Which are the healthiest takeaway foods?

Whether eating out or ordering in, a night off from the kitchen doesn’t have to undo your healthy eating goals if you choose wisely.

What’s not to like about treating yourself to a professionally prepared meal?

You get to explore different cuisines and explore ingredients you might not normally use, and there’s something about not having to cook that makes it taste just that bit more delicious.

And with the right know-how, it is easy to enjoy restaurant and takeaway foods without the guilt, says Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute dietitian Cindy Shea.

“Each cuisine has healthier options available,” she says.

Buying takeaway can be a good way to support local businesses – important in the current economic climate – and if you order smart, Cindy believes takeaway food can be enjoyed once to twice a week.

These are Cindy’s top tips for ordering healthier takeaway foods:

Watch portion sizes

Studies show portion sizes of many popular foods have increased in recent decades, a key contributor to the growing rates of obesity.

“Generally, takeaway portions can be larger than the recommended healthy plate portion,” says Cindy.

She suggests keeping serves of carbohydrates to the size of your fist, lean protein to the size of your palm, and two open hands of vegetables.

Beware the tasty traps

Takeaway food is generally high in sugar, salt, saturated fat and low in dietary fibre, says Cindy.

“The main goal of takeaway food is to be delicious, so there may be higher amounts of sugar, fat and salt to make it taste good,” she says.

Cindy warns too much can lead to increased risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

Avoid ‘beige’ foods

Beige foods not only sound bland and uninspiring; they’re also low in fibre and high in carbohydrates and fats, and should be consigned to the “sometimes” list.

Typical beige foods include burgers, pizzas or pastas.

Cindy also suggests putting the brakes on dishes high in butter or cream, pastries or fried foods, and going easy on sauces and condiments as these are high in fat and salt.

Better ways to eat takeaway

Cindy suggests looking for healthier cooking methods such as grilled, steamed, braised or fresh, and looking for ways to include more vegetables.

“Choose meals that are based around vegetables or add extra side serving,” she says.

Avoid overeating by dishing out your takeaway meals on to plates for each person and storing the rest in a container for leftovers.

“You can add an extra serve of salad or vegetables to bulk your plate up if you need,” she says.

Get the nutritional facts and stats

Cindy says nutritional values for dishes may be available on the eatery’s website.

“If it’s not there, the Calorie King website may have nutrition information on some takeaway food,” says Cindy. “Keep in mind that this may differ from each restaurant in terms of cooking method and ingredients used.”

soba noodle soup

Healthiest dishes by culinary style


Top choices

  • Steamed/boiled dumplings or bao
  • Broth-based soups with noodles or lean meat
  • Steamed, braised, stir-fried – fish, seafood, lean meat, skinless chicken, tofu with vegetables.

Tip: Go for steamed rice rather than fried rice.

Go easy on:

Sweet and sour pork and spring rolls


Top choices

  • Tikka or tandoori dishes
  • Tomato based curry e.g. vindaloo
  • Lentils, chickpeas based curries

Tip: Choose steamed rice instead of naan bread

Go easy on: Butter chicken and fried samosas


Top choices

  • Burrito, fajita, soft taco, quesadilla – limit extra cheese and sour cream
  • Salsa, guacamole, and lime
  • Grilled corn cob

Go easy on: Churros and nachos


Top choices

  • Sushi fillings with vegetable, fish, prawn, egg, tofu, seafood, avocado
  • Steamed gyoza
  • Soba noodle soup

Go easy on: Ramen, chicken kaarage or tempura


Top choices

  • Tomato-based pasta
  • Small, thin crust pizza with vegetable toppings
  • Bruschetta with tomato and basil

Go easy on: Creamy carbonara pasta

Burger joints

Top choices

  • Hamburger served with grilled chicken or meat – choose wholegrain buns if available
  • Grilled chicken salad
  • Wrap with grilled chicken or meat and salad

Go easy on: Burger with the lot (bacon, meat patty), supersizing with drink and fries

Written by Claire Burke.