Takeout can sometimes feel like a free pass. We secretly love it because it feels good to throw caution to the wind and surrender our dietary choices to the higher powers of whatever restaurant we’re ordering from. It can even feel right to do that—takeout is a treat and we should be able to indulge as much as we want. This may very well be true if takeout was reserved for special occasions only, but during the pandemic, it has quickly become a reliable go-to in feeding ourselves and our families. It’s safe to assume that no matter what your prior eating habits were, you are now enjoying more takeout food than ever. So it’s even more important to be mindful of what you’re eating and how you can make better diet choices, especially if weight loss is your end goal.
Don’t think of healthy food as deprivation or an all-or-nothing deal—there are so many small, incremental steps you can take that will still support your weight loss goals. Try these tips and swaps next time you order takeout, and regain control over what you’re eating. Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest food and diet news delivered straight to your inbox.
Put it on a plate
“Eating your takeout meal right out of the container may cause you to eat more as portions are usually large, especially with Chinese or Indian dishes,” says Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition. Instead, turn your takeout food into a dignified sit-down dinner, where you’re truly enjoying every bite at the kitchen or dining table. After you’ve filled your plate with one serving, put the rest of the food away so you’re not tempted to go back for seconds. You’ll also have leftovers for tomorrow—here’s how to store them properly.
If you’re ordering an indulgent dish, split it
If you really want to go for that chicken tikka masala or lo mein, get an order to split with your family, and supplement the meal with a healthier side order or a big salad. We often order way more food than we need because we think that each person needs their own main dish. If your splitting the food with several people, order fewer mains and mix and match among the group. You’ll get to try several delicious things, and you’ll likely feel more satisfied while eating less food. Here are the 101 Unhealthiest Menu Items in America.
Don’t go for the unhealthiest options
If you’re going to eat takeout several times a week, make sure you’re balancing your fast food cravings with options that are more suitable for weight loss. Already had pizza this week? Opt for sushi, a salad, or a grain bowl instead. Craving Chinese? Go for it, but don’t get the notoriously unhealthy General Tso’s chicken (laden with fat and deep fried). Make sure you avoid 7 Worst Takeout and Delivery Foods Ever.
Order a healthy veggie side for a good balance
No matter what type of restaurant you’re ordering from, there are bound to be several vegetable-forward options on the menu. If you supplement your meal with a side of roasted broccoli or a nice big Greek salad, you’ll be less inclined to eat the whole order of pasta that came with it. This way, you’re also making sure you’re getting your daily dose of greens without compromising the main you truly want.
Ask for healthier swaps
Most restaurants will let you swap out white rice for brown rice or quinoa, and plain pasta for whole-grain pasta or even zucchini noodles. If you’re getting a sandwich, go for baby carrots or a side salad instead of a bag of potato chips, and instead of French fries with your burger, how about a nice side of deliciously roasted Brussels sprouts or some sweet potato fries? There are so many ways you can lighten the calorie load of your meal! Check out our list of 40 Food Swaps to Lose Weight.
Don’t ruin it with soda
Just because soda and pizza or soda and burgers seem like such a quintessential pairing doesn’t mean you’re actually obligated to order it. Try skipping soda (or any other type of fountain drink for that matter) to reduce your sugar intake and avoid unhealthy synthetic sweeteners. Instead try some seltzer water—the refreshing satisfaction will still be there without all the extra calories. Here’s a list of 108 Most Popular Sodas Ranked by How Toxic They Are.
Do away with sugary condiments
Condiments are the spice of life, am I right? But they’re also very easily overlooked when you’re tallying up the calories of your meal, because we feel like they’re just implied. Sauces like ketchup, sriracha, mayo, and honey mustard actually pack significant amounts of sugar, and the calories can quickly add up when we’re using them on our food liberally (aka squirting them mindlessly on anything and everything). First off, try to appreciate the flavor of whole foods, vegetables, and meat without having to douse them in condiments. If you still need a bit of flavor, opt for a yogurt-based sauce like tzatziki or a fresh salsa. Learn about the best and worst condiments for weight loss here.
Get the dressing on the side or make your own
Salad dressing can be just as tricky as condiments. If you’re eating a salad mixed with a ton of ranch dressing, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Again, opt for lighter yogurt- or olive oil–based options, or make one of these healthy salad dressings at home. You can also ask for dressing on the side and use it sparingly in your dish. (Same goes for dips that come with your dumplings.) These are the 20 Unhealthiest Salad Dressings on the Planet.
Skip the fried stuff
Fried foods have a sneaky way of finding their way onto so many menu options that tempt us. From appetizers like fried potstickers, spring rolls, samosas, and mozz sticks, to mains that feature fried stuff like chimichangas, chicken parm, and French fries, it can sometimes feel like fried food is the easiest and most delicious option. But if you’re truly watching your weight, the fried stuff needs to go. Opt instead for pan-seared or roasted protein like salmon or rotisserie chicken, baked or mashed potatoes instead of fries, and appetizers like salads, roasted vegetables, or hummus. These are the 19 Unhealthiest Restaurant Appetizers in America.
Blot the extra grease
It may seem silly, but you can actually get rid of a lot of extra oil from your food by blotting it with a paper towel. Make it a habit to remove extra grease from your pizza before you eat it, and you could be shaving off up to 40 calories a slice. Who’s laughing now?
Skip the extra carbs
Even if you’re opting for a dish that mostly consists of carbs, there are ways to minimize the damage to your waistline. If you’re eating a sandwich or a burger, get rid of the top slice of bread and eat it open-faced; if you’re going for pizza, opt for thin crust and avoid deep dish, and if you’re craving a burrito, skip the tortilla and get a burrito bowl instead. You’ll feel just as satisfied without being bogged down and zapped of energy. Get more tips with 9 Genius Tricks for Cutting Carbs You’ve Never Tried.