While meals prepared at home are an important part of any healthy eating meal plan, only a lucky few have the time to cook from scratch on a daily basis. For the rest of us, ordering out is just part of the daily routine. Instead of throwing in the towel at the sight of a long list of mouthwatering dishes on a takeaway menu, remember that with a few wise choices, it can still be part of a healthy diet.
Ordering food is perhaps the biggest test of your willpower when it comes to portion control. Most dishes supply two or three meals' worth of calories in one innocent looking styrofoam container. In fact, if it weren't for the out-of-this-world portion sizes, takeaways would be a lot healthier. The truth of the matter is, when food is put in front of someone, they are likely to eat it - all of it. The easiest way to cut calories when ordering out is to serve yourself an appropriate portion, and put the rest in the fridge before you start eating - you'll instantly save yourself unnecessary calories.
So what's an appropriate portion? As far as noodles, rice and pasta go, limit yourself to about one cup (the size of your clenched fist). When it comes to meat, chicken or fish, a three-ounce portion is best (the size of your palm). A little common sense is your best line of defence when weeding out unhealthy choices. Generally speaking, opt for food that is steamed, baked or grilled as opposed to fried, breaded or battered, and remember that supersized meals only mean more calories and artery-clogging fat.
With plenty of vegetables, legumes and fish-based dishes, there are many healthy options to choose from when ordering Indian food. However it's the added fat, usually in the form of ghee, or coconut milk (both sources of saturated fat) that drives the calorie content of an otherwise healthy dish through the roof. As a general rule of thumb, stay clear of dishes prepared in creamy sauces or coconut milk, and instead opt for tandoori or tikka dishes. With lots of chickpea and lentil-based dishes to choose from, Indian food is an easy way to up your intake of fibre-rich legumes, so choose these more often.
It's easy to find Vietnamese and Thai dishes that are loaded with vegetables and low in fat. The pitfall is when dishes are served with fried rice or noodles, since the portions are so large. Opt for cold rice paper rolls instead of spring rolls, and choose chicken or beef satays over dishes with coconut milk. Clear, broth-based soups are always a good idea, as is a side of steamed rice instead of coconut rice.
When it comes to Lebanese food, there are plenty of healthy options to choose from since many foods are grilled instead of fried. Your best bet is to order a variety of mezze dishes - such as hummus, tabbouleh, stuffed vine leaves or a salad, since these tend to be lighter dishes. Grilled kebabs, as well as vegetable and chickpea based dishes are a good choice, too.Stay clear of dishes with grilled cheese, pastry or sausage and be mindful of your portion of bread. It's easy to overindulge, so limit yourself to a quarter or half a piece of bread per meal.
If you're a fan of western-style burger chains, a few simple changes to your regular order could save you a meal's worth of calories and added fat. For instance, order a grilled chicken sandwich with a side salad and low fat chocolate milk instead of a burger, large fries and a soda and you've saved yourself nearly 600 calories and 15 grams of fat. Other healthier alternatives include a baked potato instead of fries, a salad with dressing on the side or a kid-sized meal.
The bottom line is that reducing portions and making some simple substitutions can go a long way when cutting calories from takeaway meals, and can ensure they have a place in a your healthy eating meal plan.