SPRINGFIELD, MO. Angela Muggenburg eats a Sausage McGriddles on her way to work, and then drives through McDonald's again for a grilled chicken sandwich -- sans mayo and french fries -- for lunch while running errands.
The busy mom is one among many Americans whose chaotic schedules have them picking up more than an occasional meal to eat by the glow of their dashboard lights.
The National Restaurant Assn. says a survey of more than 1,000 consumers shows 67 percent view convenience as critical.
Muggenburg, 34, realized just how often her Lexus RX300 was hitting the Golden Arches when a drive-through worker predicted her order before she could say a word.
"I just feel like I don't have a lot of time, so I look for things that are fast and easy," Muggenburg said.
McDonald's might want to consider making her its poster child. She is the counterpoint to Morgan Spurlock, the filmmaker who gained 25 pounds eating at McDonald's for a month.
Muggenburg has actually lost 25 pounds in the past five months by eating fast food. Her trick is avoiding the french fries and high-calorie condiments, paying attention to portions and being on the go with her children.
A day in the life
The alarm rings at 6:15 a.m. on weekdays at the Muggenburg home in Ozark. The priority is getting 2-year-old Keaton and 6-year-old Bailey dressed and fed. She takes Bailey to school on her way to work, while husband Steve drops Keaton off at grandma's house.
Bailey has gymnastics two nights a week. Steve Muggenburg co-owns a heating and cooling business and often works six-day weeks.
"There are nights when we will just pick up a salad or something on the way home, and we'll bake chicken strips," she said.
Terry Egan, nutrition specialist with University Outreach and Extension in Springfield, said those who eat on the go should remember the "five a day" rule for fruits and vegetables. She suggests packing cherry tomatoes, baby carrots or precut vegetables into small plastic bags. Apples, oranges, bananas and grapes also are easy choices for busy lifestyles.
"The key to healthy dashboard dining is to focus on foods that provide a big nutritional punch with few calories from sugar and fat," she said.
She also advises against super-sizing meals and sodas.
"Americans are so obsessed with value," she said "The trouble is that when we spend that extra quarter to super-size our meals, we also super-size ourselves."
'Easier to go to Taco Bell'
Molly Plate keeps milk, vegetables and a variety of fruits on hand. But her family turns to fast food so often that she refers to her car as "our dining room."
"My mother was a home ec teacher," she said. "I can cook, but that's just not me."
Plate teaches piano lessons in her Springfield home and cares for her 4-year-old daughter during the day, while her husband commutes some 20 miles to a utility company. Her boys -- ages 11 and 8 -- are involved in after-school sports and church activities. All the running leaves little time to plan meals, she said.
"The kids wanted tacos on Sunday," Plate said. "I figured by the time I went to the store and bought all the things to make them and then did the cooking -- it was just easier to go to Taco Bell."
No. 1 distraction
Not everyone believes eating while driving is efficient, or that automakers put cup-holders in vehicles to make sure motorists have easy access to soft drinks.
A study released last June by AAA Foundation For Traffic Safety showed eating and drinking is the No. 1 distraction for motorists.
The average person spends about one hour and 15 minutes in a vehicle each day, and 4.6 percent of that time was used to eat or drink, the study showed.
"The trouble is that if you're eating a hamburger, you may glance down to unwrap it or even block part of your field of vision as you eat it," said Fairley Washington, foundation spokeswoman. "Drinks can spill."