When you’re watching what you eat, it’s easy to become “the worst” person to have at a dinner table—at home or in a restaurant. Now, this works both ways. While others can shrug when you refuse to look past the salad section, you can’t help but wonder why you’re splitting the check equally (surely that soup couldn’t have cost $20).
This makes takeout a great option when you don’t have time to cook, but still want to watch what you’re eating—no seriously, hear us out. While it’s preferable to cook your own food when trying to lose weight (how else can you be sure exactly how much oil, butter and salt go into those dishes), it’s not always practical and one resorts to mid-week takeout—you know it happens even to the best of us.
But, once you start to take a closer look at the takeout menu from a dieter’s eye, you’ll be surprised by just how many healthy (and nutritious) meals you can hack together with a little creativity.
As a serial dieter with more good days than bad, here are some tricks for expert-ordering I’ve picked up along the way.
- The Diet Map: Pay attention to the cuisine. When ordering takeaway or eating out, remember that some cuisines are just healthier than others. Middle Eastern over Chinese, Mediterranean over Italian, Vietnamese over American (admit it, while mac and cheese may be a comfort food, a healthy meal it does not make). It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it can help guide you.
- The Devil Is In The Description: Keywords used to explain the prep and treatment to your food are dead giveaways. Blacklist words like fried, tempura, battered, crispy, breaded, crusted, golden, glazed, sticky, honey-dipped, stuffed, creamy, cheesy—we’re making ourselves hungry, ha. Instead, opt for preps that say roasted, baked, braised, broiled, poached, rubbed, seared, grilled, steamed, sautéed, spiced or seasoned.
- On The Side: Just because you’re on a diet doesn’t mean you have to eat steamed, bland, boring food. In fact, you should be doing just the opposite to keep your palette excited and your belly satisfied. Don’t skip those sauces or salad dressings, just ask for them on the side so you can decide exactly how much to add to your meal. If it’s a heavy sauce, ask if you can swap it out for a lighter option or supplement it all together with your own, at-home blend of olive oil, lemon and seasonings.
- Go For The Kill: Party on lean proteins like chicken and fish, they pack a nutritional punch without the added saturated fat and high cholesterol. Red meat deserves a hard pass, especially in less lean ground varieties which often have an even higher fat content than a cut of steak. So burgers are out, sorry.
- The Vegetable Patch: Now, I always order something with a side of veg. If it’s not part of the dish, I’ll order some separately. It’s easy to feel unsatisfied with your meal if your portions are really small. Vegetables, even when simply stir-fried in garlic and olive oil, are quite tasty and can fill you up fast.
- White Noise: If you’re the flexible dieter, choose brown rice over white, whole wheat over regular bread. But, if you’re watching your carbs or going paleo, skip the whole grains all together and help yourself to a little more protein and veg instead.
- Portion Wise: The mistake we make often is to judge our portions by the amount the restaurant fits into the container; surely a portion must mean the food is enough for one. Erm… no! It’s easy to overeat when ordering out, but remember, you needn’t get to the bottom of that container in one sitting. Use the same serving plate, or a similar sized one every day. This helps you judge the quantity of your serving per sitting. Just pack away what’s left for another meal.
Now, these are merely a few pointers for ordering takeout, but they also apply when ordering at a restaurant.
If you’re interested in different cuisines, the list of dos and don’ts will get a lot more specific in our ‘Takeout’ series. Up next on the menu—how to order a low-cal meal from an Asian restaurant. Stay tuned!