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 – but you’ll need to 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 Margaret Hays, of Dietitians Australia.
“If you know what you’re looking for, and how to navigate the menu, there are definitely ways to make your takeaway meal healthy,” she says.
Buying takeaway can be a good way to support local businesses – important in the current economic climate – and if you order smart, Margaret believes takeaway food can be enjoyed once to twice a week.
Check out these top tips for ordering healthier takeaway foods:
Watch portion sizes
“Generally, takeaway portions can be larger than the recommended healthy plate portion,” Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute dietitian Cindy Shea says.
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.
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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
Margaret recommends swapping carb heavy side dishes such as rice for ones packed with vegetables.
“Make sure there’s a large portion of veggies in what you’ve ordered and try to avoid too many of the deep fried options,” she says.
Cindy suggests looking for dishes cooked with healthier methods such as grilled, steamed, braised or fresh.
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,” she says.
“Keep in mind that this may differ from each restaurant in terms of cooking method and ingredients used.”
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Healthiest dishes by culinary style
- 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
- 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
- Burrito, fajita, soft taco, quesadilla – limit extra cheese and sour cream
- Salsa, guacamole, and lime
- Grilled corn cob
Go easy on: Churros and nachos
- Sushi fillings with vegetable, fish, prawn, egg, tofu, seafood, avocado
- Steamed gyoza
- Soba noodle soup
Go easy on: Ramen, chicken kaarage or tempura
- Tomato-based pasta
- Small, thin crust pizza with vegetable toppings
- Bruschetta with tomato and basil
Go easy on: Creamy carbonara pasta
- 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
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- Rice paper rolls
- Pho noodle soup
- Stir fry lean meat, skinless chicken, seafood and vegetables
Go easy on: Deep fried spring rolls and high sugar sauces such as sweet chilli sauce and hoisin sauce.
Tip: Choose fresh, noodle soup based foods and include an extra serving of stir fry vegetables or salad to make it a filling meal.
- Boiled or steamed chicken/vegetarian or seafood dumplings (six dumplings per meal) or bao filled with chicken, tofu or vegetable filling (two baos per meal)
- Broth based soups with wontons (six pieces per meal)
- Steamed, braised, stir fry lean meat, skinless chicken, seafood, tofu with vegetables
Go easy on: Pan-fried dumplings, deep fried spring rolls, wontons, spring onion pancake, fried noodles or special fried rice
Tip: Choose boiled, steamed or stir fry options and add an extra serve of Chinese Asian green vegetables with garlic sauce to make it a tasty meal.
- Tomato-based sauces
- Opt for a small or entree-sized pizza
- Thin crust with vegetable toppings, chicken or seafood
Go easy on: Large thick or cheese-stuffed pizza crust with meat toppings, extra garlic bread and soft drinks with the meal
Tip: Share a large pizza with a friend and add in an extra bowl of salad such as rocket with olive oil.
Fish and chips
- Grilled fish such as hoki, whiting, flake or barramundi with salad
- Grilled calamari or prawns with salad
- Greek salad or garden salad
Go easy on: Battered fish or seafood, potato cakes and fried dim sims.
Tip: Opt for grilled fish with a side of salad to make it a nutritious meal. If wanting some fried foods have a small handful of chips and share it with a friend.
- Grilled chicken, lamb or beef skewer
- Mezze platter with olives, dolmades and dips such as baba ganoush or hummus
- Kofte (minced lamb with cracked wheat) with tabouleh
Go easy on: Fried foods such as kibbe.
Tip: Portion sizes may be larger so it is best to share a platter with one or two friends.
- Baked stuffed vegetables (capsicum, tomato, zucchini or eggplant) filled with rice, minced meat, lentil and vegetable
- Dolma stuffed with rice, minced meat and spices
- Grilled lean meat, chicken, lamb or fish or seafood
- Greek salad
Go easy on: Pastry with minced meat or cheese such as spanakopita (spinach pie); saganaki, cured meat and sausage, sweets with sugar syrup, e.g. baklava.
Tip: Go for fresh or grilled foods and add a Greek salad to make it a balanced meal.
- Mussels in broth
- Ratatouille (contains eggplant, onion, garlic, capsicum, zucchini, tomatoes and herbs)
- Salad nicoise (includes tomatoes, green beans, tuna, hard boiled eggs, olives and anchovies)
Go easy on: Processed meats such as bacon and pate.
Tip: Be mindful of hidden fats that may be included in dishes, such as butter, cream and cheese. Always add a salad to the meal to make it more filling.
Written by Claire Burke. Updated May 2021.