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Meals in a hurry without the worry

SELF magazine editor-in-chief Lucy Danziger shares the skinny on some fast grabs that will get you through the day in a healthier way, from the September issue of the magazine.
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Everyone has been in this situation: You’re tired, you’re hungry and you want something quick and easy to eat regardless of fat or calories. Have you ever wondered which of the “fast grabs” is the healthiest? Well, SELF Magazine sought out the answers for their article, “Fast Food Face-Off” in their September Issue. On NBC’s “Today” show, Lucy Danziger, SELF’s editor-in-chief, discusses the results. Learn more about the winners and losers and get some of SELF’s quick-and-healthy recipes below.

WHAT MAKES A WINNER A WINNER? SELF considered caloric content, fat content and the time it takes to prepare the meal, to compare each. They also noted portions, considering the most realistic amount you’d want to eat (doubling numbers for some meals). For example, they guessed that you’re much more likely to eat two slices of homemade pizza rather than stopping at just one.

QUICKIE FOODS: It should be noted that while the magazine researched popular fast food vendors like White Castle and Dunkin Donuts, they also scaled those up against frozen entrees, frozen dishes and their own “homemade-by-SELF” quick recipes (prep time averaging 10-30 minutes, except lasagna at one hour.) This way if someone running home from work is considering throwing a burger on the grill or stopping at McDonald’s, they have some advice on which is the better meal.


1. BREAKFAST SANDWICH: Winner: Weight Watchers SmartOnes

Their serving: 1 sandwich (4oz.)

210 calories, 5 g fat

You’ll really eat: their serving

Loser: homemade

Our serving: 1 sandwich (5.6 oz)

320 calories, 15.5 g fat

You’ll really eat: our serving

For a low-cal breakfast on the run, it’s hard to top SmartOnes. The Weight Watchers option uses lean meat as well as the “Egg Beaters” kind of egg, which has much less fat than the 100 percent egg in the homemade recipe. While the Weight Watchers egg does include cornstarch, xantham gum and artificial flavoring, it still has 15 grams less fat than the homemade option. While the all-natural food fanatic might opt for homemade, SELF’s focus factors were calories, fat and prep time. So it’s okay when running out the door in the morning to stick with the Weight Watchers option in this case.

It’s worth mentioning here that Dunkin Donuts’ egg ham and cheese sandwich ranked number two (number one being the winner) with 310 calories and 10 grams of fat. While this may seem like a lot, it’s definitely better than a donut.

Recipe: Mighty Morning Sandwich

Ready in 10 minutes, serves 1

1 oat bran English muffin, split

1 oz. cooked turkey ham

1 omega-3-enriched egg, scrambled in

1 tsp trans-fat-free margarine

1 slice (3/4 oz) reduced-fat cheddar

Preheat broiler. Toast muffin. Place ham on bottom half of muffin, spoon egg onto ham and top with cheese. Place under broiler for about 30 seconds or until cheese melts.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 320 calories, 15.5 g total fat

(6 g saturated fat), 27 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 2 g fiber

2. CHEESE PIZZA: Winner: homemade (made in 20 minutes)

Our serving: 2 slices (21.8 oz)

464 calories, 12g fat

You’ll really eat: our serving

Loser: DiGiorno Four Cheese

Their serving: 1 slice (4.7oz)

320 calories, 11g fat

You’ll really eat two slices (9.4oz)

640 calories, 22g fat

One of America’s favorite pastimes — going out for pizza — doesn’t have to be a caloric catastrophe if you stick with the basic (like Pizza Hut Hand Tossed cheese) and stop at two slices. Two slices of DiGiorno contain 22 grams of fat while the winning homemade choice contains just 12 grams.

It’s worth noting: Steer clear of cheese-filled crusts. They can add 10 grams of fat per slice. SELF gave their homemade pie an advantage by adding broccoli, but there’s no reason not to put veggies on a fast food or frozen one.

Recipe: Presto Pizza

Ready in 20 minutes, serves 4

1 1/2 cups tomato sauce with Italian seasonings

One 12-inch pre-made pizza crust

2 cups (8 oz) shredded part-skim mozzarella

1 cup broccoli florets

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Spread sauce evenly on crust and sprinkle on mozzarella. Arrange broccoli evenly on top and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake 8 to 10 minutes (or according to package directions), until cheese bubbles and begins to brown. Cut into eight wedges.

Nutritional analysis per serving (2 slices): 464 calories, 12 g total fat (6.5 g saturated fat), 62 g carbohydrates, 27 g protein, 5 g fiber

3. CHEESEBURGER Winner: homemade (12 minutes)

Our serving 1 burger (5.2oz)

259 calories, 7g fat

You’ll really eat: our serving

Loser: White Castle

Their serving 2 burgers (3.7 oz)

310 calories, 17 g fat

You’ll really eat: their serving

With a mere 12 minutes of prep time and more meat for fewer calories, a homemade burger can’t be beat. SELF’s uses extra-lean ground beef; fast food makers go for cheaper, fattier grinds. The added-at-home tomato, lettuce, low fat cheese and a whole-grain bun make the homemade choice even better.

Worth noting: In a rush? McDonald’s is a slightly better option than White Castle’s store-bought frozen patties, which have plenty of saturated fat.

Also: A Lean Pockets cheeseburger is a healthier quick fix, but it’s still not as nutritious as a homemade broiled patty sandwiched between a whole-grain bun for a fiber hit.

Recipe: Healthy Homemade Cheeseburgers

Ready in 12 minutes, serves 4

3/4 lb extra-lean ground beef (or bison)

2 tbsp finely chopped onion

2 tbsp chili sauce

1 tsp Dijon mustard

4 slices (about 3/4 oz each) reduced-fat cheddar

4 whole-wheat hamburger buns

Lettuce and tomato slices

Mix first four ingredients. Form mixture into four 1-inch-thick patties. Broil 5 to 7 minutes on each side for medium to well-done burgers. Top each burger with a cheese slice right before removing from the oven. Transfer burgers onto buns, top with lettuce and tomato and serve.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 259 calories, 7 g total fat

(3.5 g saturated fat), 22 g carbohydrates, 28 g protein, 1 g fiber

4. MEAT LASAGNA Winner: Weight Watchers Smart Ones

Their serving: 1 piece (10.5oz)

300 calories, 7g fat

You’ll really eat: their serving

Loser: Sbarro

Their serving: 1 piece (17oz)

730 calories, 38g fat

You’ll really eat: their serving

One piece of Sbarro lasagna equals more than a third of your day’s calories. (Note: Sbarro does not provide nutritional data; these numbers are from Restaurant Confidential, from Workman Publishing.) Frozen brands are healthier in part because they trim portions. Homemade, at least the way SELF does it, fills you up the most without filling you out, but it takes an hour to make, so it came in second place. What’s quicker? Lowfat SmartOnes, which fill you up without clogging your arteries.

Worth noting even though the “quickie” self recipe requires one hour prep time: If you opt for homemade, freeze the leftovers for quick meals that are more healthful than most of the ones you’ll find in the freezer section of the supermarket. Divide the homemade lasagna into 10 oz pieces to freeze and eat later for meals. Add veggies for additional nutritional value!

Recipe: Lean Lasagna

Ready in 1 hour, serves 8

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 lb ground turkey breast

3 cups tomato sauce

3 tsp Italian seasoning (or 1 tsp each dried basil, parsley and oregano)

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/2 cup chopped mushrooms

6 cups chopped fresh spinach (or chard)

2 cups fat-free ricotta

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 package whole-wheat lasagna noodles (about 8 oz, or 9 noodles)

2 cups (8 oz) shredded part-skim mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375. Spray a medium-sized nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Sauté onion for 2 minutes, then add turkey and cook an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Add tomato sauce, all seasonings and mushrooms and simmer 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat. In a bowl, combine spinach, ricotta and nutmeg. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and rinse with cool water. Coat a 9” x 13” baking pan with cooking spray. Arrange one third of lasagna noodles (3 noodles) on the bottom of the pan. Spread a layer of ricotta mixture, then turkey mixture, then one third of mozzarella. Repeat layers, ending with mozzarella. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until cheese bubbles. Cool at least 5 minutes before cutting.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 310 calories, 6 g total fat

(3.5 g saturated fat), 31 g carbohydrates, 33 g protein, 4 g fiber

5. FRIED CHICKEN Winner: Banquet Fat Free Breast Tenders

Their serving: 3 pieces (3.2 oz)

120 calories, 0 g fat

You’ll really eat 6 pieces (6.4 oz)

240 calories, 0g fat

Loser: Banquet Crispy Chicken Original

Their serving 3 oz

250 calories, 13g fat

You’ll really eat 2 pieces (6.8 oz)

567 calories, 31.7 g fat

Banquet Fat Free Breast Tenders are about as close as “fried” chicken comes to being healthy. But be careful: The baked pieces are small, so it’s easy to chomp too many. If you want the genuine fried stuff, you’re actually better off with KFC than Banquet Crispy, despite KFC’s larger portions (peel away some of the fattening outer batter either way). Regardless of which entree you pick, round out the meal with a veggie side, like a microwaved, vitamin A-rich sweet potato.

Recipe: Crisp Oven-”Fried” Chicken

Ready in 30 minutes, serves 4

1/2 cup whole-grain breadcrumbs

2 tbsp grated Parmesan

2 tsp grated lemon zest

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp salt

3 tbsp lemon juice

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 5 oz each)

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375. In a shallow bowl, combine breadcrumbs, cheese, zest, paprika and salt. In another shallow bowl, mix lemon juice and 1 tbsp water. Coat a baking pan with cooking spray. Dip chicken in liquid mixture, then in breadcrumb mixture, coating entire breast, and lay on the baking pan. Repeat with remaining breasts. Drizzle chicken with oil. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through (no longer pink inside).

Nutritional analysis per serving: 231 calories, 6.5 g total fat

(1.5 g saturated fat), 8 g carbohydrates, 35 g protein, 1 g fiber

THE TAKE-HOME MESSAGE: There are some days you have to eat on the fly and you’re going to find yourself in a situation where you need information to make the right choices. Hopefully you can consider this information. Wherever you find yourself, whether it’s in an airport terminal or running late for a morning meeting, try to make the healthiest decision you can. The good news is that if you’re informed, you can be a smart consumer of fast food.

Lucy Danziger is editor-in-chief of SELF magazine. All information and recipes provided by SELF. Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. To learn more SELF’s “Fast Food Face-off,” you can check out the September issue of the magazine on newsstands now, or visit their Web site at: