When life gets busy, eating out at fast-food restaurants or quickly on the go is often the easiest option. But how do we make healthier choices when running through the drive-thru or packing ahead of time?

Following MyPlate [1] offers a solution!

Image of MyPlate with a plate divided into quarters with vegetables, fruits, protein and grains written in quarters and a circle beside the plate with dairy written inside

MyPlate breaks down food into 5 groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. For a balanced meal, it is suggested to follow the above portion guidelines when choosing your meal.

Half of your plate should consist of fruits and veggies, one-fourth should be protein, and the last fourth should be grains. See examples for each food group below on our Food Talk Features blog series!

5 food groups listed with example foods in each food group coded with different colors for each food group

General recommendations

 As well as following the MyPlate example, it is also important to limit overall saturated fat and added sugar intake when choosing your meals. Saturated fat can be found in butter, red meat, and full-fat dairy foods. [2] The main place added sugars is found is in beverages, such as juice or sodas [3]. Choosing water instead not only saves money but also helps your health! If you need a pick me up or are craving a flavored drink, try sparkling water, unsweet tea with lemon, or hot coffee with low-fat milk.

When packing ahead, be sure to use plenty of ice or frozen gel packs in your cooler to keep the temperature inside the cooler below 40 °F. You can check the temperature by using an appliance thermometer. Visit the Basics of Food Safety blog to learn more about safely packing your food.

How do we build a nutritious meal on the go?

Now, let’s go through a few examples that are served at common fast-food restaurants or that are simple to pack ahead of time and see if we can build meals that fit MyPlate.

First up, breakfast!

Does this sausage English muffin with egg fit into the MyPlate recommendations? The ingredients include an English muffin, egg, sausage patty, and cheese.

english muffin with sausage, egg and cheese in between the muffin halves

Grain: English muffin

Protein: Egg and sausage

Dairy: Cheese

Fruit & veggie: none

Packing your favorite side of fruit, such as a fruit cup, to pair with the biscuit would make this a full meal.


What about this breakfast burrito? Ingredients include a flour tortilla, cheese, and a mixture of scrambled eggs, sausage, and onions, tomato & peppers.

2 tortillas rolled up with sausage, egg and tomato inside

Grain: Flour tortilla

Protein: Egg and sausage

Dairy: Cheese

Vegetable: Mix of onion, tomato, and peppers

Fruit: None

Simply adding a side of fruit to the meal would meet all 5 food groups! You could even bring an apple or banana from home to save money and still eat a balanced meal.


As a pack ahead option, this Banana Pudding Overnight Oats recipe is an easy option that meets MyPlate guidelines. Add a handful of riced cauliflower or grated zucchini to the oatmeal base to meet the vegetable requirement.


  2 mason jars with oats, bananas inside the jars with 2 bananas , oats and chia seeds beside the jars

 What about snacks?

 Healthier options are now more common at gas stations, allowing an on-the-go snack to still meet your needs. You could also pack healthy options to bring them along with you throughout your day. Here are some options that combine a protein/healthy fat with a carbohydrate source to keep you satisfied until your next meal.

Hummus & pretzel pack:

  • Hummus (source of protein, fiber, and healthy fat) + pretzels (carbohydrate) = a well-balanced snack option and will help you stay fuller longer!

small glass bowl filled with hummus and a pretzel chip sticking in the hummus

  • Cheese (protein) + nuts (healthy fat) + dried fruit (high fiber carbohydrate) = a nutritious, balanced snack option.
  • Hard-boiled egg (protein) + vegetable (carbohydrate) = light, but filling snack choice.

container holding almonds, berries, boiled eggs, cucumber slices and a cracker with white cream cheese spread on top

Now, on to lunch or dinner

 What could be added to this chicken sandwich to help it fit into MyPlate guidelines?

Ingredients include a bun, chicken, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayonnaise.

sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, cheese, grilled chicken between the buns

Grain: Bun

Protein: Chicken

Dairy: Cheese

Vegetable: Lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles

Fruit: None

Adding a side of fruit would help complete this meal. Selecting a whole grain bun option or grilled chicken when available would help increase fiber content and decrease saturated fat content. Ordering mayonnaise on the side or omitting it would also help decrease saturated fat content.

poppy seed bun with lettuce, tomato, cheese and 2 beef patties in between the buns

What about this hamburger? Ingredients include a white bun, beef patty, pickles, and onions.

Grain: White bun

Protein: Beef patty

Dairy: None

Vegetable: Pickles and onions

Fruit: none

Substituting sliced apples for fries and adding a slice of cheese will help meet the fruit and dairy requirements. To include more vegetables, add tomatoes and lettuce.


As a pack ahead option, make these quick Turkey Pinwheel Sandwiches.  Add a side of fruit to complete MyPlate guidelines.

tortillas filled with turkey, lettuce and cheese rolled up and cut into 4 pieces on a black plate

As we’ve seen above, making healthy food choices on the go is very doable! Planning ahead and choosing options that meet MyPlate recommendations may be helpful before packing meals or running through a fast-food drive thru. You can quickly list off the ingredients in menu items to decide which item will fit into the MyPlate guidelines.

Enjoy eating healthy on the go!


[1] MyPlate.gov


[2] Heart.org/saturated fat


[3] Heart.org/Added Sugars


Posted May 23, 2023

Written by Mary Pierce McKennon, MS/DI student | edited by Leslie Davis, MS, RDN, LD, CDCES and the nutrition education team