudder), she gets apples instead of fries because she doesn’t like them when they are cold and because then she can have a smoothie.

And it might get better

home dinner takeout meal fast food sushi

With the public awareness and legislative changes, many chains are getting better about providing smart choices, and people are getting better about making them. Also, many new restaurants, focused on healthy options, are opening every day.

We use these tricks so my family can eat takeout once or twice a week, if it’s crazy and still not feel conflicted when friends at the park suggest ordering pizza. And someday, when she’s out with her friends, and I’m not there to look over her shoulder, she will know how to make good choices.

Use the tools

I have provided two templates to help you keep track of your restaurants and orders.

The first is a List of Favorite Restaurants

Write down your account info, so that others can order, and so that you have it if you lose the menu. Gather the names of local places and their numbers, if they don’t have a take-home menu. I will even write down a restaurant we don’t like, with a line through it, so we don’t make the same mistake again.

The other is a List of Favorite Orders (organized by restaurant)

The next time you are ordering in, jot down what you liked from the restaurant. Or if you are browsing a new place, write down what interests you. There are two sections, one for individual meals where everyone orders their own dish and family style – like Chinese food, where you order for everyone. Specify the restaurant name down the side.

Print several copies of each and put them in the meal planning section of your Meal Binder, put an envelope or pocket directly behind and label the section Fast Food. Now when you are meal planning for the week, include 1 or 2 of these choices in your plan.

healthier fast food, meal planning

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