healthy take-out chinese food containerWith today’s busy lifestyles, there is not always time to cook for your family. 
If take-out is on the menu, consider the following tips to cut the calories and fat and enjoy a healthier meal. 

Mexican foods

Get vegetarian refried or plain black beans. Opt for soft tortillas (such as a burrito) instead of fried taco shells. Replace the cheese or sour cream with salsa or guacamole.

Chinese foods 

Ask for wonton or sweet-and-sour soup. Order steamed rice and boiled, steamed, broiled, or lightly stir-fried dishes. Pile on the vegetables such as broccoli and bok choy. Try to avoid deep-fried dishes, fried rice, egg dishes, and salty sauces.


Opt for a thin crust and double the vegetables instead of doubling the cheese. Before you eat, grab a few paper napkins and blot the excess oil off your pizza. This saves you a few grams of fat right off the bat.

Indian foods

Order yogurt-based salads, tandoori chicken and fish, or lentil or dal dishes. Go for the pappadams instead of thick naan bread. Watch out for food cooked in coconut milk, cream, or ghee (which is clarified butter), and try to stay away from the fried Samosas and thick creamy Korma dishes.

Italian foods 

Try to avoid creamy sauces and pesto on pasta—which can add a lot of fat and calories. Instead, try a marinara sauce, pasta primavera, or a clam sauce. Consider sharing a pasta entrée and a salad with someone else.

Chicken night

Choose grilled chicken or chicken salad 
instead of a fried chicken sandwich. If you’re going for fast food, skip the order of fries and order low-fat or fat-free milk (instead of soda) for the kids.

Deli foods 

Cut the fat on sandwiches by omitting 
bacon, mayonnaise, cheese, and special sauces. Ask for mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles instead. Order lean meats (such as turkey breast) on your sandwiches, and go for the wheat roll.

Japanese foods 

Opt for miso soup and steamed vegetables such as edamames, and omega-3-containing fish such as salmon. Avoid anything “tempura,” which indicates it has been fried. Buy sushi rolls with  avocado; they add richness and contain unsaturated fats.

Burger night 

Go for the regular or kid-size portion. Load on the lettuce and tomato and try to skip the cheese. Try a side salad instead of fries or onion rings. Go for a low-fat milkshake instead of a soda for an extra calcium boost.

On-the-go breakfasts 

Opt for whole wheat and high fiber if you choose a muffin,  bagel, or toast (and be size- wise about the portion). Go for the low-fat yogurt or fruit instead of the home fries. 
Replace the bacon or sausage with ham. Watch out for sugar-loaded fruit juices. 

Extra tips for 
all take-out meals

Decipher the take-out menu

Look for key words that indicate a low-fat option. These often include: au jus (in its own juices), baked, broiled, fresh, grilled, poached, lean, roasted, and steamed. Avoid menu items that might be high in fat and may be described as: au gratin, buttered, breaded, casserole, creamed, fried, crispy, rich, or sautéed.

On the side

Ask that all sauces and salad dressings be served on the side so that you can control how much is added. Add a little bit at a time as you eat your meal. Try to avoid creamy sauces such as ranch or mayonnaise, and opt for lower-fat options such barbeque sauce, mustard, or low-fat salad dressing.

Doggy bag 

Before you start eating, set aside a portion of your food in a plastic container and make yourself a pre-meal doggy bag. Take-out portions are often very large and this reduces the temptation to clean your plate at the first sitting.

Reprinted with permission from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Have any other tips to share about making healthy take-out choices for you and your family? Please share the calorie-cutting advice!