In defense of junk food: can fast food be healthy food?

In defense of junk food: can fast food be healthy food?

Posted 09.14.2009 in Articles by Christopher

With all the pressures of modern life, it's easy to succumb to the ready temptations of fast food when meal time rolls around and you have little time and less money to grab a bite to eat. Whether or not you have a twinge of guilt as you pull through the drive through or order at the counter, you know that your diet choices have a direct influence on your health and well-being. Here are a few alternatives to standard junk food that qualify as healthy food, served fast.
 
Wahoo's isn't nationwide, but they're legendary in the California, Hawaii, Nevada, Colorado, Texas and New York communities that are lucky enough to have a local franchise. People rave about Wahoo's not only because the food is delicious and beautifully presented - on real ceramic plates no less - but because it is one of the few fast food outlets that serves food that can unreservedly qualify as a healthy meal. The counter-service restaurants offer the option of brown and white rice, black and spicy cajun white beans and a credible selection of vegetarian meals including delicious veggie burritos alongside the more common veggie bowls.
 
Wahoo's serves the kind of thoughtful, freshly prepared, quality meal you'd normally only find at an authentic family owned full service restaurant, although in this case they serve food up in a very casual fast food joint with sticker-graffitied skater decor. The three founding brothers call it a Mexican/Brazilian/Asian menu with a Hawaiian north-shore vibe and the authenticity of this eclectic mix is no doubt a result of their classic American melting-pot roots; Brazilian-born Californians of Asian descent.
 
Another eatery with a significant western-US footprint is Rubio's, originally famous as the importer of the Baja Mexico favorite; fish tacos. A San Diego icon, Rubio's has rapidly expanded into Northern California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. A good selection of grilled fish tacos still anchor the health-mex menu, including grilled wild Alaska Keta salmon, Ono and Salsa Verde Pan-seared shrimp. The tacos are served with a healthy portion of chopped lettuce, cabbage, onions, tomatoes and depending on the selection, fire roasted corn with ancho chile or tomatillo and poblano chile salsa. Like Wahoo's, Rubios is a fast food restaurant, but one that serves surprisingly original and healthy food, especially if menu selections are made with an eye toward the grilled, rather than breaded & fried fish options.
 
Healthy Indian food like curries and grilled tandoori chicken are not easily found in a fast food setting, but when they are available, they often present the most healthy selections of any ethnic food plates. There are always a large selection of vegetarian dishes with healthy sides available like spicy beans called dahl and spiced yogurt-cucumber condiment called raita. If you're on the west coast, try Spice Hut in San Jose, Chutney's or Saffron in LA and Tandoor in San Diego. In the midwest, look for Bombay Wraps or Rajun Cajun in Chicago or Shaukin in West Layfayette Indiana. No surprise that New York has a plethora of Indian food quick-serve restaurants. The MasalaWala, Masala Times, Thelewala and Desi Shack all get the nod from Jenny Miller at New York Magazine and four stars from Yelp diners, with the exception of Desi Shack which rated 3.5.
 
Asian food of all varieties is more widely available nationwide, and although you'll have to look harder for the truly healthy picks, Japanese and Chinese restaurants usually have at least a few selections that can be consumed without contributing to your early demise. Panda Express, not known for it's health cred, does serve a tasty eggplant and tofu dish and a mixed veggie plate of broccoli, zucchini, carrots, string beans and cabbage.
 
Noodles and Company, popular in the northeast, with a presence in major metro areas in Colorado, Utah, Portland, the Bay Area and San Diego, offers a credible mix of healthy choices in Asian, Mediterranean and American styles, ranging from whole-grain Tuscan linguine to pad thai and curries to mushroom stroganoff and berry spinach salads.
 
A number of stir fry Asian fast food places are springing up, and although there are plenty of unhealthy breaded and fried landmines on the menu, places like Pickup Stix do offer brown rice, edamame, Asian lettuce wraps and a freshly wok'd "Vegetable Feast". Pickup Stix will also substitute tofu in any entree.
 
Sandwiches are the great American lunch staple and fortunately, Panera, Au Bon Pane and similar chains have jumped into the market to offer a slightly more upscale alternative to the local sandwich shop or the mega-franchises like Subway.
 
Panera is as well known for their rotating selection of tasty soups and meal-sized salads as for their sandwiches made with bread fresh-baked on the premises. The soup line-up always includes at least one health-conscious vegetable choice. One of the healthiest sandwichs is the Mediterranean Veggie, with feta, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions on tomato basil bread. Au Bon Pane offers a similar style of fresh-bakery sandwiches, soups and salads, most prevalently in the Northeast.

Jason's Deli, popular in the southeast and gradually expanding westwards, makes a more conscious effort to provide vegetarian and gluten-free items on its menu. Standout healthy items include spinach veggie, Mediterranean and garden wraps, a Zucchini Grillini sandwich and Tomato Basil soup.
 
If you're really pressed for time and can't even spare the few minutes that one of the prepared-to-order fast food places mentioned above requires to create your meal, Starbucks offers several genuinely healthy items in their deli case. One of this author's favorites is the Bistro Box with fruit & cheese. The egg salad sandwich and tarragon chicken salad sandwiches are served on cracked whole wheat. The fresh fruit bowl with cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, grapes, the yogurt & granola parfait or lunch-size salads would satisfy even the most stringent health food advocate. Most Starbucks locations also carry a pretty good selection of nut and granola food bars from Two Moms in the Raw, Kind or 18 Rabbits. Although these food bars are not cheap (from $2 to $4) and not available in all stores, they are increasingly a standard item at the counter alongside the Starbucks-branded Nuts & Fruit sleeves packaged by Sahale. If these healthy snacks are not available and you ask about them, responsive store managers may take the hint and begin carrying them.
 
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perida3
Posts: 1
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Chipotle is a great option too
Reply #1 on : Mon October 15, 2012, 14:52:35
The Chipotle chain of restaurants are a great source for a healthier option of fast food. They offer grilled veggies and grilled chicken burrito bowls. You can cut the tortilla out and stick to brown rice, lettuce and fresh salsa and get a delicious meal that doesn't pack on pounds.

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