When you're racing against the clock, the convenience of the drive-thru can be tough to ignore, especially when you've got a hankering for your greasiest guilty pleasure. But go ahead and put that fry down: There is a better way. You can cater to that craving without getting crushed by calories, fat and sodium. A little planning can pay off: By preparing these fast-food copycats at home, you can also save more than a few bucks.
KFC Fried Chicken
No picnic at the park seems quite complete without a bucket of crispy fried chicken—but when you get it from the local drive-through, it also comes with a bucket of unwanted grease, fat, cholesterol and calories. As a healthier, oven-baked alternative, this Crunchy Spiced Chicken is made with low-fat ingredients, but is still finger lickin' good. (For an even healthier version of this recipe, SparkPeople's nutritionist, Becky Hand, recommends cutting back the salt to 1/2 teaspoon and halving the amount of the panko and flour coating.)
Next time the kiddos are clamoring for chicken nuggets, skip the drive-thru and make your own. These Crispy Baked Chicken Nuggets are healthier than fried chicken or frozen nuggets, yet still offer a spicy crunch and filling protein that will have even the grown-ups coming back for seconds.
Burger King Sweet Potato Fries
Traditional French fries don't typically have a place in a healthy diet, but when you’ve just got to have that crisp, spicy flavor, our healthier version—made with just a sweet potato and seasonings of your choice—leaves fast-food fries in the dust. Plus, it's just as easy to make these as it is to hit the drive-thru!
P.F. Chang’s Sesame Chicken
It's hard to resist lunch at your favorite Chinese restaurant, but you'll pay for it—not only with your wallet, but in terms of sky-high sodium, carbs and calories. Our slimmed-down Sesame Chicken recipe delivers the same mouth-watering taste without wrecking your dietary numbers.
You already know the importance of eating breakfast, but you don't want to start off your day with an unhealthy mistake for the sake of convenience. Hitting the corner fast-food joint may seem easiest when you're pressed for time, but you can throw together your own healthier version before leaving the house—and your schedule won't suffer.
Lisa Andrews, registered dietitian with Sound Bites Nutrition, recommends making your own egg sandwich with spinach and cheese on a whole-wheat English muffin. Not only will you save calories, fat, sodium and cash, you'll also infuse your diet with a healthy dose of iron, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C.
McDonald’s Quarter Pounder
If you're a meat eater and find yourself with a hankering for a burger, you don't have to succumb to the greasy fast-food variety. For the homemade version below, Andrews used a Laura's Lean four-ounce burger with one slice of Swiss cheese, pickles, ketchup and mustard on an Arnold's thin bun.
When the call of chocolate can't be denied, mix up this mouth-watering Mock Wendy's Frosty. For less than a quarter of the calories and barely a trace of fat, you can enjoy a refreshing frozen treat without the post-sugar guilt.
(Lisa Mikus, RDN, CNSC of Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services and Lisa C. Andrews, MEd, RD, LD of Sound Bites Nutrition contributed to this article.)
Do you have a favorite homemade version of a fast-food menu item? Share it in the comments.