Here's what you should order for healthier takeaways

Restaurant workers make it possible for more people to shelter in place, by putting themselves on the front lines of the pandemic every day. (Getty Images)
Getting a takeaway meal is more prevalent than ever, but they don't have to be unhealthy. (Getty Images)

Takeaways used to be a once-or-twice-a-week treat, but not anymore. New research has revealed that Britons are eating 50% more takeaways now than before the Covid pandemic hit.

The public’s reliance on takeaway meals points to a “drastic” shift in our eating habits, experts said, as delivery services have become more popular than restaurants and pubs as the main source of meals prepared outside the home.

According to analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which examined purchasing data on 8,000 people from market research firm Kantar, the average adult consumed 400 calories a week from takeaways - nearly double the number of calories consumed a week from takeaways in 2019.

Andrew McKendrick, research economist at IFS and author of the report, said: "The Covid-19 pandemic saw huge changes in both how many calories households were buying, and where they came from.

"Lockdowns and closures of hospitality left a bigger role for consumption of food at home and for takeaways. But, by the start of 2022, most of these changes had been reversed: households had largely gone back to purchasing as much as they did in 2019.

"The pandemic did leave one legacy, though, in the much-increased use of takeaways."

Britons love a good takeaway. (Getty Images)
Britons love a good takeaway. (Getty Images)

McKendrick also told The Times that there was a "drastic shift towards purchasing more out-of-home calories from fast food and takeaways".

The figures come after a recent survey by wellness company JuicePlus+ found that 60% of Britons now eat less fruits and vegetables. Instead, more people are turning to tinned, dried or processed produce to cut down on costs amid the ongoing cost of living crisis.

Amid warnings that the significant increase in takeaways and decline in eating fresh produce could be contributing to Britain’s obesity crisis, we turned to registered nutritionist Sue Oldrieve for advice on how we can make healthier choices while still enjoying our favourite takeaways.

How to make a healthier takeaway choice

Takeaway food is not inherently unhealthy and there are a number of swaps and changes we can make to our order to make it more nutritious overall.

Oldrieve recommends getting to know the menu for your favourite takeaway spot a little better. "Some will now include nutrition information, so use that if you are looking for lower calorie or lower fat options," she tells Yahoo UK.

While it can be tempting to order lots of food when getting a takeaway, it’s a good idea to be realistic about the quantity of food you actually need.

Get to know your options at your favourite takeaway and be more mindful about what you order. (Getty Images)
Get to know your options at your favourite takeaway and be more mindful about what you order. (Getty Images)

"Consider sharing dishes - you get to add more variety to your meal without adding more volume," Oldrieve suggests. "If you do want to order your own portion, set half of it aside as soon as it arrives and save it for the following day. Make sure you cool and store it safely."

She adds that some restaurants may offer "healthier" options that are smaller in portion size and come with a portion of salad, which may come in handy if you’re keen to cut down on calories.

"If you select a side order, choose one that will add less processed fruits and vegetables to your meal. [Opt for] salads, vegetable-based soups and steamed vegetables."

Mindful ordering

Practice mindful ordering by having a think about how you can make your takeaway order more balanced before you place it. This way, you’ll be able to swap some courses for healthier options.

For example, if you’re getting pizza, choose a tomato salad as a starter instead of garlic bread. Or, if you’re having Chinese food, go for a soup starter instead of spring rolls, prawn balls or crispy duck, followed by a vegetable-based stir fry.

Oldrieve also suggests picking poppadoms with raita or chutney when getting an Indian takeaway instead of a fried starter, like samosas.

To add even more fibre to your takeaway meal, Oldrieve says to consider making a small home-made salad to your meal. "This will add a variety of vegetables, providing fibre and some vitamins, and you will have control over the type and amount of dressing you choose to add."

Chinese delivery food
You can make your takeaway meals more nutritious by considering lower calorie options, adding more vegetables, and eating smaller portions. (Getty Images)

When choosing your mains, have a think about which options might be healthier. For example, picking pasta dishes that have a tomato-based sauce rather than cheese or cream adds to your fruit and vegetable intake.

"Try opting for a grilled or unbattered food instead of battered and fried food," Oldrieve adds. "For example, you could choose prawn and vegetable kebabs instead of battered calamari."

What you should order from your favourite takeaway

Chinese takeaway

Opt for steamed or boiled rice instead of fried. You could also cook rice at home, and if you have brown rice on hand, that will add more fibre to your meal.

Soup in place of fried starters will also help bring down the calorie count of the meal, and a vegetable-heavy main will help contribute towards your five-a-day target.

Indian takeaway

Look for terms like ‘bharta’ (roasted and mashed), ‘jalfrezi (stir-fried with vegetables), or ‘tikka masala’ (small pieces of meat or vegetables, marinated in spices and grilled). These cooking methods result in dishes that are healthier than others, Oldrieve says.

Dhansaks, which are sauces thickened with lentils, are a tasty way to get more pulses into your diet. You can also pick lower calorie breads, like chapati, which is half the calorie amount of naan.

Fish and chips

The traditional British takeaway might be harder to optimise, but Oldrieve encourages people to "enjoy it for what it is - an occasional treat".

Fish and chips
Fish and chips are a classic British takeaway. (Getty Images)

"Order a small portion and have a salad with it or some fruit to follow," she suggests.

Italian takeaway

Swap thick crust pizza for thin crust versions, and see if there is an option that includes a portion of salad.

Also consider choosing pasta with tomato-based sauces instead of creamy carbonaras, and, as difficult as it might be, try to resist getting extra cheese!

Burgers and kebabs

To make burger and kebab takeaways healthier, Oldrieve suggests saying yes to extra salad.

You can also choose kebabs that are grilled and include added vegetables. If the takeaway joint offers wholemeal pitta bread instead of the regular white version, going for that will add a little more fibre to your diet.

Oldrieve also points out that adding cheese or bacon (or both) to your burger order will increase calories and fat, so consider only having it as an occasional treat.

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