Curbside dining has become quite common since the Covid-19 pandemic began. According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 65 percent of people are regularly opting for the drive-thru when eating out. Drive-thru dining is usually a quick and convenient way of picking up your meal without having to leave the comfort of your car or risk the very low possibility of exposure to the virus when eating indoors.
Eating out on occasion is an acceptable alternative to busy days that interfere with making home-cooked meals. But, if you’ve relied on takeout meals more than twice a week for weeks or months, it’s time to see if your favorite foods-to-go aligns with a healthy eating pattern. Takeout doesn’t have to mean unhealthy. There’s always room for tweaking even “off-limits” foods to increase their nutritional value.
Here are a few suggestions you can do to both modify and healthify takeout meals without compromising taste:
- Make veggies a priority: Most restaurants offer some type of salad entrée or side dishes of veggies. One great pick is to choose an entrée salad with grilled chicken, shrimp, or vegetables. Choose a dressing you like but only use half the package or keep the salad dressing on the side to control calories and fat amounts. Another excellent option is to order a side salad with a broth-based vegetable soup. Very filling and easy on the calories and fat. Or replace fries with a broccoli-based salad or other side salad option. To really bulk up nutrition, order plain steamed veggies to increase fullness and satiety.
- Forego fried foods: If your goal is to “healthify” takeout meals, skip fried foods and instead opt for dishes prepared baked, steamed, roasted, or grilled. Some healthier options include grilled chicken or fish instead of fried. Steamed vegetables instead of fried onion rings or French fries. Or have a baked potato in place of fries. Select grilled or lean meats such as turkey or chicken breast, lean ham, or lean roast beef.
- Bring on beans: High in fiber, protein, copper, iron, phosphorus, and manganese, nutritionally, beans got a good thing going. In addition, all varieties of beans are filling and offer heart health benefits like helping lower cholesterol. When the opportunity arises and a restaurant offers beans, take advantage of them. For instance, instead of an enchilada, order a bean burrito. Even refried beans are an excellent food for good nutritional value. If you’re hungry for soup, order bean-loaded soups like minestrone, lentil, or vegetarian chili.
- Make smart beverage choices: Your beverage choice is one of your most important decisions when ordering takeout. You can choose all healthier foods to eat but order that sugary beverage or fat-filled shake and this may cancel out the “healthfulness” of your meal. That’s because most beverages sold at restaurants are high in calories. For instance, a large regular soda (30 ounces) has more than 300 calories. Order a medium to a large milkshake and the calories will climb to at least 500 calories or more. Your best bet is to skip sugary, high-calorie drinks and instead choose diet soda, water, unsweetened tea, sparkling water or mineral water.
- Keep portion sizes small: Fast food restaurants are well-known for “supersizing” many items. But that doesn’t mean you have to comply. The bigger the portion size, the more calories, sodium, and fat you’ll be consuming. Think small when ordering takeout as in choosing the smallest burger offered whether it’s a regular burger or even a child’s-sized patty. Skip the large serving of fries and ask for the small instead – this switch alone will save you about 200 calories.
- Keep side dishes healthy: Any restaurant offering side dishes, take a second look – often they are healthy options to use in place of French fries, onion rings, or tater tots. These healthier side dishes can include baked potatoes, a fruit bowl or a fruit and yogurt option, a side salad, apple or orange slices offered, corn on the cob, or steamed rice.
The best thing to remember is that you are the customer and you are in charge of what you’re ordering. If you’re not sure about swapping a different item for a healthier option, always ask. Restaurants aim to please their customers and are almost always willing to provide healthier substitutions that you request.