7 Simple Swaps for Healthier Takeout

Healthier takeout

September 17, 2020

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

After a long day, ordering takeout from your favorite spot down the street probably sounds a lot more appealing than whipping up some healthy food at home. However, when you’re trying to eat healthily, finding better-for-you takeout options can be incredibly challenging, especially if you’re not sure what to look for. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to order out and enjoy your favorite foods without derailing your diet.

Here are 7 simple strategies you can use to find healthy options for your next takeout order.

Add More Veggies to Your Meal

One of the easiest ways to give any meal a healthy makeover is to add more vegetables. Veggies are high in fiber, rich in vitamins and minerals, and loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants. Plus, they’re full of flavor and a great way to round out any meal.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you can only eat at vegan restaurants or have to give up your favorite takeout treats altogether. Instead, try simply adding more vegetables to the meals you already enjoy by topping your burrito bowl with extra veggies or asking for extra kale or avocado on your sandwich. For Thai, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, or Vietnamese cuisines, you can also look for veggie-based curries, stir-fries, and side dishes to up your intake instantly.

Choose Healthy Grains

Grain-based dishes like rice, bread, and tortillas are sometimes served alongside meals at restaurants and are often paired with dishes like soups, stews, and curries. In some cases, you may be able to swap out refined grains like white rice or white bread for healthy whole grains instead, such as whole wheat bread, quinoa, or brown rice. Not only are these grains high in essential micronutrients, but they’re also a great source of fiber to help keep you feeling full.

Make it a Bowl

For fans of Mexican food, making your favorite meals into a bowl is an easy and effortless way to limit the carbs and calories of your meal, without giving up any of the good stuff. Instead of a burrito, go for a burrito bowl and pair it with a base of mixed greens or spinach. Or if fajitas are more your style, skip the tortilla and mix your meat with veggies, black beans, and salsa instead.

You can also use this strategy for several other types of cuisine as well. When ordering Mediterranean food, for example, you can switch out the pita sandwich and opt for a chicken gyro or falafel bowl instead. Sandwich shops also often offer a “sub in a tub” option, which allows you to enjoy your favorite subs served as a salad.

Read more: 10 Colorful Healthy Mexican Recipes to Make at Home

Switch Your Side Dish

Picking a healthy side dish to accompany your main course is a great way to squeeze more nutrients into your meal. In fact, most restaurants provide a range of healthy side dishes, including salads, veggie-based soups, whole grains, or sauteed vegetables. Even fast food joints like McDonald’s offer apple slices or side salads in lieu of French fries to cater to health-conscious consumers. Other nutritious side dish ideas include foods like edamame, spring rolls, coleslaw, sweet corn, or roasted potato wedges.

Pick Healthy Preparation Methods

When looking at the menu of your favorite restaurant, pay close attention to the way that your foods are cooked and prepared. Terms like crispy, crunchy, breaded, or tempura typically indicate that food has been deep-fried and is likely high in calories and unhealthy fats. Instead, look for phrases like baked, grilled, steamed, or poached, all of which are typically used to describe lean proteins prepared using healthier cooking methods.

Keep in mind that this is an important factor to consider for more than just meats and entrees. In fact, phrases like refried, battered, scalloped, and smothered are also often used to suggest that a side dish may not be so healthy.

Trade Your Toppings

Going overboard on high-calorie, high-fat toppings like cheddar cheese, guacamole, sour cream, or croutons is an easy way to turn a healthy takeout meal inside out. Even a salad can quickly be sabotaged by drowning it in dressing and croutons.

For best results, load up on nutrient-dense toppings like veggies and enjoy the more indulgent ingredients in moderation. For salads, consider choosing oil-based dressings like balsamic vinaigrette over varieties packed with unhealthy fats, additives, and preservatives.

Rethink Your Drink

Just as important as the food that you order with your takeout meal is your drink. In fact, even the healthiest meal can be totally transformed into a sugar-filled feast when paired with the wrong beverage.

Steer clear of sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, sweet tea, or sports drinks and instead opt for healthier alternatives, like flavored water, iced tea, or coconut water. Alternatively, consider skipping the soft drink altogether and whip up your own healthy beverage at home instead.


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