Updated: Dec 3, 2019
How to Order Healthy Takeout and Delivery Meals
I’ve been trying out Meal Pal, which is a takeout meal subscription service in New York City and other metro areas (including San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, DC, and more). My goal: To see how easy it is to order healthy takeout food. Though creating healthful meals at home puts you in better control of your food, busy life often calls for the convenience of ordering out, so here are my tips for selecting healthy takeout and delivery meals.
Look for lean options. This is the most obvious way to ensure your takeout food is healthy! Lean options are usually veggie-centric (whether salads or mixed dishes, such as stir-fries or veggie-grain bowls) and include quality protein, such as grilled chicken or salmon, poached or boiled eggs, tuna, tofu, and others. All grain-containing dishes should be predominantly whole grains, so your grain-based bowls include quinoa or brown rice, and sandwiches are made with whole wheat bread.
Get creative. In my experience, takeout and delivery food can become a lot healthier with a few hacks. When your meal is really saucy and light on veggies, a base of frozen riced cauliflower or broccoli (which are easy to keep on hand) can soak up the extra sauce without many extra carbs or calories. Pre-washed baby spinach (also easy to keep on hand, even in smaller containers in an office fridge), can be used to right-size portions of grain bowls, which are often heavier on the whole grains than they are on the veggies. To make these takeout options healthier, simply scoop out a more reasonable portion over the spinach base, saving the rest for another meal. Veggie spirals, which are also available frozen, are another great veggie base for takeout food. Carrot noodles pair well with Asian meals (think: Thai food in peanut sauces or Chinese food in soy sauce) whereas Italian and American food can get a healthy boost from zucchini noodles.
Know your standbys. When you’re too busy (or hungry) to search for healthy takeout food, it helps to have some go-to options. For example, the salad bowl at Chipotle (made with any of the protein choices) is a great way to go! Lean on meals like this when time is tight, rather than searching for something on Seamless or Grub Hub. If you have a Greek restaurant nearby, it could be another standby. An order of kebabs is an easy way to keep things healthy, especially if you serve them atop or alongside some veggies. And the dips (such as hummus or Tzatziki) can either stand in for salad dressing or be used to add more flavor to your veggie dippers. Many Middle Eastern restaurants offer similar, healthy fare. Learn what your local healthy options are, and don’t be afraid to turn to them time and again.
Be carb aware. The key to eating a healthy takeout meal is to keep the balance in mind. The best balance means about half of your plate or bowl is taken up with non-starchy veggies, with about a quarter devoted to your protein choice and the remaining quarter devoted to your whole grain option. Your friendly, plant-based fats, are an accessory. This isn’t always easy to envision when dealing with mixed dishes or sandwiches, but it’s worth spending a moment to think through. When you’re ordering takeout, take a moment to customize your meal so it has a better balance and supports your goals. Say you’re trying to lose weight: Maybe you’d be better off with an open-faced sandwich or burger. Perhaps your burrito bowl could use a little less brown rice and more onions and peppers to boost your veggie intake. Maybe your sushi order could include a side of edamame instead of another roll, which will both increase satisfaction as well as protein and fiber. And if pizza is your takeout of choice, look for ways to balance out your slice to make your meal healthier. Usually a side salad works, but if you have leftover veggies from another meal or frozen veggies handy, that’s another easy option.
Don’t overlook breakfast. Omelets, scrambles, and frittatas are among the healthiest takeout options, so if you live near a diner or restaurant that offers around-the-clock breakfast, add this to your repertoire. Make sure to include veggies in your order (such as broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, spinach, onions, asparagus, zucchini, or your veg of choice), and keep your carb portions balanced by choosing either the roasted potatoes or a side of whole grain toast (or choose another quality carbohydrate option, such as black beans in Mexican-inspired egg dishes or a fruit salad). Avocado is a great accessory to this meal.
Remember rotisserie chicken. Rotisserie chicken is one of the best backup plans I can think of! It's easily available at any major market so it matches the convenience of takeout, and it can form the base of many different dishes. When I buy a rotisserie chicken, I usually pull the meat off, using it to top salads or to create another quick and easy lunch or dinner. For some insanely easy ideas, pick up my free booklet featuring 5 healthy recipes to make with a rotisserie chicken. There's one for each night of the work week!
Find replacements. Though I turn to takeout and delivery options just like anyone else, I also recommend healthier frozen entrees as a great, last-minute meal. With options available to match many takeout cuisines (including Asian, Italian, comfort food, and more), these meals can put healthy food in front of you fast. The main drawback: These meals can be ultra-light. Here are some of the best frozen entrees, as well as some healthy hacks to boost freshness and satisfaction.