Healthier takeout swaps

Tips and tricks to make restaurant classics healthier at home.
Published December 17, 2020

Sometimes takeout just hits the spot, but if you’d like to try making healthier versions of your favourite takeaway meals at home, we’ve got tons of ideas!

Nadia Atzori, WeightWatchers nutrition and food database manager, likes to call these “fakeaway” meals.

Here are some of Atzori’s tips to help you be ready to create a fakeaway meal at a moment’s notice.

Become friends with your spice jars

“Spices and herbs are often needed to recreate that special and identifiable taste and flair in fakeaway meals,” she says.

Here’s Atzori’s general guide for some flavour staples to have on hand:

  • For fakeaway Caribbean meals use: ginger, nutmeg, allspice, paprika
  • For fakeaway Indian meals use: cumin, turmeric, pepper, saffron
  • For fakeaway Italian meals use: basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme
  • For fakeaway Mexican meals use: chili powder, cilantro, cumin, onions
Keep your pantry, fridge and freezer stocked with staple ingredients.

“Key ingredients will provide the baseline for your fakeaway meals,” says Atzori. “These ingredients can include: lettuce, coleslaw mix, frozen or pre-cut vegetables, frozen homemade poultry, meat or veggie burgers/meatballs, ground poultry or meat, frozen or fresh fish, jarred sauces and salsa, [and] canned legumes.”

Familiarize yourself with the right equipment.

“Being familiar with the right equipment can be a time saver,” Atzori says. “Let’s face it, in today’s modern world, we are all bombarded with everyday tasks: cleaning the house, doing laundry, helping the kids with homework or taking the dogs out for a walk. Knowing which kitchen tools will help with what is essential.”

For example, she says, “Crock-Pots or slow cookers will be extremely helpful when recreating at-home meals like tacos, burritos, ribs and pulled pork sandwiches.”

Be aware of all the faux frying techniques.

If you’re craving fried food, Atzori has a few techniques up her sleeve to give you the crisp and crunch you love without tons of extra calories.

  • Make a crispy crust by adding crispy ingredients: “Seems simple enough, right? Well it is! Simply coat chicken in an egg wash mixture and then dip into a bowl of crushed corn flakes or crushed tortilla chips (try WW sea salt tortilla chips!). Next step – bake away! You’ll get the crispy outside coating without all the excess oil.”
  • Broil foods to quickly add colour and a crispy texture.
  • Toss veggies, poultry or meat into cornstarch, then sauté in a minimal amount of vegetable oil to mimic the crispy texture of fried foods.
Salads can be dressed up

“My biggest advice for takeout swaps, which I personally follow – salads, salads, more salads! You can easily swap a takeout meal favourite into a salad, all while reducing the calories and not compromising the taste,” Atzori says. “Turn burgers, tacos, fajitas, and sushi into salads. By replacing the carbs for fresh leafy greens, you are not only adding colour to your plate but can easily reduce the total caloric intake, fat and sodium of the meal as well.”

Atzori’s favourite fakeaway salads include taco salad, California roll salad, and fajita salad, but her top fav is a burger salad.

“Whenever I feel a sudden burger craving coming on, instead of searching for the UberEats app or getting in my car for a fast food run, I reach for a head of iceberg lettuce. Yes, you heard it right ... lettuce! taste buds and cravings are satisfied with this simple recipe, which will serve six.”

Burger salad

  • 1 lb cooked ground beef (can also use lean ground beef, chicken or turkey)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 8 oz iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • 1 cup tomatoes, diced
  • ¾ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • ¼ cup onion, finely chopped
  • ½ cup pickles, diced
  • ½ cup thousand island dressing
Remember, sometimes, simplicity is key.

“You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re recreating a five-star restaurant favourite at home. Oftentimes, the best reimagined food is that which is less-refined and more nostalgic,” Atzori says. “As an example, sometimes that four-ingredient tomato sauce that your parents or grandparents use to make is just as good if not better than the sauce from your favourite Italian restaurant, which you are trying to recreate.”

Have fun and experiment!

You get to be the chef here, so why not have fun?

“Your meals are what you make them and the best part about fakeaway meals is that you can experiment with new renditions and plating techniques each and every time,” says Atzori.