The Healthiest Takeout Orders From Every Cuisine, According to Nutritionists
While the best way to guarantee you're eating good, healthy meals is to make your food yourself, even seasoned home chefs need a little time off here and there. Also, there's something that feels so, so good about bypassing your kitchen for the night and letting someone else cook for you.
You're not the only one leaning into takeout lately. More than 65% of people are ordering in on the regular, according to data from the National Restaurant Association.
Of course, there's a huge range of options with takeout, from the super healthy to the not-so-great, with plenty in between. "Takeout can be surprisingly healthy or it can be overloaded with fat, salt and calories," Nutritionist Karen Ansel, RD, co-author of The Calendar Diet: A Month by Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life, tells Health. "The key is to have a go-to rotation of dishes you know are good for you and delicious rather than just winging it."
Ordering takeout can even up your healthy eating game. "Despite its bad reputation, take out can also be a great opportunity to eat more healthy foods that you just don't have the time or the motivation to cook for yourself," Ansel says.
While every restaurant and cuisine is different, you generally want to make sure your takeout includes some produce—ideally a few different types—and has minimal dressings and sauces that run the risk of adding calories, fat, and sodium, Sonya Angelone, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells Health. "Choose protein and vegetable dishes, and limit extra carbs, since you may get enough carbs during the day already," she advises.
Don't feel like analyzing the menu every time you want to order takeout? Nutritionists swear these are the healthiest takeout orders to go for, no matter what cuisine you're into.
"Thai food can be a great way to work in some unique fruits and veggies that you wouldn't normally eat," Ansel says. And, while it's possible to eat healthy with Thai food, there are also some options that aren't so great for you. Order these.
Angelone recommends reaching for these instead of spring rolls, since they're steamed—not fried—and are packed with veggies and lean protein. While "Thai style vegetables are usually not high in fat," spring rolls "are higher in calories and fat since they are fried," she says.
Seasoned, skewered, and grilled lean meat is a great option, Angelone says. Plus, it comes on a stick, making it fun to eat. Just ask for the peanut sauce on the side, to minimize added fat and calories.
Green papaya salad
This salad features julienned papaya, beans, Thai chilis, and peanuts for a deliciously spicy dish. It's "packed with fresh veggies so it won't weigh you down," Ansel says.
Italian food gets a bad rap thanks to its plethora of carb-heavy dishes. But Ansel, says, "it's actually one of my favorite takeout options." The key, she says, is balance. A lot of this involves making substitutions vs. going for one particular dish over another. Try these.
Go for tomato-based sauces
You're totally fine to enjoy a pasta dish, Ansel says—just go for a marinara or other tomato-style sauce vs. something creamy like carbonara. "These will be lower in oil and saturated fats," Angelone says.
Choose thin crust
Love pizza? No problem. Just tweak it slightly. "Choose thin crust pizza to avoid the extra calories of thicker, processed flour crust," Angelone says. You can even add on vegetable toppings for extra nutrients.
Add protein to your meals
If your dish doesn't have protein in it, Ansel says it's a good idea to add it. That's especially true with pasta, which can leave you feeling hungry not long after you eat it if you have it sans meat. Her suggestion: "Balance it out with some lean protein from grilled shrimp in a pasta fra diavolo or add some grilled chicken to a penne pomodoro."
Chinese food doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to eating healthy, but nutritionists swear it's possible to eat good, nutritious food with this cuisine. Reach for these options and subs.
Order brown rice over white rice
This is a simple substitute, and it's often one that restaurants are happy to make. Brown rice offers "more fiber and micronutrients" than the white version, making it a better option, Angelone says.
Steamed dumplings are stuffed with veggies and/or protein, like shrimp, making them a smart choice over their fried cousins, Angelone says. Sauce usually comes on the side with these, but it never hurts to double check. "Add a side of steamed broccoli or bok choy" to round things out, Angelone advises.
Steamed chicken and broccoli
Notice a theme here? "A steamed meat and vegetable entree is a good choice since it limits extra carbs and fat and includes a vegetable," Angelone says. If the dish at your go-to restaurant includes a sauce, just ask for it on the side.
There's a wide range of foods to choose from with Japanese food. Go big on these orders.
Miso soup is basically a bunch of miso-infused broth with some tofu, nori, and onions. "Miso soup is a good way to start the meal so you can reap the benefits of a fermented food," Angelone says. Just keep in mind that these soups can pack a fair amount of sodium.
"When ordering Japanese, think veggies and protein," Ansel advises. That's why she recommends getting chicken teriyaki with vegetables. Conscious about your sodium intake? Order the sauce on the side.
Tuna or California rolls
These sushi rolls "are good options since they are flavorful and low in fat," Angelone says. Both contain a fair amount of protein, she points out, and tuna rolls can give you a nice dose of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have a range of health benefits.
You can get in the healthy eating weeds really quickly with Mexican food, but there are plenty of subs you can make to make these dishes good for you.
Choose whole beans instead of refried ones
Refried beans are boiled in water and cooked "without the typical lard added to refried beans," Angelone points out. As a result, they're lower in unnecessary fat and calories, delivering all the protein power of beans without add-ons.
Limit cheese and sour cream
These can become calorie and fat bombs for your meal really quickly, Angelone says. But, if you can't picture yourself eating your favorite dish without them, just ask for these topping on the side so you can control portion sizes.
Veggie burrito bowl
Ansel calls this her "go-to" Mexican dish: A veggie burrito bowl with brown rice, sautéed onions and peppers, a double order of beans, guacamole, lettuce, and salsa. "It probably contains a day's worth of produce and it's incredibly filling," she says.
Indian food is packed with flavor and vegetables, but some dishes can secretly be loaded with fat and oil. Choose these healthy options.
Dal is a lentil-heavy dish that's loaded with delicious spices, like cinnamon and cumin. Some dals are made with coconut milk—Angelone recommends looking for one with a tomato base to save on fat and calories.
The main ingredient in chana masala is chick peas, which offer up plenty of protein, Angelone points out. A nice perk of this dish: You can enjoy it as-is or over brown rice.
Tandoori chicken is packed with flavor, and Angelone says it's a good way to get some protein into your meal. If you plan to enjoy yours with rice, "ask if they serve whole grain brown rice instead of white rice for more fiber and micronutrients," she says.
While Greek food can be part of the Mediterranean diet, there are a few health traps in this cuisine. Order these dishes to avoid them.
There's plenty to love in this dish of ground-up chick peas mixed with tahini. Hummus provides "a dose of plant-based protein, fiber, and healthy fat," Angelone says. Enjoy yours with fresh veggies or a whole wheat pita.
This yummy salad features bread pieces and tons of greens—and it's healthier than some of its counterparts. "A Fattoush salad is a better option than a Greek salad, which is loaded with cheese and olives," Angelone says. She recommends enjoying yours with a vinegar dressing to save even more calories.
Given that America is a "melting pot," this cuisine can be a little vague. But there are a few options that are better than others when you enjoy American food.
"Broth based vegetable soups instead of cream based soups are healthier options," Angelone says, pointing out that the broth cuts out a lot of added fat and calories. Enjoy it with a salad to make it a meal.
While you could have a regular burger, these can be loaded with saturated fat. Instead, Angelone recommends reaching for a veggie burger and topping it off with tomato and lettuce for even more nutrients.
"A vegetarian chili can be a satisfying and filing choice," Angelone says. It's lower in fat and higher in fiber thanks to the beans when you compare it to traditional beef chili.
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