How to make healthier versions of your kids' favourite fast food at home

When you make 'fast food' at home you can control what goes in it.
When you make 'fast food' at home you can control what goes in it. Photo: Getty

Rumours about what goes into the food served up at fast food chains abound on the Internet. Pink slime, eyeballs, worms, nasty chemical preservatives and a whole host of various 'fillers' have all been claims thrown at the major chains. Well McDonalds are hitting back. They've launched a campaign called "Our Food. Your Questions" which aims to dispel the myths and provide transparency regarding what goes into their food. They have even gone so far as inviting Good Morning America into one of their food processing plants to see first hand what goes on, and produced a bunch of videos that you watch on their homepage.

But does this allay our fears about fast food?

It doesn't for me. Principally because my concerns over fast food have never been about whether lips and eyeballs went into the meat mix. Gross as that sounds, if you adhere to the in vogue nose-to-tail dining, we should be eating far more of the animal than just the nice lean fillet steak! Indeed if you're a Paleo diet follower this is probably what you should be eating. Nevertheless for those of us who don't want to eat these animal parts, perhaps you will be assured by McDonalds videos.

But to me the question is much broader. We have to consider the entire meal and not just the burger patty. While they state that no preservatives are added to the meat, there are preservatives in the bun, the sauce, the cheese and the pickles in a Big Mac. There are also colours and emulsifiers used, many with potential side effects, particularly in children.

While bread in Australia does not contain added sugar, burger buns in most fast food chains, including McDonalds, do. They are also made from white flour with no wholegrain option, and have a high GI. The bun is therefore broken down extremely quickly into the sugar building blocks, hitting your bloodstream far more quickly then many more sugary foods. This is one reason why assessing foods on sugar content alone is not all that helpful.

Then we have to consider the overall nutrition of the meal. A Big Mac provides 2060kJ and at least to my mind it doesn't look all that big. For the same amount of energy I can produce a far bigger meal at home – one that will truly fill you up and keep you full, while also delivering more nutrients and none of the additives mentioned above.

19% of those kilojoules in the Big Mac come from saturated fat. Despite the sensational media reporting on the role of saturated fat in health, the real question is, what replaces the saturated fat? Research clearly shows that when healthier fats replace the saturated fat (and not refined carbohydrates) this reduces our risk of heart disease. Most health authorities around the world recommend that less than 10% of our kiojoules come from saturated fat.

Make your burger at home and you can achieve this. You can add good fats with avocado, you can choose the leanest meat to make your patty, you can cook your patty in a little extra virgin olive oil. And you can team it with more salad and a good quality wholegrain bun. All up the bottom line is that you can make a far more nutritious, and I reckon a far more delicious, burger at home.

The same is true for pretty much any fast food you can think of. Pizza, kebabs, burgers and hot chips included. Here's a quick guide as to how.

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Pizza: buy wholegrain pizza bases or use a wholegrain flat bread, spread with tomato paste, top with vegies of your choice and perhaps some lean meat, and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake in a hot oven for about 10 minutes.

Burgers: make your own patties with lean mince, sautéed onion and garlic, and perhaps even some grated zucchini or finely diced red capsicum. Shape into patties, brush with extra virgin olive oil and BBQ or grill. Serve in wholegrain buns with lettuce, avocado, sliced beetroot, grated carrot and tomato.

Kebabs: Cube lean meat or chicken and marinade in a homemade or good quality bought BBQ sauce for at least 30 mins. Add to skewers along with pieces of capsicum, red onion and zucchini. BBQ or grill for a few minutes until cooked through. Serve in wholemeal pita bread with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and perhaps a homemade red cabbage slaw.

Hot Chips: cut salad or kipfler potatoes into wedges and toss in a bowl with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Spread out on a non-stick baking tray and bake in a moderate oven for 30 minutes, giving them a shake about half way through to turn them over.

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