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Quick meals can be healthy

Published July 31. 2010 09:00AM

We prefer fast food. They prefer good food which leads to better health. How else can you interpret the numbers used by Peg Moline, in her Editor's Letter in the June issue of Natural Health?

"The U.S. uses 16 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) for health care and Americans spend just under 6 percent of their income on food," she writes. "In contrast, Europeans spend as much as 18 percent on food and just 8.6 percent on health care."

Although you might decide that these figures are just further proof that our health care costs are out of hand, the counter argument is that because we skimp on food, we have greater health problems.

While those statements could create worthwhile debate, the figures also say something about the differences in cultures. What we really prefer more so than cheap fast food is speed. We want no, we expect! all things, not just food, now.

It's the American way. And it's a big reason why fast food is so appealing.

But for every now there is a then, and there's no denying that our preference for fast food served immediately compromises our health eventually.

It doesn't have to be that way. I know a number of people who keep a breakneck pace, cram an insane amount of work and play into each day, and yet they eat well and are models of health.

They are also models of efficiency. Especially when it comes to making food.

With that in mind, here's how this column can help. It can get you thinking about ways to make fast, healthy foods either at home or at work, so you don't keep eating junk and start looking and feeling better.

To do that, I'll share with you some of the quick and healthy things I've been making this summer.

The fastest meal I make is a matter of opening two cans and using the microwave, making it an option for those eating lunch at a business with a lunchroom. I drain, rinse (to reduce the amount of sodium), and add a 14.5-ounce can of French-style green beans to a 15.3 ounce size of Campbell's Select Harvest Light Southwestern-Style Vegetable soup into a microwaveable pot.

Heat for a minute, stir, heat again, and you have a rather substantial soup that's rather filling yet it's only 170 calories.

Eaten alone, it could also serve as an extremely healthy coffee-break snack. Add two microwaved Boca Burgers broken into bits into the mixture, and you now have an incredibly healthy lunch that seems more like a stew.

This meal is high in both protein (33 grams) and complex carbs (36.5 grams), a combination that should eliminate the dreaded mid-afternoon energy lull. Surprisingly, the meal contains 70 fewer calories than a medium that's right, a medium! order of McDonald's French fries, as well as 18 fewer grams of fat.

Yet for those of you who feel you could never forsake the taste of fast food French fries, there is a healthy compromise.

Take two fairly large potatoes (Yukon Gold work well) that total just about one pound and cut them into quarters. Now, based on the shape of the potatoes and your taste preference, cut the quarters into either thirds or quarters.

The thinner the pieces, the more they'll remind you of French fries served in fast-food restaurants. The thicker pieces, the more they will remind you of steak fries served in steak houses and diners.

The baking temperature and time varies with taste preference and oven type. What I can tell you is that 20 minutes at 450 degrees followed by five minutes of the cooling oven gets the thinnest slices potato chip crisp. Fifteen minutes at 350 degrees followed by five at 400 degrees keeps the thicker pieces more like steak fries.

Another matter of taste preference is the amount of canola oil cooking spray applied to the potato slices. If you spray liberally, you'll get closer to a fast-food taste, but be advised these sprays contain fat.

While all of the sprays I checked list zero calories and zero grams of fat per serving, a serving size is one quarter of a gram, about one quarter of a second of spray. But even if you do spray quite liberally, you'll only get a few grams of fat, far fewer than the 18 grams found in the medium size of McDonald's fries.

And the amount of food you get to eat seems to be far more than 375 calories' worth.

After a typical four-hour weekend training ride, I normally eat these healthy fries in this amount, along with two servings of chocolate Parrillo Instant Hi Protein-Low Carb Pudding. While my plan is to have a fairly small meal but eat again in 90 minutes to take full advantage of the glycogen window to recover from the ride as quickly as possible, I'm rarely hungry in the meantime.

Part of that is because even though baked potatoes have been listed as high on the glycemic index, the type of starch found in them promotes satiety.

Read next week's column for a way to make an ice cream substitute low on calories but loaded with protein.

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