For the last 3 months, I’ve been working beside a Bojangle’s. I’ve also been avoiding it.
Bojangle’s is my absolute favorite fast food. Mmm sweet tea, fluffy chicken biscuit and seasoned fries. Yummm. Delicious, but hardly the healthiest choice.
It would be really easy to indulge in Bojangles. After all, it’s right across the parking lot, a short stroll away, a quick trip through the drive thru on my way home.
I haven’t stopped yet. I’ve held strong. I’ve eaten a good breakfast before work. I’ve packed my lunch. I’ve gone straight home in the evenings. No Bojangles for me.
Since we’ve gone into austerity mode, I’ve promised myself that unless it is absolutely unavoidable, I’d only buy food out for myself if I’m buying for Jon and Little Bit too. I wanted to transform eating out and eating take out from a convenience to a seldom-enjoyed treat, much like it was when I was a kid.
Fast Food Memories
I remember going out to eat as a kid in the 70’s. We tended to go out on Sundays after church, maybe once a month. Maybe we would go to a restaurant, maybe we would go through the drive thru at McDonalds. Eating out was uncommon enough to be notable. We’d get excited. Eating out meant cokes instead of chocolate milk. Eating out was special.
My mom was a terrific cook, but cooking for young kids means very basic cooking. And my brother was a picky eater whose preferred diet consisted largely of Peanut Butter Captain Crunch and Strawberry NesQuik. So we ate a lot of basic food: pan seared burgers, spaghetti, pot roast, roasted chicken with rice. Breakfast tended to be cold cereal (pancakes on Saturday). Lunches were usually basic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
I really envied the kids who brought cold fried chicken to school in their lunch box, but Mom never fried anything but okra. Too messy and too much trouble she’d say when I’d ask for fried chicken. Fried Chicken was for church picnics and family reunions, not for everyday lunch and dinner.
By the 80s, I was living with my Dad and stepmother. We were regularly eating breakfast out on Sundays with my dad, as well as lunch, and hitting a greater variety of restaurants. Chicken started appearing on more fast food menus, not just KFC. It became much easier to indulge in fried foods because they were everywhere. Still, most meals were at home, and most meals were basic southern fair with meat and vegetables.
Once I was on my own, takeout became a fact of life. An expensive, unhealthy fact of life, based largely on convenience.
It was addictive: the deliciously greasy meal, the convenience of the drive thru, the variety of offerings that my home kitchen couldn’t match. Besides, who wants to cook for one? I found it much easier to subsist on takeout and other conveniences.
I was eating a lot more of the foods that used to be treats as everyday items. Tacos. Pizza. Burgers. Even Fried Chicken. I too could have cold fried chicken for lunch, or even hot fried chicken or a chicken sandwich, and I could have it easily and cheaply any time. Only instead of being lovingly cooked by someone’s mom or grandmother, my fried chicken was cooked in a fryer by someone making minimum wage.
And fast food, drive thrus and takeout were everywhere. Grocery stores started offering more ready made food. Even traditional sit down restaurants started offering take out options. The message was “Why Cook?”
Once Jon and I met, it was easier to cook for two, but we still had quite the takeout habit. We lived in a college neighborhood Jon called fast food heaven. Almost any chain you can think of was a block or two away. So was take out pizza, take out Chinese, doughnuts, and tons of other options.
We moved when Little Bit was born, and spent the first year avoiding any fast food. Jon lost weight. I didn’t, because I was still getting take out at work or before class every day. I’d try to eat healthy, but I never got out of the habit of eating conveniently. I’d cook healthy at home but fall victim to easy junk food when I was out and about.
Pulling the Plug on Solo Takeout
When we had our No-Spend October, we stopped all eating out, and were slow to pick up our convenience habits again when it was over. I took advantage of the opportunity to reset my fast food habits.
It’s still a work in progress. I’m not down to a 70’s level of convenience food consumption, but it’s less than I’ve ever had as an adult.
Yes, we still eat fast food occasionally. Every now and then, as a special treat, we’ll take our daughter to McDonald’s or Chik Fil A, where she can play in the play area while her dad and I munch fries. I think we’ve hit fast food once a month in the last 6 months. It’s not ideal, but it’s a real reduction in the number of Chicken Nuggets we’ve bought.
We’ve gone out to eat three times as a family and once as a couple. We’ve picked up Chinese food or pizza takeout a few times and shared with Jon’s parents and sister.
Jon and I have had coffee dates three times.
I’ve had solo fast food twice because meetings ran over and there was no time to get home to eat as planned. There was also a work day that unexpectedly turned from a 4 hour shift to an 8 hour shift, and that day I picked up some cheese and apple slices at the grocery store.
Saturday we had a going away party at work. Bojangles was served.
All of a sudden, the craving for fried chicken became much stronger. Never mind that I had just enjoyed it two days ago, yesterday I wanted to go through that drive thru. I wanted fried chicken with fries and sweet tea. I was a minute away from calling Jon to get his order…
And then I remembered that Fried Chicken, like cookies, is a sometimes food. Fried chicken is, as I said before, for church picnics and potlucks, family reunions and Sunday dinner.
Fried chicken once a quarter doesn’t hurt anyone. And if I had to make it myself, that’s about how often I’d cook it. Frying is, as Mom pointed out, messy and too much trouble. Throwing a piece of chicken on a grill or in the oven is a heck of a lot easier, and that’s what we do.
A Few Strategies for Avoiding Fast Food Cravings
We all know that processed food is not good for us. Most of us eat it anyway due to convenience. So for me, it‘s time to stop leaning in to the convenience of the drive thru and the ease of take out and remember that I can find convenience and ease at home.
Let’s look at my options. In the time it takes me to drive a round trip from any restaurant and my house, I can accomplish any of the following healthier and cheaper options:
- Reheat leftovers in the microwave, and some frozen veggies to accompany them.
- Cook scrambled or fried eggs, to eat with toast and fruit.
- Make a sandwich…with toasted bread.
- Make a salad.
In just a few more minutes, I have a number of other options.
- Make pasta.
- Reheat leftovers that have been in the freezer.
- Make a grain-based meal (Barley, Bulgur, Rice, Cheese Grits) with sauteed vegetables.
- Make other breakfast for dinner (pancakes, omelettes)
- Grilled Cheese!
So without any preparation, there’s at least 9 reasonably healthy quick options to bringing convenience foods home. With a little preplanning and advance preparation, the options get much greater.
But what about those days when I get caught out and about unexpectedly? It happens. Every now and again, I might need the convenience of take out (sometimes food!), and as long as it’s occasional I’m not going to stress about it too much.
What I want to avoid is the trap I used to fall into, where take out was a 5 day a week occurrence. I can certainly reduce the number of times I fall into “emergency drive thru utilization” by using some other strategies.
- Time my errands so that I’m either going out well before or just after meals.
- Pack lunch the evening before.
- Prepack leftovers in meal-sized portions so grab and go is easier.
- Keep an emergency snack in my purse.
- Eat a good breakfast.
Eating Out as a Treat Rather than a Fact of Life
I like eating out. I like not cooking. I like not having a kitchen to clean up (although, to be fair, Jon does most of the dishes). I like letting someone else do the cooking.
When letting someone else do the cooking became the default response to a busy schedule, though, it became the default for every day. It became really easy to think “I’m too busy” when it was really “I’m too lazy.”
I think I’ve broken that habit. Mostly we eat at or at least from home.
And what’s the benefit of eating more food from home?
I’ve lost 4 pounds without dieting (though I’ve also been walking more). We’re spending less money. We’re trying and enjoying new recipes.
Oh, and also, when we do go out, or even grab take out, it’s a lot more of a treat to be savored than just a fact of life. So when we do eat what someone else cooks, it’s a lot more valuable to us than it used to be.
I’m not sure we’ll ever get to the level of home cooked goodness that my Mom provided us growing up. But we’re a heck of a lot closer to the behavior of the 70’s than we are to the behavior of 2014, and a lot more aware of our choices. We’re making sure our “sometimes foods” are just for sometimes, and that’s the way it should be.
When do you find yourself going with convenient choices too often and how do you battle the lure of easy choices?
Fried Chicken Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net