Healthy Takeout Is Possible – Here Are 7 Dietitian-Approved Tips

healthy takeout
Photo Credit: Ivan Solis

December 9, 2020

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

After a long day — or really any day right now — the temptation to give in and order takeout is real. First of all, let us just say that there are plenty of no-cook dinner recipes for when you don’t feel like cooking. And they’re probably going to be healthier than takeout. On the other hand, we should add that some days, takeout is the only option. And, while finding something healthy to order can be incredibly challenging, it’s not impossible, especially if you know what to look for.

Here are 7 simple ways to make your next takeout order a little healthier.

1. Add more veggies.

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 antioxidants. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you can only eat at vegan restaurants. Instead, try topping your burrito bowl with extra veggies or asking for extra kale or avocado on your sandwich. Ordering from your Indian restaurant? Look for veggie-based curries. Or add a side of broccoli to your order of General Tso’s chicken.

2. Choose healthy grains.

Grain-based dishes like rice, bread, and tortillas 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, 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 you feel full.

3. Make it a bowl.

Making your favorite meals into a bowl is an easy and effortless way to limit carbs and calories without giving up any of the good stuff. For example, instead of a burrito, opt for a burrito bowl with a base of mixed greens or spinach. Or, instead of a pita sandwich, 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.

4. Switch your side dish.

Most restaurants provide a range of healthy side dishes, including salads, veggie-based soups, whole grains, and 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 dishes include edamame, spring rolls, coleslaw, sweet corn, and roasted potato wedges.

5. Pick healthy preparation methods.

When looking at the menu of your favorite restaurant, pay 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.

6. Trade your toppings.

Going overboard on high-calorie, high-fat toppings like cheddar cheese, 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. Instead, 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.

7. Rethink your drink.

Just as important as the food that you order with your takeout meal is your drink. Steer clear of sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, sweet tea, or sports drinks. Healthier alternatives include flavored water, iced tea, or coconut water. Alternatively, consider skipping the soft drink altogether and whip up your own healthy beverage at home instead.