As temperatures dip and schedules fill up, curling up at home with a container full of hot [insert favorite take out restaurant here] starts sounding better and better. The only issue with going into hibernation mode with a big bag Mama Giada’s Italian Restaurant by your side is the matter of your waistline. When you eat food prepared in a restaurant you’re bound to consume more calories than if you had cooked at home, but how you order can mean the difference between 20 extra calories and over 200. Mexican? Chinese? Indian? Pick your cuisine. Whatever your go-to take out joint is there’s a way to navigate the menu that won’t pack on the pounds.
Scroll through to find out how to eat your favorites without gaining weight!
Fajitas with grilled chicken and vegetables are the Mexican menu all-star. Chicken enchiladas and dishes that come in soft tortillas, like burritos and tacos, are the runner-ups, if you order them properly. Skip the cheese and sour cream, and the rice and refined beans that come on the side (they’re usually filled with lard), and go easy on the guac. Though both are baked, not fried, choosing corn tortillas over flour will save you about 50 calories. Always stay away from sauces that are creamy or white, and top your entrée with salsa instead. Or just look for grilled or baked fish and chicken dishes in Veracruz sauce, it’s made from tomatoes, chilies, and onions, and it’s one of the lightest sauces you can find. And ask the restaurant to leave the chips out. A typical order contains about 645 calories and 34 grams of fat.
Anything breaded, stuffed with cheese, or in a cream sauce is better left alone. That means eggplant, chicken, and veal parmesan, manicottis and calzones, and fettuccine and vodka sauces are out of the running. Only order pesto if you’re willing eat a few extra calories. Between the pine nuts, olive oil, and often cream and parmesan cheese, the sauce packs a significant amount of fat and calories. Red sauce is your best bet calorically and nutritionally. So if you want pasta, make it pasta primavera with vegetables. Better yet, order seafood or vegetable antipasto, minestrone or tomato-based soup, or grilled chicken or fish dishes. But if your meat is prepared in olive oil, skip the veggies that come with it, and eat a side salad with dressing on the side instead. Vegetables absorb a lot of oil, so while still nutritious, they’ll also be pretty high-cal. Or order off of the appetizer menu. If you skip the toasted ravioli and opt for one of the seafood options instead, you’ll be in good shape. Shrimp cocktail and grilled (not fried) calamari are good choices.
Unless you’re willing to blow your entire day’s calorie budget on one meal, dishes like sweet and sour, kung pao, and General Tso’s chicken are out. Those deep fried entrées in tangy sauces have upwards of 1,000 calories and 3,000 milligrams of sodium. While avoiding sodium when ordering Chinese isn’t the easiest undertaking, there are some safe selections. With plenty of fiber and a light sauce, Szechwan shrimp is a suitable pick. Just be sure to fill your plate with something steamed too, like steamed vegetable or shrimp dumplings. Avoid sautéed and pan-fried items. The oil used in stir-fries often adds over 50 grams of fat. Skip those noodles that arrive soaked in oil too. And if you can’t resist an egg roll, open it up, and scoop out the insides.
Tandoori anything wins on the Indian food menu. Tandoori dishes are grilled in a tandoor oven without heavy sauces. Bhuna dishes won’t torpedo your diet either. Just steer clear of any tikka masala items, which are made with lots of cream and ghee butter. To satisfy your craving for something a little creamy, order a side of raita instead. Pass on the deep-fired samosas and nutritionally-void naan. If you need a little carbohydrate in your life, choose whole-wheat roti instead. Go easy on the rice, and order a few veggies on the side, daal (lentils), saag (spinach), or chana masala (chickpeas).
When you’re going all-American, the basic principles of choosing grilled fish or chicken still apply. Veggie-heavy salads are usually a safe pick, just make sure the dressing is on the side and skip croutons, cheese, and bacon. But if it’s a burger you’re after, make it a veggie or turkey burger, and toss the top bun. And a turkey sandwich never fails. Avoid tuna and chicken salad to dodge all of those empty calories from mayonnaise. No matter what you order, substitute the side of fries. With a calorie count nearing the 1,000 mark, you’re better off with a baked potato or steamed veggies.
Sushi can be one of the most virtuous orders as long as you stay away from tempura or anything fried, spicy tuna (the mayonnaise its made with makes it no-go), and rolls with cream cheese, like Philly rolls. Select rolls made with only fish and vegetables. Sashimi also makes a fine choice. Starting with miso soup, seaweed salad, or edamame is another smart move. Not into raw fish? Just avoid teriyaki dishes because that sauce is loaded with sugar. Go teppanyaki to save calories.
How does your usual take out order stack up against these guidelines? Tell us in the comments!