Battling The Convenience and Costs of Fast Food

The biggest advantage that fast food has is that it is so easy and it saves time by allowing us to multi-task. On busy days, I can stop by a fast food restaurant and pick up a quick meal and eat it on the road as I hurry off to a meeting; it’s very difficult for a typical homemade meal to compete with that.

That is, until you discover the kitchen assembly line method.

The kitchen assembly line is basically the mass production of foods that can be easily grabbed and eaten at any time – in other words, food products similar to items sold at some fast food restaurants. These are stored in the freezer and can easily be microwaved and taken out the door with you as you rush off – or taken to work with you for lunch if you don’t have time to pack leftovers.

All you need to do to get started is to devote an afternoon to assembling these foods and some freezer space to store them. You don’t need any cooking skill beyond that of a typical fast food employee. The best part? These are always more healthy than the items you might buy at your typical fast food establishment.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Breakfast Burritos: Buy a bunch of tortillas, some breakfast sausage, a jar of salsa, a dozen eggs, and some grated cheese. Cook the sausage up loosely and scramble the eggs. Put a bit of sausage and eggs on the tortilla, dump some cheese and eggs on top, wrap it up, and put it in Saran Wrap. Drop them right in the freezer.

Breakfast Sandwiches: Buy a bunch of English muffins or bagels (these freeze pretty well), some sliced cheese, and some eggs. Fry the eggs, breaking the yolk really early on, then put a fried egg and a slice of cheese on each English muffin or bagel. If you want, add a slice of Canadian bacon or something similar to each one. Wrap them in Saran wrap individually and drop them in the freezer.

Yogurt Pops These are great in the morning before a hot day. Mix together plain yogurt (two cups or so), some fruit (about half a cup of whatever you like), and eight ounces of your favorite fruit juice. Pour this into Dixie cups and stick ’em in the freezer. Freeze them for 45 minutes or so, then insert a popsicle stick into the center of each one, then pop them back in the freezer until they’re solid. I really like these on summer mornings.

Regular Burritos: Buy a bunch of tortillas, some meat of choice (chicken, pork, whatever), and some lettuce and tomatoes and salsa and refried beans and whatever else you’d like on a burrito. Cook the meat, then just assemble the burritos individually, wrap them in Saran wrap, and freeze away.

Quick Sandwiches: Buy some English muffins or bagels (these freeze well, but you can also use buns or bread), some cold cuts, and some matching cheeses. I like ham + swiss and roast beef + sharp cheddar; a friend of mine swears by muenster + cappicola. Make sandwiches as thick as you’d like, toss on any condiments you want, wrap them in Saran wrap, and freeze them. You can make hamburgers this way, too, of course.

Homemade Chicken Nuggets: These are so much better than fast food ones, it’s crazy. Cut up a few chicken breasts into one-inch pieces, then put some non-sweet cornflakes in a Ziploc bag and smash the cornflakes into oblivion with a rolling pin or your hands. Put the crumbs in a bowl and add a tablespoon of flour, a teaspoon of salt and pepper, and (optionally) some grated cheese (I like Parmesan). In another bowl, beat a couple eggs with a tablespoon of water until it’s all the same consistency. Dip the nuggets in the eggs, roll them on the crumbs, then put them on a pan and stick them in the oven at 375 F for thirteen minutes. Take ’em out, let them cool, put several into a number of Ziploc baggies, and pop ’em in the freezer.

Ready to eat?
With any of these, just grab them out of the freezer and microwave them for a minute or two and you’ll be ready to go. I often do this in the last moments before I leave so my final steps are hitting the microwave and then walking out the door.

The best part? If you make a bunch, you’ll have instant meals for a long time. They’re cheap and they’re way better for you than fast food.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.