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September 2, 2011 12:04 PM   Subscribe

How to eat without a kitchen - is there such thing as healthy fast food?

Unfortunately I've found myself living alone and not having access to a kitchen for the next 2 months or so here in Silicon Valley (not San Francisco).

I'd prefer not to die - so I think I'll have to go out to eat for lunch and dinner most every day.

Any thoughts on strategies and best practices on what to get/eat to stay somewhat healthy?
posted by veryblue1 to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I used to do a lot of travel (I once stayed at the Hyatt for a month) and I certainly got tired of eating out.

If money is no object (I was reimbursed for meals), it's always good to go to a grocery store and buy yogurt and fruit for breakfast, a sandwich from the deli for lunch, and then something from a deli for dinner.

If you go to a supermarket deli, it's easier to control portion sizes, and it's also cheaper and more convenient. I found that it was important to have a hot meal at least once a day, which is where delis come in handy. Try to buy as much fresh fruit and vegetables from the supermarket as you can. For one thing, it's cheaper. It's also filling, and helps avoid high-calorie, high-fat food.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:11 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you just get prepared foods from Whole Foods (or the equivalent)? They have a lot of healthy enough options you can get in disposable containers that won't require any clean up.

Obviously, this is expensive and not ideal for the environment (their containers are somewhat "green," though), but there's no reason that lack of a kitchen means you need to eat at fast food every day, or, for that matter, at all.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:12 PM on September 2, 2011

Look for a grocery store which is focused on local, organic, healthy food. (I.e. something like our wonderful local cooperative, PCC.) Buy their soups/salads/sandwiches, provided those are made from healthy ingredients. This is also a pretty reasonably priced option.

There are also pretty tasty and reasonably priced options at farmer's markets.

Here are some organic grocery stores in San Jose, Here is a list of farmer's markets.
posted by bearwife at 12:13 PM on September 2, 2011

Buy a cooler (even a cheapie styrofoam one will do just fine) and locate a nearby source of ice.

In this cooler you should have: some lunchmeat, some cheese, basic condiments, some milk, some grapes, some jelly.

Outside the cooler you should have: some bread, some bananas, a box of cereal, some walnuts or almonds, some dried fruit, some peanut butter, some bagels or english muffins.

That way, you can eat breakfast, the occasional lunch, and snacks at "home". You'll save money and it'll be healthier overall. (This is what we did all the time on road trips growing up (i.e. make food and eat it on the road), and it kept us happy.)
posted by phunniemee at 12:13 PM on September 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

No need to eat out for every meal. You can stock your living quarters with foods that don't need to be refrigerated, like bread, peanut butter, crackers, and both fresh and canned fruits. If you want to keep something cold, get a cooler or invest in a mini-fridge (you can often find them pretty cheap on Craigslist). Keep ingredients for sandwiches and salads there.

If you want a hot meal, find one (or more) of the following:

- microwave
- crockpot
- electric kettle
- hot plate/electric burner

You can find any of these under $20 on craigslist and that will enable you to make healthy, tasty, affordable meals. No need to throw your money down the drain at McDonald's
posted by calcetina at 12:14 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fresh Choice has both good and terrible options. You can get a to-go box which would make it comparable in time to fast food.

Wendy's has a baked potato - you just have to avoid butter, sour cream, bacon etc.

A McDonald's yogurt & fruit plus a small hamburger is not a bad option.
posted by metahawk at 12:15 PM on September 2, 2011

If you want to buy your own food, Sprouts is a more affordable alterantive to Whole Foods. Also Trader Joe's is all over and has a really good selection of prepared foods although you have more options with a microwave.
posted by metahawk at 12:17 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You say you don't have "access to a kitchen," but it's often possible to eat at home even if your home doesn't a room specifically designed to be a kitchen. Do you have any cupboards? A sink? Can you get a hotplate, microwave, etc. (as calcetina suggests)? Be creative.
posted by John Cohen at 12:19 PM on September 2, 2011

Starbucks has decent sandwiches, plus bistro boxes for small lunches or good-sized snacks (the one I got the other day had a small serving of grapes, cheddar cheese, apple slices, peanut butter, pita bread, and a hard-boiled egg).
posted by scody at 12:22 PM on September 2, 2011

Also Trader Joe's is all over and has a really good selection of prepared foods although you have more options with a microwave.

Trader Joe's always has a station in the back for preparing and giving out samples...this station has a microwave. I am 98% sure that if you asked them to nuke something for you they'd be happy to do it.
posted by phunniemee at 12:22 PM on September 2, 2011

Depending on where you are, there may be a My Fit Foods (or local/regional equivalent) near you. It's properly portioned quality food made that day, frozen, and sold as microwavable meals. This may still be a hipster Texas thing, but I hope it catches on in the rest of the country.
posted by spamguy at 12:23 PM on September 2, 2011

Avoid processed foods if at all possible (and this includes store-bought bread). They are loaded with fat, salt, and sugar.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:29 PM on September 2, 2011

If you get a crockpot, a mini-fridge, and some tupperware, you should be able to make a lot of meals that you can store safely and reheat easily (a microwave at work, maybe?).

Oooh, and is there a Sweet Tomatoes near you? GIANT SALADS YUM YUM YUM.
posted by jabes at 12:31 PM on September 2, 2011

Can you get takeaway (takeout) sushi, either from actual restaurants or from supermarkets/sandwich shops? I'd expect that to be a relatively healthy option, even the supermarket kind.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:23 PM on September 2, 2011

Bread, bananas, apples, peanut butter, honey, granola/muesli, dried fruits, pickles. With a cooler: yogurt, milk, cheese, deli sliced meats (but watch out for the sodium content), resilient vegetables like broccoli, carrots and celery. With a heat source: canned beans, shelf-stable vacuum-packed brown rice, Tastybite Indian meals.
posted by Daily Alice at 1:31 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Warning. The Whole Foods hot food may be organic, but it's not necessarily healthy. Organic mac-n-cheese is still a big pile of (delicious) carbs & fat. I say this as someone who found myself in your situation and fed myself from Whole Foods for a semester and put on a bunch of weight :-) I had to stop going and save myself. I still dream about that hot food counter though. Mmmm.
posted by media_itoku at 1:48 PM on September 2, 2011

Salad only requires a cutting board and a bowl. Same thing with summer rolls, which can be quite tasty with a nice peanut sauce that you could probably buy. Fresh fruit doesn't require refrigeration.
posted by cnc at 2:06 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I once was without a kitchen of any kind (cheap hotel living for work, no office to go to) for a month, and found some kind of ridiculous, but creative ways to not eat fast food. At mid-range hotels you can often pay a small fee to have a microwave/fridge put in your room. But not sure if you'll be at a hotel.

In addition to what everyone listed above, I would sometimes buy a frozen Amy's meal at the organic grocery, and go down to the gas station across the street and use their microwave. (Know Amy's aren't the healthiest in the world, but they aren't as bad as a lot of others.) They never cared that I used it, I always bought a juice or something there just in case. It was way better than me attempting to cook in the coffee maker in the hotel....really only worked for oatmeal, canned soup...not sure how safe that was either.

Also, a toaster is cheap and it goes a long way if you're able to have one. Just having toasted warm bread on a pb&j can really help switch it up.

Consider checking out some simple "raw" recipes too. Good luck!
posted by manicure12 at 2:56 PM on September 2, 2011

At lot of the answers so far are great ideas on how to avoid fast food, but if that is the route you prefer to go, there are some healthy options. Most fast food places have grilled chicken sandwiches and at least one healthy salad option (though watch added cheese/sauce/mayo/bacon on the sandwich and watch for cheese or breaded chicken or full-fat dressing on the salad.)

Subway and Sheetz have wheat bread available to pile on lunch meat and veggies. Just watch cheese and full-fat dressings, again.

Chick-Fil-A has grilled chicken wraps, a good grilled chicken salad that comes with sunflower seeds, fruit as a side dish, and side salads.

Wendy's plain baked potato and a side of chili or side salad isn't a bad meal. Some of their salads are pretty terrible for you, though.

And Chipolte! They are probably one of the healthiest fast food places with fresher ingredients. Just watch calories for tortillas and tortilla chips.

Even Taco-freakin-Bell has items you can order "frisco style" without cheese or sour cream, saving tons of calories.

But, with most (all?) of these, you do have to watch the sodium. Processed, prepared food almost always has tons more sodium than you need. So, if you are watching that, I would stick to grocery store stuff.
posted by shortyJBot at 3:26 PM on September 2, 2011

You'll need access to a fridge, but I think Diet To Go has some pickup locations in your area - You pick up a bag from them twice a week, and it's got Breakfast, lunch and dinner in neat little heat-sealed tubs to get you through to the next pickup. It's expensive-ish (Works out to about $5-6/meal?), but it's nutritionist approved, fixed calorie level and surprisingly good (IMO, YMMV - I'm on the other coast, but I AM a customer. Friday Dinner was Shrimp Fettuccine, broccoli and a honey wheat roll. )
posted by Orb2069 at 3:33 PM on September 2, 2011

Well in terms of fast food restaurants, most if not all offer salads. And while salad can get very boring after a while it's certainly fairly healthy and not too pricy.
posted by ljs30 at 4:07 PM on September 2, 2011

Forget all the complicated stuff, if you are a normal person, you'll stay mostly healthy by eating a variety of foods from the fast food restaurants if you: watch calories, and make sure your fat:protein:carb ratios are roughy 1:1:1.

You can't go wrong with places like Panda Express or a double cheeseburger and a salad.
posted by gjc at 4:23 PM on September 2, 2011

Panda Express Warning: the Orange Chicken is delicious but is not so healthy.
posted by wittgenstein at 5:23 PM on September 2, 2011

In case you already have a standard electric drip coffeemaker -- do not overlook its value as a tinned-soup-heating appliance.

Supermarkets with take-away salads will sell little individual pouches/cups of salad dressing -- get that and a spoon -- buy a ripe avocado -- cut in two, pour the dressing into the wells left by the seed, eat like grapefruit; pretty satisfying.

Lots of 'good' fast food options are on lousy bread (even if 'whole wheat') -- seek out bakeries that do a sideline in sandwiches.
posted by kmennie at 8:38 PM on September 2, 2011

We've just done this for six weeks while (very, very slowly) renovating our kitchen. We picked up a cheap electric hotplate and just prepped / cooked on a small table. It was fine, and the small kitchen now seems enormous for our needs. Do you have a fridge, even a small one? This will make a big difference for meal suggestions.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:46 PM on September 2, 2011

This is totally doable without a fridge or microwave, but why bother? Having those two things improves your life immeasurably.

Eg ready made salad, sandwich meats, sliced cheese, fresh bread, etc (also leftovers saved for lunches) will all last a few days in the fridge, but only one or two outside it. If you've got a microwave, you could have baked beans, bacon and egg mcmuffins or hot porridge for breakfast. But if you don't have one, you're looking at cereals, rolls, and fruit or fresh juice.

(Heck, with a fridge and a microwave, you could have kippers for breakfast. Or kedgeree. Or lightly warmed haggis and tattie cakes and hot eggnog. The sky is the limit.)

So.. um.. tiny little bar fridges (1 1/2 cubic feet, 40L) start at about $60-$80. Little microwave ovens, about the same.

Beyond that, you need a chopping board, a knife, a few plastic containers for microwaving and storing things in, and your eating and drinking utensils (knife, fork, spoon, mug, bowl, plate).

Then it's all just like home.

Depending on your tastes, you might want to add a toaster, juicer, coffee grinder, rice cooker, etc.
posted by Ahab at 12:06 AM on September 3, 2011

A vegetarian friend who had out out-of-town training for 10 weeks lived in a hotel room that came with a mini-fridge and a microwave. She bought a crockpot on sale and has mentioned making steamed brown bread and also casseroles in it. Photo of her set-up.
posted by bentley at 6:08 AM on September 3, 2011

Electric multi-cooker. As long as you're careful about the space you use, the lack of a kitchen doesn't mean you can't cook.
posted by holgate at 7:40 AM on September 3, 2011

Depending on your actual situation, a hot plate may not be an option---they were prohibited in the dorms of both colleges I attended---but a Mr Coffee is pretty much the same thing...

A toaster oven, if they're allowed, and a microwave should handle all the other cooking needs you might have, and a dorm fridge should do fine for cooling. If you're anywhere near a campus, you should be able to get some good deals in the next few weeks as students unload what didn't fit in their new apartments and stores unload what didn't sell.

Frankly, there's no reason not having a specifically designated kitchen should mean having to eat out for every meal, or even having to eat room-temperature food.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 11:22 AM on September 4, 2011

Any reasonably nice grocery store will have a salad bar. Whole Foods and Mollie Stones generally both do. Get a huge salad at lunch time and load it up with protein - tofu, beans, eggs, chicken, etc. and you can have half for lunch and half for dinner.
posted by bendy at 1:19 AM on September 5, 2011

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