Healthy Eating

The Healthiest Takeout Foods According to a Dietitian 

Because takeout can be a part of a healthy lifestyle.

By: Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC

Even the most disciplined person leans on takeout from time to time. Between our busy schedules and the sheer burnout many of us feel when it comes to cooking yet another meal, takeout can be a lifesaver. But, not all takeout options are created equal! While healthy takeout can be a part of a balanced diet, not-so-healthy options can have the opposite effect

Research shows that cooking dinner frequently at home is associated with the consumption of a healthier diet vs. meals prepared outside of the home. So, it makes sense that ordering takeout too many times per week can lead to some unsavory side effects. The takeaway? It’s all about what you’re eating.

So, if you are a takeout lover, know that not all hope is lost (so long as you’re choosing mindfully!) And, we’re here to help you make the best choices for your health (while still making yummy choices for your belly). 

Read on for some simple dietician-approved hacks that can help you enjoy healthy takeout with little effort.

6 Tips For Ordering Healthy Takeout 

#1 Requesting Sauce or Dressing On The Side

This allows you to control how much of the condiment is added to your dish! Ask for healthier swaps like lemon juice, olive oil, and even avocado in place of dips, sauces, or dressing.

#2 Load Up On the Veggies 

Ask for extra vegetables with your entree, or add extra veggies to your plate once you get home.

#3 Make Simple Healthy Swaps

Ordering healthy takeout can be as simple as keeping some simple swaps in mind. Swap out fried side dishes with healthier options like a side salad, steamed potato, and raw or cooked veggies. Request meat to be grilled or baked instead of deep-fried. Ask for plant-based, dairy-free, or gluten-free swaps. And, try swapping heavily processed oils like canola or vegetable oil for healthier alternatives like avocado or olive oil

#4 Skip the Complimentary Treats

Forego any complimentary (and sugar-filled) additions, like dessert or sugary beverages. Yes, even if they’re on the house!

#5 Share Your Plate

Sharing is caring, and it can help you reach your fitness goals. Split a large portion size with somebody, or save half of your dish for a meal the next day

#6 Know What’s In Your Meal!

Oftentimes the menu will list all of the nutrition facts, including the ingredients. And if you don’t know, ask! No question is a bad question. This prevents sneaky ingredients from finding a way onto your plate and allows you to make the healthiest (and most mindful choice) when ordering. 

Healthy Takeout Foods For Every Craving 

If a takeout dinner is calling your name, you can totally give into your craving. To keep your dish supportive of your health and fitness goals, here are some healthy takeout foods for you to choose that are lighter, better for you, and absolutely delicious.

Ordering healthy Italian cuisine is surprisingly easier than you think! 

Italian Cuisine 

Pasta

Instead of a heavy dish like fettuccine alfredo, opt for something more nutritious like Chicken Cacciatore. Chicken cacciatore is jam-packed with high-quality protein and veggies. And since it is typically cooked in olive oil instead of being deep-fried, the calorie and fat content is relatively low too.

Salad 

Salad dressed with classic olive oil and vinegar can be totally satisfying and is chock-full of nutrients. To up the protein, ask for a side of grilled chicken or salmon! Want something more exciting? Try a Caprese salad!

Calamari

Grilled calamari can be a protein-packed option lower in calories. Just make sure it’s not fried!

Healthy Swaps For When You’re Craving Pizza 

Crust

Thin crust pizza with veggie toppings can be a way to tackle even the worst pizza craving without overdoing it on the saturated fat and carbs. You can also see if they offer any healthy swaps like cauliflower crust or dairy-free cheese!

Opt For Healthy Protein Add Ons

Skip the pepperoni and sausage for some major calorie savings. If you want to add protein, ask for shredded chicken. 

Go Heavy on the Veggies

Top your pizza with extra veggies like broccoli, artichokes, or spinach.

Portion Size

Enjoy a slice, not an entire pizza pie!

Chinese Cuisine 

Craving Chinese but want to stick to your goals? When ordering from the menu, try to avoid all of those processed ingredients like sodium and MSG that are commonly found in Chinese food dishes. When in doubt, stick to steamed instead of fried and load up on veggies! 

Here are the healthiest Chinese food dishes to order.

Plant-Based Options

Steamed tofu with vegetables over brown rice can be a filling and yummy dish. When in doubt, ask for steamed veggies and rice (steamed anything, really), and hold the sauce and salt.

Healthier Sauce Options

Love classic Chinese sauces? Ask for it on the side and only add what you really need to keep the sodium intake low. Speaking of low sodium, ask for low-sodium soy sauce or see if they have healthier options like coconut aminos or liquid aminos.

Low-Carb Options 

Wonton soup is a broth-based soup that is low in calories. Chicken lettuce wraps are a low-carb option that provides a boost of veggies and good-for-you protein. To keep it healthy, swap the sauce for a side of avocado and add extra veggies!

Indian Cuisine 

While every menu will offer different items, these healthy dishes can be found at most Indian cuisines!

Tandoori 

Tandoori is oftentimes a tasty and healthy choice when enjoying Indian cuisine. Made with yogurt and spices, this dish is satisfying without being rich in fatty ingredients. 

Dal 

Dal is loaded with veggies and oftentimes lentils, making it an antioxidant-rich and filling vegetarian option.

Kebabs 

Kebabs are oftentimes lower in calories and contain a boost of heart-healthy veggies. Plus, the protein portions are controlled, so you don’t overeat. 

Mexican Cuisine

Yes, you’ll be happy to know we included a healthy ordering tip for guac and spicy margs!

Guacamole 

Guacamole is a nutritious option that is packed with healthy fats and often full of spices and veggies. But, be mindful of what you’re dipping into it! Opting for crunchy veggies instead of fried chips will give your app loads of nutrients and will help you skip the empty calories.

Salads

Mexican salads can be a satisfying dish if they are ordered correctly. If you are skipping the fried shell that many varieties come in and you aren’t loading it up with high-fat ingredients like sour cream, enjoying a salad can be a great choice. 

Fajitas

Fajitas are an enjoyable dish that is typically not fried and is balanced with protein and veggies. Ask for extra veggies and skip high-calorie toppings, and you will feel good eating this yummy dish. 

Healthier Margarita 

Craving a margarita? While we don’t recommend adding this to every takeout order, the occasional drink can certainly fit within a healthy lifestyle! Skip the pre-mixed (and sugar-filled) margarita for a margarita on the rocks. Swap the simple syrup for lime juice and add some spicy jalapeno or cayenne for a calorie-free flavor boost! 

RELATED: Can You Drink Alcohol if You’re Trying to Lose Weight?

Grab & Go Takeout Options

Stopping in at a gas station or coffee shop while on the road? While you may feel hard-pressed to find full meals, there are some healthy snack options that can help you keep your body fueled and satiated until you get your next meal.

  • Fresh fruit
  • Low-sugar yogurt (dairy-free or greek yogurt)
  • String cheese and rice cakes
  • Whole grain or nut-based crackers and nut butter
  • Low-sugar granola, protein, or energy bars (made from wholesome ingredients like nuts, seeds, and fruit)
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Hummus or guacamole with veggie sticks for dipping
  • Unsalted nuts and no-added-sugar dried fruit

You’d be surprised at what you can whip together with little effort! So, when you’re out and about, hangry, and ready to hit the nearest drive-through, take a pause and breathe! Before you make an impulse fast-food decision, we’re willing to bet there’s a Starbucks lurking nearby with lots of healthy options.

And remember: always check the nutrition label! As best you can, avoid processed and artificial ingredients and foods with added sodium and sugars. Instead, opt for options made from whole foods and minimal ingredients!

RELATED: The Healthiest Things You Can Order at Starbucks 

Takeout Can Be a Part of a Healthy Lifestyle

If you are trying to live a healthy lifestyle, know that you don’t have to plan on cooking all of your meals from scratch. As long as you choose healthy takeout options that are lower in saturated fat, sugar, and void of not-so-healthy ingredients, you can skip the kitchen a few days a week and still enjoy a good-for-you and satisfying meal. Bon appetit!