Families today are busier than ever. Our children are involved in after school clubs and activities, year-round sports, the occasional orthodontist appointment, and of course a social schedule. Our weekends are often equally as full and many days can go by before we all sit down at the dinner table together. It is tempting to pull into one of the several fast food restaurants that clutter our towns and cities with their bright and colorful signs promising a tasty and better yet, easy dinner. But aside from the obvious monetary expense, what price does our family have to pay for such convenience?

Fast foods in general are considered high in fats, sodium and carbohydrates. When it comes to calories, fast foods are often over the top. One fast food meal can contain more calories than we require in an entire day. Other harmful additives may also be present in fast foods such as food colorings. Fast foods are also deficient in vitamins, minerals, fiber and healthy phytochemicals. This combination is a recipe for disaster when it comes to our health. Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cardiac disease, cancer, and osteoporosis are the result of a poor diet, particularly one where fast foods are common.

Fresh, wholesome foods are necessary for optimal health. Instead of French fries, try a baked potato. Instead of a bacon double cheeseburger, try a freshly made 4-ounce burger on a whole wheat roll and topped with grilled vegetables. Instead of fried chicken, try a grilled chicken breast with a fresh fruit salsa to top it off. Instead of soda, choose low fat milk, 100% fruit juice, or water. Instead of a milkshake, try a yogurt smoothie. Add a salad of your favorite raw vegetables to round out a well-balanced meal.

When consumed on a regular basis, fast foods raise blood pressure, raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, weaken the immune system, decrease the metabolic rate, raise blood sugar levels (in those already suffering from diabetes), and raise triglyceride levels. Each one of these symptoms is dangerous by itself. Having more than one of these factors puts you at risk for debilitating diseases. Take a little extra time and effort and sit together as a family around a homemade delicious, nutritious meal. You are worth more than what fast food has to offer.