I’m keeping things simple today with a recipe for how to make a healthy burger and fries. Cooking your own hamburgers is easy, and you can customize the patties in ways you can’t when you order fast food. The baked potato French fries are a snap to make and are both healthier and tastier than take out. The nutrient breakdown of homemade makes it worth a little extra work!
Today’s post will fulfill my son’s request for a recipe on how to make a healthy burger and fries. I’m also going to cover some reasons why you may want to go to the effort of making your own. If you are a seasoned chef who already makes good burgers, I hope you find the nutrition information interesting.
If you do not like to cook, it may feel like a waste of time to make a healthy burger. Why not just hit the drive-thru? As an additional benefit, the fast food meal may be less expensive than a similar meal prepared at home.
However, making fast food combo meals a part of your regular routine may eventually catch up to you and ultimately cost more. Poor diet quality may not only lead to higher long-term healthcare costs but also missed time at work. Choosing better food options now is an investment that may help you save in the future.
Sometimes you get what you pay for. Though there are no guarantees in terms of health outcomes, making healthier diet and lifestyle choices does help to reduce risks.
But burgers and fries are burgers and fries, whether from home or a fast food place, right? Not necessarily. What follows are some of the reasons that making your fast food is probably a better choice.
The food you make at home will often have a better nutrient profile
Here is the nutrient breakdown of the McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese and medium fries to our burger with fries. The quarter pounder starts with 4 ounces of raw beef per patty, just like our burger.
I’ve included neither the soda (in a typical McDonald’s combo meal) nor the salad (in our meal) in this analysis. Adding these in would give an even more significant advantage to our healthy burger and fries.
The McDonald’s burger and fries are much higher in calories, saturated fat, and sodium than our homemade burger. This difference is true of many restaurant foods compared to home-cooked, though some restaurants do offer healthier options. Eating out tends to be particularly challenging for those on low-sodium diets.
We were able to bring down the calories and saturated fat in our meal by using leaner beef than McDonald’s uses. (They use 80/20, we used 90/10.) We skipped the condiments and refined grain bun on our burger, which also helps to lighten the meal.
The McDonald’s burger has a slight edge on iron, but this is likely the less bioavailable non-heme iron from the fortified bun. Both burgers are packed with heme iron from the beef. Skipping the bun also reduces sodium and calories, so this is a good trade-off, IMHO.
Ordering a combo meal (which adds a soda) would bring the McDonald’s meal to over 1,000 calories. That is over half of the daily energy needs for many adults for a meal that may not be very filling.
You control what goes into foods you make at home, and you can use higher quality ingredients for your healthy burger and fries
Beyond the nutrient breakdown, the ingredients used at home may be of higher quality. If you are trying to limit your consumption of ultra-processed foods, home-cooked is the way to go.
For example, my oven-baked fries below contain the following ingredients: potatoes, avocado oil, Everything But the Bagel seasoning.
On the other hand, here is the ingredient listing for the McDonald’s fries: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Natural Beef Flavor [Wheat and Milk Derivatives]*), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (Maintain Color), Salt. *Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients.
Many assume that fries are diet-compliant for those with a dairy allergy or vegetarians. This may not always be the case.
When you order out, you may be surprised at how they are making the food. It may look nothing like how you'd do it at home, even if the end results appear similar.
One of my first jobs was in a fast-food restaurant. They would reuse the frying oil over and over again until it turned almost black. It was not very appetizing-looking at that point, that is for sure!
The fries are not the only item that may be dissimilar between restaurants and home cooking
Do you need another example? Many of the fast-food restaurants use processed cheese food instead of regular cheese on their burgers. Processed cheese food is also known as “American cheese.”
Here is the ingredients list for the “cheese” used at one popular fast food restaurant: Cheese (milk, modified milk ingredients, bacterial culture, salt, microbial enzyme, lipase), modified milk ingredients, water, sodium citrate and/or sodium phosphate, salt, potassium sorbate, citric acid, soy lecithin, colour (annatto).
Here is the (much simpler) ingredients list for the provolone cheese we used at home: Pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes.
When you make food at home, you can skip all of the preservatives and ultra-processed ingredients. Two cheese slices that look the same may have very different ingredients lists.
P.S. Want to know how to make the standard American diet (SAD) even worse? Try substituting the processed cheese food and beef burgers for some of the nutrient-poor “plant-based” alternatives. For example, here is the ingredients list for a typical non-dairy “cheese”:
Ingredients: Filtered Water, Coconut Oil, Potato Starch, Tapioca Starch, Vegan Natural Flavours, Sea Salt, Tricalcium Phosphate, Pea Protein Isolate, Xanthan Gum, Lactic Acid (Vegan), Konjac Gum, Fruit and/or Vegetable Juice (Color), Vegan Enzyme.
Though they fortified this product with calcium (of questionable bioavailability), it lacks the protein, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and other nutrients in cheese. That is why many dietitians advise limiting these products; they are mostly empty calories. In this case, the cheese alternative is made chiefly of an added oil that is high in saturated fat.
All “junk food” is not created equal. Many people need the nutrients they can squeeze from fast foods since they are not consumed in moderation. Replacing meals with these alternatives that are devoid of nutrients is not a step towards health.
You can customize the food you make at home to taste just the way you like it
Nutrition is not the only reason to choose the foods you eat, of course. Don’t we all want our food to taste good? By making your meals at home, you can customize them just the way you like them.
For example, my husband loves mushrooms, so we often add sautéed mushrooms to burger and meatloaf recipes. I prefer sweet potatoes over white potatoes, so I will typically choose to make sweet potato fries. (Not this time, since my son prefers the classic fry made with white potatoes.)
Many of these add-ins and swaps not only make the food taste better, but they also add more nutrients. It’s truly a double win. Don’t be afraid to customize the simple recipe below to fit your taste preferences!
And now for the disclaimer…
All recipes on this website may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on your medical needs and personal preferences. Consult with a registered dietitian or your physician if you need help determining the dietary pattern that may be best for you.
The calorie information is an estimate provided as a courtesy. It will differ depending on the specific brands and ingredients that you use. Calorie information on food labels may be wildly inaccurate, so please don’t sweat the numbers too much.
For more information on how the three recipe levels may help with a weight management goal, refer to my overnight oats with yogurt post. Let’s get cooking!
Healthier Burger and Baked Fries
For the baked fries:
For the burgers:
- 1 lb. ground beef, lean (90/10)
- 8 ounces mushrooms, finely chopped
- 4 slices provolone cheese (1-ounce slices)
- cooking oil spray of choice
- mixed greens and dressing of your choice (1.5 c greens and 1-2 T dressing per person)
- other veggies for salad, chopped (optional)
To make the baked fries:
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a sheet of parchment paper on the cookie sheet.
- Wash the potatoes and cut them into fry shapes. There is no need to peel them. Ours were about ½" thick.
- Place the cut potatoes in a bowl and stir in the avocado oil.
- Using your hands, spread the fries out in a single layer on the cookie sheet. If you did not cut the potatoes to an even thickness, put thin pieces in the middle of the sheet and thick pieces on the outer edges. This will help them to cook more evenly.
- Sprinkle the fries with the Everything But the Bagel Seasoning.
- Bake the fries for 20 minutes, flip, and bake an additional 15 minutes. While the fries cook, prepare the burgers.
To make the burgers:
- Spritz a skillet lightly with the cooking oil.
- Saute the chopped mushrooms in the skillet until they are mostly dry and browned. This will take around 10 minutes. It is difficult to burn mushrooms, so don't worry about cooking them perfectly.
- Place the raw burger in a large bowl. Add the mushrooms, and thoroughly combine them with your hands.
- Divide the burger mixture into four pieces. Roll them each into a ball and then flatten each into a patty.
- Cook the patties in a heated skillet (the one you used for the mushrooms should work). They will take about 6-8 minutes per side over medium heat.
- Don't forget to flip your fries if it is time to do so!
- When the burgers are just about finished cooking, top each with a slice of cheese. Give it about a minute for the edges of the cheese to melt over the burger. Quickly get the burgers off the heat and on the plates, so the cheese does not burn.
- Distribute the fries and salad with dressing amongst the plates as well. Have a great meal!
This is a level 2 recipe (transition or weight maintenance). The calorie count does not include the side salad and dressing. If you need to bump this recipe down to level 1, enjoy the salad and cheeseburger without the fries. This change also converts this entrée into a low-carb meal. On the other hand, young adults and teens (such as my son who requested this recipe) often have higher calorie needs. If you need the additional energy, consider adding a whole grain bun to your burger. Just like regularly eating too much can make you less healthy, eating too little can also undermine health. I recommend the Ezekiel Sprouted Whole Grain Burger Buns, which you can find in the freezer section of the grocery store. I love that this is a freezer product. If you live alone or have a small family, you can defrost these as you need them. (That helps to keep me from either wasting food or eating them in a rush before they go stale!) If you have leftovers, pack them up for future lunches and dinners. You could put chopped cheeseburger on top of the greens to make a salad. The burgers and greens are also great in tacos.
What are your best tips for how to make a healthy burger and fries? Leave me a comment below!