How to choose healthier takeaway options

Looking to make a healthy takeaway choice? Find out the best foods to order, from Indian, Chinese, Italian or Mexican to the British classic, fish and chips.

An Indian curry dish made with chicken and chillis

Healthy eating and Friday night feasting rarely go hand in hand. Some of our favourite takeaway temptations pose particular problems, from cuisines such as Chinese, Italian, Indian and Mexican to dishes such as fish and chips.

Of course, it's fine to enjoy a treat every now and then, but when it comes to ordering in, there are simple tricks to get more bang for your buck, nutritionally speaking. Can't resist those old favourites? Making your own will mean you know exactly what goes into your dish of choice and will help you keep control of your recommended daily intakes. We have plenty of healthy recipe inspiration, including our chicken jalfrezi, pictured above.

Some takeaways and restaurants now provide nutritional information on their menus or websites which is worth looking out for, as it can help you to make a healthier choice.

Read on for our top tips to make a healthier takeaway order...

Indian

A bowl of healthier chicken tikka masala with rice

Our western taste for creamy Indian curries and hearty naans can play havoc with our waistlines – and often it's not too heart-friendly either. Tandoori dishes are one of the easiest ways to enjoy a healthier takeaway as the meat is normally grilled rather than fried, cutting down calories and saturated fat.

Stick to tomato-based sauces and choose something with a bit of spice, guaranteed to quickly satisfy your taste buds. Swap your naan for a couple of poppadums topped with raita or tomato sambal, and choose plain over pilau rice, which is cooked with extra oil.

Healthier options:
Tomato-based or dry curries like tandoori, madras, jalfrezi, rogan and bhuna dishes; plain rice, roti, poppadums. 

Cut down on:
Creamy curries like masala, pasanda or korma; naan bread, pilau rice, bhajis.

Make it yourself:
Try using a small amount of rapeseed oil when cooking Indian food at home, and use wholemeal flour and brown rice rather than white to make your dishes even more wholesome. For more inspiration, check out our healthy curry collection and healthy Indian recipes.
 

Chinese

A lighter sweet and sour pork dish

In the UK, our favourite Chinese takeaway dishes tend to be battered, fried and crispy rather than more traditional low-fat offerings. Over-eating is a big stumbling block, so opt for a soup starter while looking to steamed and stir-fried options to satisfy you.

Healthier options:
Steamed/boiled rice, plain noodles, crab & sweetcorn soup, steamed dumplings, steamed fish, chicken chop suey, Szechuan prawns, vegetable stir-fry.

Cut down on:
Fried rice, crispy duck, sticky sauces like sweet & sour, battered chicken/prawn/pork balls, prawn crackers, wontons, spring rolls, sesame toast, spare ribs.

Make it yourself:
Cooking your own Chinese favourites means you can cut down the amount of salt you'll be taking in. Also, why not practise using chopsticks in the comfort of your own home? You'll eat more slowly, giving your tummy a chance to tell your brain when it's full. Check out our healthy Chinese recipe collection for more ideas.
 

Italian

A healthier barbecue chicken pizza

Bowls piled high with creamy pasta and deep-pan, cheese-laden pizzas may be delicious, but they're not the most nutritious Italian dishes. The good news is there are still lots of lovely lower-fat alternatives that are sure to satisfy. Opt for thin-based pizzas and pastas with a tomato or vegetable sauce, and ditch the garlic bread in favour of better-for-you ciabatta.

Healthier options:
Thin crust pizzas, lean meats, vegetable and seafood toppings, bruschetta, ciabatta, Italian soups such as pasta fagioli or minestrone.

Cut down on:
Deep-pan or thick/stuffed-crust pizza bases, pepperoni or extra cheese toppings, creamy pasta sauces, garlic bread, lasagne, fried calamari, ravioli.

Make it yourself:
If you're rustling up your own Italian feast, favourites like carbonara and lasagne needn't be off the menu. Use less oil when cooking and stick to lean meats and lower-fat soft cheeses to make your sauces creamy. Try our healthy Italian recipe collection and discover the best healthy pizzas you can make at home.
 

Fish and chips

A fillet of fish in breadcrumbs served with chips and mushy peas

It may be a quintessentially British takeaway, but all too often an order from your local chippy can be high in fat and salt. A portion of mushy peas or baked beans will count towards your 5-a-day, but don't forget these can be high in salt too. Portion sizes are often on the generous side, so ask for fewer chips or share one portion between two. You can also ask to add any condiments yourself, so that you’re more in control of your salt intake. And finally, while white fish is a good source of protein, after it’s been battered and cooked in the deep-fat fryer, it’s no longer lean. Breadcrumbed fish may be a lower-fat option, or simply leave some of the batter behind.

Healthier options:
Breadcrumbed or plain grilled fish, mushy peas, baked beans, thick-cut chips (they absorb less oil than thin-cut chips).

Cut down on:
Thin-cut or triple-cooked chips, pies such as steak and kidney, jumbo battered sausages, onion rings.

Make it yourself:
Bake breadcrumbed fillets of fish and homemade chips in the oven for a crispy finish, with no deep-fat fryer required. Our classic recipes for crispy fish & chips with mushy peas or fish fingers & mushy peas are a great place to start. If you fancy something different, try our lemon pollock with sweet potato chips & broccoli mash, or salmon & ginger fish cakes.
 

Mexican

A tortilla wrap with brown rice, beans, guacamole and cheese

Mexican food is certainly full of flavour, but some items on the menu can be high in calories, saturated fats and salt. In general, steer clear of deep-fried options in favour of lean meats, fish or vegetables. Choose soft corn tortillas over crunchy, fried shells, and opt for brown rice instead of white if the restaurant offers it. Steer clear of adding lots of ‘extras’ to your dish, such as cheese, sour cream or mayonnaise. If you want to add sauce, tomato salsa is a good choice. Portion sizes can be large, so try splitting a starter or side dish between two, or save leftovers for another meal.

Healthier options:
Fajitas, burritos or burrito ‘bowls’ filled with lean meats, poultry, fish or beans plus peppers and onions, tomato salsa, guacamole (in moderation), grilled chicken or fish, salads (served without deep-fried taco bowls).

Cut down on:
Deep-fried dishes such as chimichangas, chalupas and taquitos, refried beans, cheese dips, salty tortilla chips, loaded nachos, sour cream, salads served in deep-fried taco bowls.

Make it yourself:
It’s easy to whip up a Mexican feast that’s as nutritious as it is delicious. Fajitas are a great way to pack in plenty of protein and vegetables, and you can use wholemeal tortillas to increase fibre intake. Homemade chilli con carne is another good option – try our classic chunky chilli or vegan bean chilli for a filling dinner. Browse our healthy Mexican collection for more inspiration.

 

 

 

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This page was last reviewed on 1st August 2018 by Kerry Torrens.

A registered nutritionist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine, the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), and the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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