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Where’s the Fast in Fast Foods?
During the warm summer months, there never seems to be enough time to fit in family activities, much less cook and plan dinner. That’s why we often opt for take-out food during this season. But if you’re spending more time at a drive-through window than at your stove, perhaps it’s time to reconsider what you think of as fast food.

Is fast food really fast? Consider the following:
  • Pizza. You call, wait 20 minutes, drive there and back. And you pay for the privilege. Even if you call ahead and stop on your way home from work, it’s still consumes time from an already tight schedule. Estimated time: 30 to 60 minutes.
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  • Chinese and supermarket take-out. Again, you stop, order, pay and drive. Chances are you will also have to reheat. Estimated time: 20 to 40 minutes.
  • Local burger restaurant or sub shop. Drive, stop, order and pay. Hopefully, the line is short. Estimated time: 15 minutes. Lots of fat.
These are all alternatives we use frequently, but in that same amount of time, you could have put together any number of dishes at no extra expense with significantly less fat and calories. Meanwhile, you can be supervising the kids while they put on their baseball or soccer uniforms!

To help you cook quickly at home, the most valuable small appliance you can own is a countertop indoor grilling machine, with elements in the lid as well as the base. Make sure the surface is the right size to meet the needs of your family, and get one that allows you to adjust the temperature. These grills reduce cooking time by half and free up your microwave for something else. They’re also great for grilling vegetables, fish and sandwiches, and require no fat for cooking.

Avoid anything that needs baking as most baked dishes require at least a half hour, not including preheating the oven. This includes breaded convenience meats, fries and pre-made entrees.

The next question you need to ask yourself is whether it’s necessary to serve a hot meal late in the day, especially in hot weather. Actually, food is fuel, and a calorie is a unit of energy that gives off heat as it works to metabolize nutrients. There’s a reason why we call it “burning calories” when we exercise. Nutrients that we can’t burn are stored as fat, which is an insulator. During hot months, we naturally move to cooler, lighter foods, probably as a way to keep our bodies from overheating. So sitting down to a heavy meal at the end of the day is not in our best interest.

Instead, consider a cheese and fruit plate, a scoop of egg or chicken salad with light mayo on lettuce with fresh veggies, a sandwich and fruit or yogurt and fresh fruit. Only minutes to put together, these simple meals will go a long way toward providing the energy needed to get through that game without making Mom slave over a hot stove.

If there are toddlers in your family, avoid raw vegetables, which are a choking hazard. Instead, microwave them until they’re soft and chill them. If you’re in a hurry, drop them into a bowl of ice water to cool them quickly. You’ll lose a few vitamins but save a little mouth from getting burned.

Sugary drinks actually make you thirstier, so plain water is a good choice at mealtime. Milk is not necessary if you’re serving cheese, yogurt or treating your child to an ice cream cone after the game. For those with seasonal allergies, milk’s tendency to create more mucus can make your little athlete feel more congested than usual.

When the cooler seasons come back, make it easier on yourself by following the same pattern of making simple meals, adding in some warmer selections as comfort foods. As long as they are nutritionally complete, your body won’t care that you didn’t spend an hour cooking them!

Susan M. Leisner RD, IBCLC, RLC Nutritionist & Lactation Consultant