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Healthy ways to enjoy fast food while dining out and at home

Busy families rely on fast food, take out and local restaurants to supplement home-cooked meals. Today, average Americans eat one-third of their calories away from home — almost twice the amount in the 1970s. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, families also spend almost half of their food dollars on away-from-home food.

Surveys have shown that low-income neighborhoods have more fast food restaurants than upper-income neighborhoods. The high concentration of fast food restaurants may increase convenience, but families are challenged to find healthy and appealing food offerings in the limited menu offerings of fast food restaurants. Advertising also affects our food choices. In 2007, the Kaiser Family Foundation determined that 8- to 12-year-old children watch more than 20 food advertisements daily. Food advertising targeted to youth places parents in an uphill battle to encourage their children to select non-advertised healthy options. Here are a few tips for parents when eating out with your children.

• Plan ahead. Select a restaurant that includes fruits and vegetables on the menu. Set guidelines for food item selection beforehand with your children. Use the Web sites of national chain restaurants to review the nutritional quality of entrees. Look for entrees that are lower in calories and saturated fat. Examples of chain restaurant Web sites: http://www.mcdonalds.com/usa/eat/nutrition_info.html; http://www.kfc.com/nutrition.

• Select the vegetable entrée first and build the meal around that. Vegetables available at some fast food restaurants include salads, carrots and celery sticks, corn, green beans, greens, potatoes and other items. If French fries are selected, opt for the smallest size or plan on sharing a larger size.

• Avoid “supersized” portions. Child-sized meals may be sufficient for older children and adults as well.

• Select baked, broiled or grilled entrees and avoid fried foods. Having the grilled chicken breast instead of the breaded and fried breast can save as many as 200 unwanted calories.

• Go easy on the cheese on pizzas and select the thin crust rather than the thick crust. Add lots of vegetables as toppings — peppers, onions, spinach, etc.

• If soup is available, start the meal with  soup. Soups often contain vegetables, and the liquid will give a sense of fullness to prevent overeating.

• When you can, select a full- service restaurant rather than a fast food restaurant. There will be a greater variety of selections and more vegetable options.

• Try making some of your restaurant favorites at home, but with a healthy twist. Examples might include oven-“fried” chicken, oven-roasted potato wedges and healthy cole slaw.  These are tasty and healthy alternatives to soul food staples.

Below are two tasty and easy recipes.

Kid-Pleasing Oven Fried Chicken
Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 each — 4 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into nuggets
1 cup flake-type cereal, crushed
½ tsp each onion powder, garlic, black pepper, parsley leaves, thyme, paprika
1 egg, beaten

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. In a bowl, combine cereal and seasoning.
3. In a separate bowl, beat egg to create an egg wash.
4. Dip chicken in egg wash, and then coat in cereal mixture.
5. Arrange chicken on a non-stick sheet pan
6. Bake at 375 F for 20-25 minutes.

Nutrition Facts:
Per serving (makes 4 servings): 140 calories, 1.5 g total fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 6 g carbohydrates, 1 g dietary fiber, 28 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium.

Recipe created by Adam W. Korzun, M.S., R.D., a dietician at Boston Medical Center

Haley House Healthy Ginger Slaw
Serves 4-6
The Dressing:
4 inches of fresh ginger
¼ cup canola oil
2 tbs white sugar
1 cup white vinegar
2 cloves minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
Pepper or hot sauce to taste

To make the dressing:
1. Wash the ginger well with a scrub brush and warm water, cutting off any knobby spots. Chop the ginger into ½ -inch pieces. Chop until minced.
2. In a bowl, combine this mixture and the remaining ingredients, whisk well.
3. This dressing keeps well for 4 weeks refrigerated in an air-tight container.
The Slaw Veggies:
3 carrots, grated
½ head red cabbage, thinly sliced
½ onion, thinly sliced or 6 scallions chopped
½ napa or Chinese cabbage, thinly sliced
½ cup currants or raisins
1 cup slaw dressing

To make the slaw:
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss well.

Nutrition Facts:
Per serving (based on 6 entrée servings): 210 calories, 10 g total fat (1 g saturated fat), 28 g carbohydrates, 6 g dietary fiber, 3 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 260 mg sodium.

Note: Dozens of vegetables can be used instead of those above. Try chopped tomatoes, grated raw beets, raw green beans, raw chopped broccoli, sliced cucumbers, sliced apples, fresh corn, raw or blanched raw celery, raw bok choy, all sorts of lettuce including radicchio, watercress and arugula, baby spinach, and thinly sliced raw zucchini or summer squash.

Recipe courtesy of Haley House Bakery Café, 12 Dade Street, Roxbury