How to make takeout healthy

by W. Gifford-Jones M.D. and Diana Gifford-Jones
Common Sense Health

Eating takeout meals can be a way of life, often driven by the necessity for fast, convenient food. During the pandemic, enthusiasts for restaurant dining have created a surge in demand for takeout meals. Unfortunately, fast food outlets have never been beacons of nutritional value. But have times changed? With the plethora of new home meal delivery services and more conscious consumers, is it possible to eat healthy delivery or pickup meals?

Here are three tips.

First, watch out for sugar and salt. Today, most sodium consumed is from added salt during commercial food processing. Fast food outlets often use high levels of salt. Restaurants also tend to use excess salt. One study by Tufts University found that a single full-service meal contained more than twice the daily recommendation of 2,300 milligrams of sodium.

Sodium is found in soups, bread, processed meats, sauces and dressings. So, look carefully at the menu and enquire about low sodium options. Even if it is not offered on the menu, ask if you can swap French fries for a healthy fruit cup or cottage cheese.

Processed meat such as pepperoni, bacon, sausage, deli turkey and ham have been linked to cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and premature death. So, always think of moderation when choosing these foods.

Try to order seafood and poultry, looking for dishes that are baked, broiled, grilled, and steamed, rather than ones that are deep fried, breaded and served with butter and cream sauce.

Avoiding meat altogether is an option. Instead, select from minimally processed plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. The potassium in these foods helps to counter the effect of excessive amounts of sodium in other foods.

Go for high fiber bread, crackers, cereals and snacks, as fibre in the diet lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and even constipation.

Avoid sugary drinks and enormous desserts that contribute little good to your health.

The second tip is to limit portion sizes. Tufts researchers show how difficult it is to limit calories. One study showed that some restaurant meals (even without the drinks, appetizers, or dessert) contained more calories than recommended for an entire day for an average adult!

Studies also show that when people are presented with more food than they require, they will eat it. Many restaurants are overly generous with serving sizes. So order half sizes, split a meal with someone else, or choose appetizers instead of an entrée. When ordering delivered meals involving large quantities of food, set aside a portion for a subsequent meal.

The third tip is to be careful about falling victim to the convenience of take-out and delivery.

Instead of relying on services that bring food to you, make the effort to go to where healthier food options are available. For example, take the time to go for a walk to a take-out meal and get some much-needed outdoor refreshment. Have a picnic in a park.

Delivery services are wonderful, but they reinforce a sedentary lifestyle. Even the time spent standing while cooking in the kitchen is easily lost when a delivered meal becomes the ideal companion to the couch and more screen time.

Give it a try. Find a neighbourhood restaurant having healthy choices. Build time into your day for a walk to pick-up food.

Take your own water bottle. Eat smaller portions while enjoying the scene in a nearby park. With the walk back home, you will feel satiated, refreshed, and healthier.

The weekly column by W. Gifford-Jones, MD has been published without interruption for 45 years. The same no-nonsense tradition now continues in a father-daughter collaboration. Sign-up at to receive our weekly e-newsletter. For comments,