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September 21, 2013

Fast food: Quick, easy meal ideas for those on the go

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The Daily Star

---- — For those on the go, fast food doesn’t have to be the drive-thru variety.

Centuries ago, “fast food” meant eating whatever was at hand. History tells of laborers in early Rome who would make their own versions of quick meals after the toils of their work days by simply taking the stale bread from a previous day and soaking it in wine for a potent and filling stew before going to sleep. 

The nursery rhyme of “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old” makes reference to a centuries-old practice of keeping a sturdy pot hanging over the fireplace where bits and pieces of meat and vegetables were added, along with water and seasonings.

The term “fast food” came into common vocabulary in the late 1950s when restaurants began to serve meals done in minutes to people on the move. We have kept on going with busy lives, and fast-food establishments have become part of the lifestyle

But “fast food” can also mean quick-to-prepare meals in your own kitchen where special orders can be created with your family in mind.

The fast food many people are looking for now is healthy, economical and quick to prepare. Meals prepared at home can be vastly less expensive than those prepared at restaurants, and can be consumed at leisure, with second helpings available. 

Home dining can also help those watching their calorie, sodium, fat and sugar intake. Weight-loss diet gurus often recommend making your own meals as a way to drop pounds. Even quickly made dinners at home can be low-calorie, with the help of fruits and vegetables.

Slow cookers are a great way to have “fast” meals ready to eat at the end of the day. By assembling ingredients in the morning or the night before and turning on the slow cooker at the start of the day, you can come home to savory aromas and a hot, healthy meal with little work required. Baked beans are a staple of the slow cooker, but beef stew, soups, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti sauce, lasagna, roast chicken and meat loaf are just a few of the other dishes your slow cooker can help you prepare. 

Straight-from-the-cupboard “fast food” cooking is also possible. Pasta, cheese and a can of tuna may make the best ever tuna mac you have ever tasted. Rice with tomato soup or salsa is very satisfying and can be served on tortillas. Canned beans with tomato sauce and an array of vegetables, with or without ground beef or sausage, is a heart warming stew. Another “fast food” that can come from the cupboard is pancakes for dinner.  

Microwave ovens have changed the way we cook in many respects, and are a key to quick meals, as they can thaw, boil, broil and bake quickly. One of the best microwave fast food meals is also one of the most simple, inexpensive, healthy and variable as it all begins with one key ingredient: the potato. Baked, mashed, twice baked, stuffed and broiled; a microwave oven makes it happen for hot potato dinners.

Leftovers offer another route to fast, easy and delicious quick meal options. Taking time on the weekend to prepare chili, a roast or a casserole means that portions can be set aside for later in the week. Plastic storage bags, wax paper or glass containers labeled and filled with meal-size portions mean that “fast food” awaits you after a busy day. 

So next time you are thinking of “fast food,” skip the takeout window or delivery, and whip up some “fast food” of your own that will save money, make you feel healthier and give you more time to relax with your family.