Holiday Hustle May Mean Some Nights with Take Out
By Robyn Hensley, MS RD
Unless we’re all mindful of what, where and how often we eat out, it can be the perfect recipe to put on some unwanted holiday weight. That’s particularly bad news considering that the average American eats restaurant food four times a week, according to The National Restaurant Association, and that number is higher during the holidays. No wonder we as a society are packing on the pounds.
Cooking at home is almost always healthier than eating restaurant food. But, if you find yourself short on time this holiday season and making a home-cooked meal is not an option, it is possible to find healthy alternatives delivered by your favorite restaurants. Here are some relatively healthy options for the next time you decide to have food delivered.
- Chinese: One of the unhealthiest components of Chinese food is the high sugar and high calorie sauces. In addition, many of the foods are battered, breaded and fried. Therefore, if you look for grilled or sautéed meat or seafood, and ask for a light sauce on the side (try low sodium soy sauce), you can save yourself hundreds of calories. Always pile on the nutrient-packed vegetables, such as steamed broccoli, cabbage, or bok choy. If available opt for higher fiber brown rice instead of white or fried rice.
- Italian: Most Italian restaurants offer huge portions of high calorie pasta dishes, which provide little or no protein, but tons of calories and fat. To eat smart while ordering out Italian food, look for a grilled fish or chicken dish, such as Chicken Marsala. This packs a lot more protein than pasta, is not breaded, and typically is not smothered in cheese. Always request a side of the steamed or grilled vegetables, such as squash or asparagus. If you crave pasta, avoid the cheese-stuffed varieties, limit your protein and top it with marinara sauce instead of a high fat cream based sauce.
- Japanese: Japanese restaurants provide many healthy options if you order right. A great way to start is with a small cup of edamame. It is a great vegetarian source of protein, fiber and iron. If you are craving a sushi roll, but don’t want the extra calories from the sticky rice that it is wrapped in, opt for the sashimi instead, which is simply thinly sliced fresh fish. If ordering a roll, select one of the simpler options such as tuna or salmon and avocado, and try to avoid anything "tempura” which is battered and deep fried.
- Mexican: A great option for Mexican is fajitas. Ask if they use little to no oil. If you order grilled chicken or shrimp, include the grilled peppers and onions, and skip (or go easy on) the sour cream and cheese. This is a healthy, high protein meal. Fajitas are usually served on flour tortillas, and each one usually has at least 100 calories. A good way to control your calories, and to make sure you don’t fill up before you eat your protein, is to skip the tortillas or limit yourself to just one.
- Pizza: Opt for one slice of thin crust. Go light on cheese, and add veggies and grilled chicken for additional fiber and protein. Remember to avoid high fat meats such as sausage and pepperoni when ordering pizza. While these meats might have a few grams of protein, they are very high in calories and extra fat. Many pizza restaurants also offer minestrone soup. This is a great high fiber and low calorie option.
Don’t forget. Almost all chain restaurants have the nutrition content of their foods available online or upon request for you to review. With a little planning you can get take-out and stay on a healthy track. Don’t be afraid to request modifications to your order. Sometimes asking for a sauce on the side or grilled versus fried can save hundreds of calories and keep your waistline in check through the holidays!