On the menu: Giving fast food a healthy makeover

There are many ways to trim the fats and sugars from your home-cooked meals – and even your takeaways

Fresh off the rotisserie grill, people are buying whole chickens, removing the skin and using the flesh in their own home-assembled meal. Photograph: Getty Images

Fresh off the rotisserie grill, people are buying whole chickens, removing the skin and using the flesh in their own home-assembled meal. Photograph: Getty Images

 

It’s good to be more aware of the main food choices you make over the course of the week. But you don’t need to memorise intricate nutrients or incessantly count calories to live or eat well.

Many families are focusing not only on the quantity, but also the quality of the food they eat. Shopping mainly from the fresh isles in the supermarket, and carefully selecting more nutritious convenience staples such as quinoa, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, dried beans and lentils, seeds and nuts has an enormous influence on the food quality of home meals.

Many people are time poor, yet want quick and easy family meals with an eye toward health. And supermarkets need to work harder to ensure even healthier, fresher and tastier products are on offer.

Taking shortcuts to provide faster home-cooked meals was brilliantly demonstrated by Jamie Oliver in his cookbook The Ministry of Food . People are increasingly sharing their time-savers these days. Instead of cooking meat, they buy lean thick-cut roast beef or turkey from the deli, shred it and use it in recipes. Fresh off the rotisserie grill, people are buying whole chickens, removing the skin and using the flesh in their own home-assembled meal.

More cooked prawns in lime and coriander dressings are added to home-cooked salads and meals. With a good base ingredient such as a bag of pre-washed spinach leaves, you can make a salad in minutes. Throw on some crumbled feta cheese, grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, dried cranberries, walnuts and mix.

Homemade pizza made using a lighter Lebanese flat bread base topped with grated mozzarella and fresh veggies can be quick and much tastier than the frozen processed meat-topped version.


Less sugar
n Find a more nutritious sugar source. Use fresh berries or sweet vegetables such as beetroot to sweeten and moisten muffins, brownies and chocolate cake. Fruit purees are another option. They contain fructose,

fibre and other nutrients. Spices (nutmeg and cinnamon ) add flavour not sweetness to a moistening stewed apple.

n Look for more natural sugar . I’m fond of honey . Maple and agave syrup are other popular substitutes . The which-is-better food fight between agave with its lower glycaemic index, maple syrup with its natural phenols and honey (manuka) with its
protective antimicrobial properties continues. By using a little less of these more natural and flavoursome replacements, you can save a little on calories. Use more and there’s no benefit as, like table sugar, they break down to sugar glucose in the body.

n Use less sugar than the recipe suggests. Many bakery treats are still deliciously sweet with a third less sugar. Remember, yeast needs sugar to activate it, so you may have to concede that a certain amount is vital for success. Gradually wean yourself and the family off excessively sugary recipes by slowly decreasing the amount you use in home-baked desserts and treats.

n Use a “sweetener” or sugar substitute like Stevia which has little effect on blood glucose. These plant -derived sweeteners are very useful for people with diabetes .


Less fat

n Use a non-stick pan and a monounsaturated olive oil cooking spray.

n Bake rather than batter. Use porridge oats or wholemeal breadcrumbs mixed with egg and herbs for toppings and coatings on fish and chicken.

n Substitute two processed meat dishes each week with fish or vegetarian meals.

n Use chicken stock or low -fat milk in mashed potato and soups. Be sparing with the cream or add natural yoghurt instead at the end of cooking a sauce or casserole.

n Use filo pastry to top pies or tartlets .

n Share your favourite lean meat fast meal, but boil your own brown rice at home to avoid large takeaway portions or chips.

n Use lower fat cheese for Brie, Camembert, mozzarella, feta, haloumi, soft goats’ or sheep’s’ cheese, instead of cheddar.

n Replace some fat, especially in breads and baked foods, with applesauce, natural yoghurt or low-fat buttermilk.

Despite the fact that half of Irish adults claimed to be eating out less often in a recent Bord Bia survey, Maureen Gahan says spending is up in fast -food outlets, hotels and restaurants after a decline since 2008. However, there’s an ongoing decline in alcohol consumption outside the home but an increased spend in coffee shops.

In a previous Bord Bia study , Healthy eating: Out of Home, On the Go , 32 per cent of those surveyed were categorised as health conscious, which is a sizable market opportunity for food service providers. While it was reported that some venues had made positive changes , there was room “for more food service outlets to step up to the mark ”, Bord Bia found.

Suggestions included a wider array of fresh fruit and juices as breakfast options, healthier snacks such as fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, rice crackers, low -fat variants of crisps and cereal bars.

There is a lot of scepticism about certain cereal bars being positioned as “healthier ”, and rightly so. The top preference at lunch was more pre-packed and fresh salads, using healthy and novel ingredients. They also suggest low -fat , healthy dressings, non-bread options such as stir fries, rice dishes and better vegetarian options.

In the US, most adults say they’re trying to eat healthier at restaurants . And the market is responding. Subway has reduced sodium levels in subs by over 25 per ce nt.

All Starbuck foods and drinks are made without artificial flavours, colours, high-
fructose corn syrup, and trans fats.

What about here? When are we going to see fast -food restaurants ask, “Can I half-size that for you?” Why are our bakers not making mini versions of all the treats we like including scones and pastries? And what about sweet manufacturers making 50kcal and 100kcal bags of our children’s favourite sweets? While we’re waiting , small changes can mean healthier meals even at the takeaway.


At the Indian

n Skip the naan bread.

n Choose Tandoori, Tikka or Bhuna .

n Avoid extra creamy dishes such as Korma and Masala.

n If your main is covered in rich sauce, enjoy the meat but leave most of the sauce.

n Try plain rice, pilau rice has oil added.

At the Chinese

n Skip the prawn crackers.

n As many starters are deep fried , choose a clear broth full -flavoured soup instead.

n Try stir fries , not deep fried or battered , such as stir-fri ed vegetables, chicken and cashew nuts or prawns in a chilli or blackbean sauce.

n Choose steamed rice or plain noodles instead of egg fried rice.

At the Italian

n Nibble on some olives or a bread stick, instead of garlic bread while you wait.

n Enjoy mixed or tomato salads with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

n Choose a spic y tomato -based sauce, not creamy carbonara or four -cheese sauce.

n A moderate sprinkling of fresh Parmesan shavings adds flavour, without too many calories.

n Select a thin-based pizza with lots of lower fat toppings .

n Most Italian menus also include grilled fish or chicken salads, if you want to avoid heavier pasta dishes like lasagna.

Paula Mee is lead dietitian at Medfit Proactive Healthcare and a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute.


Contact: email, paula@paulamee.com. Tweet @paula_mee

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