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How to Choose Healthier Take-out and Delivery

December 9, 2015 by Andrea Godfreyson, Registered Dietitian

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With a crowded calendar of holiday gatherings, school events and other festive happenings, there may be nights this month when you find yourself with nothing planned for supper. With a house full of hungry mouths and no quick meal options on hand, choosing between take out menus may feel like your best option. 

Take-out and delivery meals tend to be higher in calories and sodium than what you’d make at home. No matter what type of take-away meals you choose, probably the most important choice you make is how often you eat them. The more often you order in, the more the food choices you make matter. 

So, if you find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place (or deciding between take-out and delivery, as it were) especially on a regular basis, here are some tips to help you make healthier choices. 

Tips to make take-out healthier while saving some cash

  • Split an entree: Restaurant meals are often large enough for two people. Order one entrée for every two people or, before eating your meal, portion some into re-useable containers for lunch or supper the next day.
  • Add vegetables and fruit:  If you’re ordering in, use the waiting time to make a big salad. If you’re getting take-out, make a quick stop at the grocery store and pick up a bagged/boxed salad. If you order a salad with your meal, ask for dressing on the side and use minimal add-ons like cheese and croutons. Fill half your plate with vegetables and/or fruit when serving up your meal. Serve up some fruit for dessert.
  • Make your own side dishes: While you’re waiting for delivery, make brown rice (instead of ordering white) or other whole grains that complement the food.
  • Drink water: Serve water, milk or fortified soy beverage from home instead of ordering sugary drinks.
  • Savour your meal and focus on your favourite part(s): If your meal comes with extras like garlic bread, pita, extra dips or sauces and they don’t greatly enhance your enjoyment, skip them.

Try these tips next time you order take-out

Burgers

  • Go for grilled chicken or fish (instead of breaded fried versions)
  • Check out the “junior” menu for slightly smaller sandwiches
  • Consider whether you’ll taste the cheese on your burger – you may not miss it if it isn’t there
  • Ask for less sauce on your burger
  • Add lettuce, tomato and onion to your burger
  • Branch out from fries and check out other side dish options available like chili or salad
  • Want fries? Order the smallest size of fries or share an order between 2-3 people

Pizza

  • Load up on  vegetable toppings and try lean meat options like grilled chicken instead of pepperoni and other sausage meats
  • Order thin, whole grain crust that isn’t “stuffed”
  • Ask for it “easy on the cheese”
  • Blot away any visible grease before eating

Sandwiches and subs

  • Choose whole grain bread
  • Load up on the vegetable fillings
  • Choose lean meats like grilled chicken over cold cuts
  • Choose meat or cheese (instead of both)
  • Order your sandwich “easy on the sauces” and try malt or balsamic vinegar as a condiment if they have it

Sushi

  • Choose more fish, seafood, tofu and vegetables and less rice (each roll can have at least ½ cup of rice and sometimes a lot more)
  • Start with some edamame (hold the salt)
  • Have a seaweed or spinach salad (gomae-ae) instead of deep-fried tempura
  • Choose rolls without added sauces like mayo and cream cheese
  • Try brown rice rolls if available
  • Try dipping your chopsticks into the soy sauce before grabbing a piece of sushi instead of using your food as a sponge for the sauce (this will help you taste the natural flavours of the food and decrease the amount of sodium that you take in)

Chinese

  • Order steamed or lightly stir-fried entrees with lots of green vegetables
  • Try steamed dumplings and lettuce wraps (easy on the hoisin and other sauces)
  • Choose steamed rice and try brown rice if they have it (instead of fried rice or noodles)
  • Enjoy the tofu, vegetables and wontons in soup but skip some of the salty broth
  • Serve yourself from a family style portion with a slotted spoon to limit the amount of sauce (and therefore sodium) that ends up on your plate

Greek

  • Choose grilled seafood, chicken, lamb or beef souvlaki
  • Try grilled lean meat entrees with tzatziki sauce
  • Choose between rice or potatoes instead of having both
  • Ask for feta cheese and dressing on the side of Greek salad
  • Ask for raw vegetables to dip into hummus and tzatziki (instead of pita) or cut-up your own at home

Indian

  • Choose dishes baked in the tandoori oven
  • Order chana masala (chickpeas with onion, tomatoes and spices), dhal (lentil dish) or saag (a curry of greens like spinach) instead of other creamier dishes
  • Try roti (flat bread) instead of naan (a leavened or puffy bread) as it is typically made with whole grain flour and is usually lower in calories
  • Use raita (yogurt and cucumber based side dish)
  • Stick to smaller amounts of rice

Italian

  • Choose tomato based sauces (instead of creamy sauces) for pasta
  • Go for an unstuffed pasta that is tossed in sauce (instead of baked with cheese)
  • Focus on vegetables, seafood and lean meats for pasta toppings and entrees
  • Order a side of vegetables

Mexican

  • Opt for soft tortillas instead of hard or crispy ones as they are usually deep-fried
  • Go for salsa and guacamole (instead of sour cream)
  • Order fajitas or taco salad (without the crispy shell)
  • Ask for extra veggies instead of rice in your burrito
  • Have black beans instead of refried beans

On most days, planning ahead and making supper at home will help you eat healthier meals. But for the times when that isn’t possible, use these tips to make healthier choices. You can also ask for nutrition information at your local restaurants to compare menu items. If they’re part of Informed Dining they will have the information in store. If not, check their website.


Related blogs:
Making Informed Choices When Eating Out
Do Portion Size and Frequency Really Matter

Recommended resources:
Health Canada: Meal Planning Basics
Informed Dining for Consumers

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