Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Healthy Takeout on a Budget

As I write this, I’m sitting at home on our futon with 14 local menus to my left. The Boyfriend and I had spaghetti tonight (delicious, delicious spaghetti), but were pretty tempted to order takeout. We do that sometimes, because A) we like food, B) we like a variety thereof, and C) dishes. (As an aside, I’m convinced that dirty dishes are the root cause of 90% of roommate fights. Sign up for off-campus college housing and see for yourself.)

Ordering takeout occurs with some frequency in our abode. It keeps us from falling into a culinary rut and lets us feel like we’re treating ourselves. However, it’s always a challenge to do so cheaply and healthily. Sesame Chicken is tempting, see. So are sushi and pad thai and chicken parm and samosas and nachos and … oh man, I just wet myself. Anyway, my budget and waistline are forever working against me, and sometimes I have to eschew the deep-fried diamond-encrusted dodo eggs for something simpler and less heart attacky.

With that in mind, today’s post is a short-n-handy reference guide to ordering meals by phone. Essentially, it’s eight different, common takeout cuisines with a few inexpensive, semi-nutritionally sound foods assigned to each one. Weight Watchers, Calorie King, and Real Simple helped provide the health information, while the previously mentioned 14 Brooklyn-area menus supplied the pricing. For brevity’s sake, it concentrates on takeout only, since restaurant dining is a whole other ball of noodles.

Ah, but before we begin, a few tips on maximizing your cheap, healthy experience:
  • If you order an unexpectedly large portion, put half in the fridge as soon as you have it. It’ll make for a great lunch tomorrow.

  • Remember that you may get more bang for your buck from some takeout joints (Chinese, Indian) than from others (Japanese). If you’re looking to feed a crowd, the less-expensive option might be the better choice.

  • To reduce cost, calories, and fat all at the same time, minimize fried foods and go easy on the meat and cheese.

  • Consider ordering appetizers only, as they can be much less expensive.

  • If you’re concerned about calories, fat, or sodium, check nutritional information online before ordering. Calorie King is a great general reference, and many chain restaurants have the stats posted somewhere on their sites.

  • Have condiments or light dressings at home? Use ‘em and save packets that come with the meal.

  • If you have a similar item in the pantry, don’t order beverages.

  • Save the environment! Tell the phone operator you don’t need utensils, since you have silverware in your kitchen.

  • Tip the delivery guy. If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford takeout.

And now, the list! (Incidentally, I'd love to add to this, so if you have suggestions, please bring 'em on.)

Boiled wontons
Chicken, shrimp, or vegetable egg foo yung
Chinese vegetables with tofu
Egg drop or hot and sour soup
Fortune cookies
Steamed chicken, shrimp, or vegetables with brown or garlic sauce on the side
Steamed shrimp or vegetable dumplings
White or brown rice

Bean burrito (easy on the cheese and sour cream)
Black bean soup
Black or pinto beans
Chicken or vegetable soft taco (easy on the cheese)
Rice and beans
Salsa or pico de gallo

Chicken satay (easy on the peanut sauce)
Ginger chicken
Salads (minus peanuts, no or light dressing)
Thai chicken with basil (breast)
Thai seafood salad
Tom yum kung (hot-and-sour shrimp soup)

Chicken, shrimp, tofu, or vegetable soba
Chicken, shrimp, tofu, or vegetable udon
Maki sushi (in small quantities)
Miso soup
Nigiri sushi (in small quantities)
Nori maki sushi (in small quantities)
Seaweed salad
Steamed vegetable dumplings

Baba ghanoush
Cucumber raita
Greek salad (no or lite dressing)
Souvlaki (1 skewer)
Souvlaki sandwich

Middle Eastern
Cucumber raita
Lentil soup
Shish kebab (marinated meat and vegetables)
Tabbouleh (1/2 cup)
Yogurt and cucumber soup

Bean and/or lentil stew
Chicken tikka
Chicken tikka masala
Cucumber raita
Lassi (1 cup)
Poori (Puri)
Tandoori chicken without skin

Baked clams
Lentil soup
Linguini with red clam sauce (1 cup pasta, ½ cup sauce)
Pasta primavera (1 cup pasta, ¾ cup sauce)
Salad (no or lite dressing)
Thin-crust cheese pizza (one slice)

(Photo courtesy of msnbc.)

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Dani said...

In Australia, all Asian takeouts have a plain stir fried vegetable dish which, with rice makes an ample meal.

michelle @ TNS said...

baba ganouj and tikka masala make up 98% of my takeout purchases.

the other 2% is baby back ribs. every day i thank the baby jesus that i live in a neighborhood where someone will bring delicious ribs to my front door.

Monica said...

Indian: Saag paneer and aloo gobhi are also on the healthy end, as well as most vegetable curries. Yes, they're both made with butter, but they're mostly vegetables in butter, which is better than lamb in butter.

If you have a Korean takeout nearby, bibimbap has infinite variations and most of them are healthy as takeout goes, although not quite as healthy as my home bibimbap.

Beef or chicken with broccoli from Chinese restaurants is good, and you can go heavy on the broccoli. Actually, I'm pretty accepting of most stir-fried vegetable-oriented dishes in Chinese restaurants, my logic being that I use that technique at home. My local place has a menu item that consists of baby bok choy, shitake mushrooms, and a chicken-broth sauce with ginger and mustard--healthy, and yummy, although I'm not sure how widely available it is.

Finally, Greek delis often have wonderful bean salads and marinated vegetables.

Anna said...

Hi, this is a great blog you have here. I have been looking for link partners for my own recipes site. Would you be interested in exchanging links? I have placed your link at already.

My site URL is
and the title is Low Calorie and Vegetarian Recipes. Thanks!