Healthy fast food can be something of an oxymoron, but it is possible to make healthier fast food recipes at home – that taste almost exactly like your favorite restaurants (and sometimes even better).
It is easy for some to renounce fast food. For others, Taco Bell’s siren call is almost irresistible, and the light from the Golden Bows entices us like moths to flames. If you are trying to eat healthier by removing certain things from your diet, it is never a good idea to go cold turkey. And in general, it is not a good strategy to completely deprive yourself of treats. But no matter how many so-called healthy options your favorite fast food restaurants and chain restaurants offer, you are better off satisfying some cravings at home.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of recipes that combine the copycat urge with the urge to eat healthier. As you might expect, most animal ingredients replace vegetables and meat alternatives, in addition to replacing flour, fats, and cooking methods. Customizing recipes in such a way is an obvious and easy way to make things better for you without completely depriving yourself, but if you are not used to doing it, it can be easy to overlook.
Making your own meals rather than eating out also ensures to some degree that you know exactly what is on your plate and how it has been handled. At the very least, you can choose ethically sourced ingredients if you want, and you do not have to wonder if someone dropped your sandwich on the ground before serving it. (If you lost your sandwich on the ground, yes, you know at least how clean your floors are, and can invoke the five second rule if you find it appropriate.)
While the health benefits of rejiggered junk food may seem strange, it’s a fact that most of us at least occasionally crave something unhealthy, so why not indulge without quite give in to sometimes-gross profits? Even if you’re not full of paleo, gluten-free, vegan (or whatever you have), you make several minor changes to your culinary habits, such as baking instead of frying, cutting down on oils and fats, reducing sugar and salt, Eating a little less meat each week and skipping the easiest eateries in favor of cooking at home more often can really add up to feeling better.
Pampering yourself with healthier fast food can be as simple as slapping some meatless Morningstar BBQ “riblets” on a bun with onions and pickles for a vegan McRib – whenever you want, you don’t have to wait until it inevitably comes back. Or you can mix a little more and make one of the recipes below when the urge strikes you.
Instead of Taco Bell: Homemade Crunchwrap Supreme
You can easily veganize this homemade Crunchwrap by replacing the beef with taco-spiced lentils (or TVP or store-bought meat-free taco crumbles) and inserting vegan cashew sour cream and vegan cheese (including vegan nacho cheese for the right amount of ooze), but if you eat meat , just use genuine, identifiable beef or chicken is a big step up from the original, although you still can not technically call this health food. Get the homemade Crunchwrap Supreme recipe.
Instead of Outback Steakhouse: Baked Paleo Blooming Onion
Deep frying may be a sure way to crispy food, but baking works well enough without near as much oil. This recipe also uses almond flour in the name of a paleo diet (it is also gluten free), but you can use whatever type of flour you like and have on hand. If you can find Vidalia or other sweet onions, try them and if your onions are really large, you may need to increase the amount of spicy flour to coat all the beautiful petals. Get our recipe for Baked Paleo Blooming Onion.
Instead of Panda Express: Baked Orange Cauliflower
There is a whole world of meat substitutes to dive into if you remove – or just cut back on – animal protein, from tofu and seitan to jackfruit and tempeh, but simply switching to more hearty vegetables is also a good option. Here is tender-yet meaty cauliflower for chicken. If you are not afraid to fry, you can double dip cauliflower in hot oil before beating it with a sticky orange-sesame sauce, but this recipe coats it in panko and bakes it instead, for an even healthier bid on an old favorite. Get the recipe for baked orange cauliflower.
Instead of Chipotle: DIY Chipotle Burrito Bowl
As fast food chains go, Chipotle can be a pretty good choice (despite occasional e coli outbreaks); the main problem comes from eating a whole giant burrito (okay, and pile on all cheese and sour cream). If you make a Chipotle-style dish at home, you can not only copy their delicious chicken recipe, but better control your portions and ingredient ratios.
Adding even more vegetables is always a smart move, and you can consider eating brown rice or another grain like quinoa, in which case you can – and should – still add coriander and lime juice (unless of course you hate coriander)! Get the recipe for the DIY Chipotle Burrito Bowl.
Instead of McDonald’s: Vegan Big Mac
While plenty of other fast food and chain places offer vegan options, McDonald’s has not historically bothered (though some things on the menu happen to be meat-free). That said, why not take matters into your own hands and make a vegan Big Mac analog at home? Two all-quinoa-pinto bean steaks do not have quite the same ring to it, but every ingredient in the jingle is accounted for and veganized where needed in this Vegan Big Mac recipe.
If you’re cool about swapping the meat out but can’t live without real cheese, just take inspiration from another burger chain and get it your way. And in either case, this is a perfect vehicle for a pair of Impossible or Beyond burgers!
If your heart belongs to In ‘N’ Out, try our Animal Style Burger recipe (with real beef or faux as you like).
Instead of Chick-fil-A: Chick-fil-A Tofu Nuggets with vegan “honey” mustard sauce
If you’re more of a McNuggets fan who simply can not shake the memory of Pink Slime, try these baked, meatless, chickpea-based nuggets at home for a change, but if your heart belongs to Chick-Fil-A and you do it For not to eat meat (and / or simply can not support their policy), this copy recipe is completely vegan, but tastes deliciously close to the real thing. This is partly thanks to a pickle of jam juice and a little icing sugar in the breading. (If you is an incarnated meat eater, you can try this mimicked Chick-fil-A nuggets recipe, which happens to cut far down on sodium and can always be baked instead of fried, with the risk of losing a little crunch.) Get the Chicken-fil-A Tofu Nuggets with vegan “honey” mustard sauce recipe.
Instead of red lobster: Gluten-free Cheddar Bay biscuits
To be clear, these are does not generally healthier just because they are gluten free (and they still contain cheese, buttermilk and butter), but if you are allergic or sensitive to wheat and miss Cheddar Bay biscuits, you do not have to worry as you can make them at home with gluten-free flour! Plus, that way, there is no menu full of deep-fried seafood that tempts you, and you can instead make some ultra-easy salmon for your biscuits. Get the recipe for gluten-free Cheddar Bay Biscuits.
Instead of Olive Garden: Healthy Cauliflower Fatty Alfredo
Olive Garden may have a surprisingly good wine list and great deals on soup, salad and breadsticks, but they are also home to lots of very calorie-rich pasta options. You can make most of them significantly healthier at home – and fettuccine alfredo is no exception. Okay, so it might not taste good just like regular pasta alfredo, but it’s super creamy without a ton of butter and, yes, cream, plus you get an extra veggie boost from all the cauliflower mixed in the sauce.
Consider throwing it away with vegetable noodles (or just replacing it some of the pasta with vegetables, as in this chicken Alfredo with Zucchini ribbon recipe). Add grilled shrimp or chicken breast and chopped parsley if you want and you will be glad you stayed home. Get the recipe for the healthy cauliflower fatuccine Alfredo.
Instead of Wendy’s: Wendy’s Copycat Paleo Frosty (and extra crispy oven-baked fries)
For a slightly simpler and still milk-free version of your favorite chocolate-milkshake-like concoction, try a recipe with coconut milk ice cream, or go with this one that uses ice cream and ripe banana to give thick, frosty consistency along with it natural sweetener of your choice and raw cocoa powder. Either way, feel free to make some crispy, oven-baked “french fries” next to it to dip (if you’ve never tried it, you can be sure it’s one thing – and a glorious thing to do) . Get the recipe for Wendy’s Copycat Paleo Frosty.
Instead of Cheesecake Factory: Raw Vegan Snickers Cheesecake
There are plenty of ways to make cheesecake, and pretty much endless flavors to add to it; the confusing array of choices at The Cheesecake Factory testifies to that. One of their best options has to be the Snickers cheesecake that pops up – cover your eyes –over 1,000 calories per slice (at least according to some Google results). If you share a piece with other people, it may not be that bad, but you can feel much better by consuming even a large portion of this vegan version all by yourself. It gets its creaminess from cashews (the recipe guide lacks a few relevant words, but the nuts need to be soaked in water overnight), and sweetness from dates and dark chocolate. Get the recipe for Raw Vegan Snickers Cheesecake.