12 Cheap Alternatives to Fast Food

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Posted on 09/07/2007

Fast food — just about everyone eats it, even knowing that it's not healthy for them. Three reasons why is speed, convenience and price. However, fast food has many hidden costs, including the high price of bad health. Not to mention the fact that for such cheap food, you're actually being overcharged by a big amount. So the real reason isn't price, but convenience. You can get much cheaper food by cooking for yourself, but you're not always home to do the cooking, or you don't always feel like cooking. Instead, try some of these alternatives to fast food — convenience at a lower cost.

1. Plan ahead. Many times we get fast food because we're hungry and we have no alternatives. But if you plan your day each morning (or the night before), you can figure out better alternatives. Make sure you're home during mealtimes, for example, or pack a lunch or dinner to take on the road. With a few minutes of planning, you can save some money and eat healthier.

2. Cook in bulk. Along those lines, you could take an afternoon and cook a few different foods in bulk. A big pot of soup or chili, for example, is easy to make, and you can put single-serving containers in the freezer to grab when you head out the door. With a little creativity, you could probably come up with a bunch of your favorite foods to cook in bulk.

3. Appetizers. If you're on the go and want something cheap but good, you could call your favorite restaurant and order appetizers. Often a full entree is way too much for most people to eat in one sitting, and costs way too much as well. But appetizers are often just about the right size, and cost way less.

4. Keep a cheap list. There are always a few restaurants in every area that serve good dishes for under $10. Keep a running list of those restaurants, with phone numbers, so you can order to-go while on the go. Your local paper or an Internet search are good places to start.

5. Good salads. Most restaurants serve hearty salads these days that are cheap, fast, portable and filling. They're good alternatives to less healthy fast food. Just be sure to use a low-fat dressing, as the dressing can take away the health benefits of a salad.

6. Breakfasts. In many sit-down restaurants, you can order breakfast any time of day. And that's often way less expensive than dinner, and comparable to fast-food prices. And filling as well.

7. Lunch specials. The same goes with lunch: many restaurants have specials that are light on the wallet but good for the palate. Keep these on your cheap list (see #4 above).

8. Sandwiches. Make a sandwich in the morning to take with you (they're very portable), or order one to go from a restaurant. Cheaper than a full entree, but filling and tasty.

9. Make your favorite fast food. If you get a hankerin' for a certain fast food, make it yourself. You can buy the ingredients, easily make a bunch at once, and freeze them individually for quick consumption later. Much healthier, and tastier. For a fraction of the cost. Read more.

10. Always pack snacks. Keep a bag full of snacks to take with you on the road, as they can keep hunger at bay and thus keep the need for fast food to a minimum. Fruit, cut-up veggies, nuts, trail mix, blue corn chips and salsa, dried fruit ... the possibilities are endless. If you pack snacks that need refrigeration, toss an ice pack in the bag.

11. Bring bottled water. Often what we think is hunger is actually dehydration. If you drink water, you feel less hungry. Always have a bottle of water with you on the road, along with your snacks, and keep yourself hydrated (and less hungry) all day long.

12. Grocery stores. Another great alternative to fast food is a grocery store, which contains all kinds of food that doesn't cost much but is healthier than fast food. Often grocery stores have hot or prepared food as well. Just run in, grab some fruit and a prepared sandwich with bottled water, and you're good to go.

* Hot deals expire quickly. This deal may no longer be valid.

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