How to make healthy choices when eating out

No time to cook? Try a healthier way to order food...
Published 26 April 2019 | Updated 1 July 2024

Healthier ways to order takeaway

Going out for a meal with family and friends is one of the greatest joys in life. Sitting together, sharing food and quality time… not to mention the excitement of being able to take a night off from cooking and washing up! And with the rising popularity of food delivery services such as Uber Eats, Menu Log and Deliveroo, it’s easier than ever to pick up the phone and dial in your dinner. Most people think restaurants and fast food outlets only have high-salt, high-fat options but, thankfully, there’s no need to miss out on ordering takeaway or eating at a restaurant when you’re following a healthy eating plan. The key is to make informed decisions.

1. Plan ahead

When planning a meal out, mentally prepare yourself by checking the menu online ahead of time to see if there are lots of delicious low Point options. Many takeaway menus show the calories (kilojoules) and a breakdown of nutrients alongside each dish, which makes it even easier.

Be sure to fill up on healthier options during the day so you’re not too hungry when it comes to ordering food. “You’re more likely to make smarter choices if you’re hunger levels are in check,” explains dietitian Nicole Stride.

“Then, when it comes to choosing your meal, don’t be afraid to ask for modifications to your dish, like asking for the dressing or sauce on the side.”

2. Enjoy yourself

You’re going out to have fun and catch-up with friends or family over delicious food, not feel deprived. So, while it’s likely your meals at a restaurant will be higher in Points, that’s more than OK!

“Food is more than just calories or nutrients we put in our mouths,” says dietitian Nathan Baldwin.

“As pertinent as your nutrition is, it’s also important to really enjoy your food. If you don’t like the food you’re eating and make each meal feel like a test, you’re likely going to have some trouble long-term.”

Plan for meals with higher Point values by sticking to foods with lower Point values earlier that day, then enjoy every bite when you go to dinner!

“Depriving yourself can often lead to overeating down the track,” Baldwin adds. “Instead, try to find a solution that works not just for your goals, but also your emotions and taste preferences.”

3. Make smart choices

Now that we’ve nailed down the basics, let’s look at some easy ways to navigate different cuisines and pick healthy options:

When going out for Thai:

“Thai food revolves around sauces and spices, and carbs such as noodles and rice,” Baldwin says. Be mindful of dishes with sweet or honey in the title as they’re likely to contain higher amounts of sugar. Good alternatives are dishes sautéed with herbs, such as lemongrass or basil.

Ordering a side of steamed vegetables is also a good way to add nutrients to your meal while keeping the Points down. “Vegetables are high in fibre, which help us to feel full for longer. Adding meat and a little rice or noodles will ensure your plate has lots of nutrients,” he adds.

Dishes to try: Chicken skewers and rice paper rolls are good low Points starters and broth-based soups and noodle dishes are great swaps for coconut and cream-based curries.

When going out for Chinese:

Similarly to Thai food, Chinese cuisine has an emphasis on rice and vegetables. “Try to opt for steamed or grilled rather than crispy or deep fried dishes, as they’re likely to be lower in fat and total energy,” says Stride.

Sharing entrées and mains are other ways to enjoy your meal while also ensuring you get plenty of variety.

Dishes to try: Vegetable-rich meals such as chop suey. Order plenty of Chinese greens cooked with garlic, ginger or chilli. Stir-fried chicken with broccoli or steamed whole fish are great options, too.

When going out for Japanese:

“Japanese cuisine focuses on their staple of white rice, combined with several other main and side dishes,” Baldwin says.

“The trouble with having so many choices often comes down to managing portions.” But if you choose filling dishes that are higher in protein, like sashimi or chicken ramen, then you are less likely to overeat. “Order only the amount you’d usually eat and enjoy it mindfully,” Baldwin adds.

Dishes to try: Miso or broth-based soups, sashimi, edamame beans and other greens, as well as grilled salmon.

When going out for Indian:

Indian food often has an emphasis on rich cream-based sauces so, if you’re choosing these options, load up on vegetables as well.

As for ordering rice, Baldwin says, “Basmati or brown rice is a healthier option than short-grain or coconut rice.” If you like to have bread on the side, you could swap naan for roti, which is generally made from wholemeal flour, meaning it will help you stay fuller for longer.

Dishes to try: Dry curries, such as vindaloo or madras, tandoori chicken or fish, and vegetable or lentil dahl.

When going out for Italian:

“When it comes to Italian food, there are lots of lean meat and vegetable options to choose from,” Stride says.

Opt for dishes with a tomato-based sauce, such as Napolitana or Bolognaise, rather than creamy fettuccine. If you’re in the mood for pizza, pick one with lots of vegetables and a thin, crispy base, and share it with friends. “The typical Australian diet is low in seafood, so choose a fish dish to reap the nutrition benefits that are often missed,” Baldwin suggests. “Decide on a bottle of wine for the group, rather than each picking your own glass. This will help you to enjoy the wine in moderation.”

Dishes to try: Osso buco or cacciatore. If choosing pasta, order a small or entrée size and add a side salad.

When going to the food court

Clever swaps will help you make healthy choices when eating at a fast food restaurant. Baldwin advises choosing individual items rather than ordering a meal deal. “Leaner proteins such as chicken breast or turkey are healthier than pork belly or beef,” he says. It’s also a good idea to opt for grilled meats rather than crispy or deep fried.

While you should definitely enjoy that burger if you choose, there are a few easy ways to lower the Points value, if you want. One option is to ask for a bunless burger – many fast-food outlets, allow you to order without the bun, while some even offer a bunless burger on their menu. Since many sauces can be high in Points, try asking for your sauce or dressing in a takeaway sachet so you can control the portion.

If you want to enjoy pizza, choose ZeroPoint foods as toppings for a lower Points option. Or if you’re at a Tex-Mex restaurant, there’s usually a salad bar so fill your plate with greens, beans and some ‘healthy fat’ toppings, like avocado.

Dishes to try: For lower Point options, look for lean chicken or fish over fattier meats, and grilled meats rather than crumbed or battered.