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There’s nothing quite like picking up takeout after a long day. And it’s an indulgence we turn to pretty often – the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that more than 36 percent of Americans consume fast food on any given day. Who can blame them? Not having to cook is the ultimate convenience, especially when it’s something you’ve been craving. But there’s a bit of a catch: Dining on takeout isn’t exactly the healthiest or most mindful choice.
Across the board, takeout tends to be more unhealthy than meals you cook at home. But just because you’re being careful with your diet doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to fast food forever. Check out these expert tips to help you navigate takeout food in a mindful way.
Portion out the food
Often, takeout places are generous on portion sizes. But just because you’re given a certain amount of food doesn’t mean you have to eat it all at once. Jake Mossop, a WW D360 coach and registered nurse, says you don’t have to eat your whole order in one go. “Enjoy it over a few meals. When it arrives, portion it out right away!”
One study published in the journal Appetite supports the idea of divvying up your takeout meals into smaller portions. This research evaluated the eating habits of women and found that “packaging uneaten food after a meal could be an effective strategy to reduce overconsumption from large portions.”
The next time you order takeout, try pre-portioning the food into amounts that will leave you full and satisfied before digging in. As an added bonus, doing this gives you the chance to enjoy your tasty takeout meal for at least another day.
Always opt for veggies
According to the CDC, only one in 10 adults are actually getting enough fruits and veggies each day. It’s recommended that adults eat at least two to three cups of vegetables and around two cups of fruit per day. So, to shore up your fruit and veggie intake, try ordering as many vegetables as you can from fast food places.
You can feel better about your takeout dinners if vegetables are included in the meal. And it’s surprisingly easy to add veggies to your go-to dishes. Load your burger up with tomatoes, lettuce, and onions, or opt for a side salad instead of fries. You can also add vegetables as pizza toppings, into pastas and, of course, to takeout salads.
All you have to do is take the time to scour the menu and see which meal choices offer the most vegetables before placing your order.
Combine takeout with foods at home
It can be tempting to order takeout when you know there’s food waiting in your fridge or pantry at home. If you can’t resist picking something up from your favorite fast food place, why not try combining it with something you can make or already have waiting in your fridge?
“Make your takeout order a complement to something else you already have at home,” says Mossop. For instance, you can cook the main course and pick up a side or appetizer in the drive thru. That way, you’re getting the best of both worlds and feel better about your takeaway splurge. Plus, it’ll help your money go farther – by utilizing your takeout and your groceries together, you’ll make your food last longer.
Prioritize certain menu items above others
It’s no secret that some restaurant menu items are healthier than others. Whether you’re concerned about your sodium intake, the fat content, total carbohydrates or other nutritional values, you can stay on track by choosing certain foods over others.
“Restaurant meals do tend to be heavier in saturated fats, like oils, but there are ways to navigate take out menus that can help you to counteract this,” suggests Mossop. “Go for steamed over fried, bulk up on veggies and, when possible, choose proteins that are lower in saturated fat like chicken over pork or beef.”
And if you’re ordering with a certain eating approach or dietary restrictions in mind, seek out restaurants that offer customizable or build-your-own meals. This will give you more control – and help you make more mindful, healthful choices as you create a meal that suits your tastes and needs.
Don’t be tempted by coupons
Ordering from fast food joints is a great option because for the most part, it’s quite affordable. And in addition to low prices, these takeout joints often offer incentives, coupons or meal deals that can help you save money and get the most food for your dollar.
However, while it’s super tempting to take advantage of these deals, you could end up getting more food than is needed – and you’re likely to overeat.
“Order based on hunger, not coupons,” says Mossop. “It can be so tempting to get all the add-ons based on the weekly special, but unless you plan to stick with right-for-you portions when it arrives, stick with ordering what you plan on eating at that moment.”
Skip the guilt
It can be easy to beat yourself up when you’re indulging in something unhealthy. Regardless, you should never let yourself feel bad for eating takeout. There’s no reason to!
Mossop is a believer that takeout doesn’t have to be vilified; it won’t be the one thing that completely ruins your wellness goals. “Don’t ever feel guilty about something you ate. We must be kind to ourselves,” he said. “Research shows that demonstrating self-compassion results in more weight loss success over time – because it allows us to shift our mindset and make healthier decisions as we move forward.”
Even if your wellness goals aren’t weight loss related, the same idea can apply. “One meal and one day in your journey is not going to ruin all the healthy habits you’ve been working on.”
Simply enjoy the meal and get back to your usual cooking habits the next day.
For more ideas and tips on how to keep takeout healthy, keep reading: