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Your guide to healthier takeaways

Sometimes it’s just convenient to cosy up on the couch and order dinner in. Dietitian Karissa Woolfe shares how to find healthier takeaway cuisine.

When you’re pressed for time and have hungry bellies to fill, cooking a meal from scratch can take a back seat to a drive-through at the local fast-food joint or a home-delivered pizza. And ordering restaurant meals delivered to your door is also a new food trend, thanks to the rise of such online services as Menulog and UberEATS.

Evidence suggests that eating fast foods regularly can lead to weight gain, due to their excess kilojoules, and the average takeaway meal provides almost half of an adult’s average daily energy intake (8700kJ).

But takeaway doesn’t have to sabotage your healthy-eating habits. According to a recent study conducted by dietitian Geraldine Georgeou it’s possible to get up to three serves of vegetables in your ordered in meal.

“Ordering a healthy takeaway dish can help you meet your vege serve each day, as long as you follow some simple rules, such as ordering a side salad, choosing a stir-fry option or extra steamed greens with a main,” she says.

While we don’t encourage you to regularly rely on takeaway to feed your family, we understand that convenience dominates modern life. We put some of the most popular cuisines in the spotlight and show you how to give them healthy makeovers in three simple steps. A tastier, healthier takeaway starts here!

Step-by-step makeover

Let’s apply a three-step healthy makeover approach to takeaway food.

  1. Keep kilojoules in check: These days, many menus show the kilojoule value of each meal. Choose meals less than 2500kJ (about 600cal) and remember, the smaller you are the fewer kJ you need.
  2. Make special requests: Bulk up the vege serves and choose wholegrain carbs to pack your meal with more satisfying fibre, which helps to prevent overeating.
  3. Cut back on saturated fat and salt: Look for healthy cooking methods, skip high-fat add-ons and ask for the sauce or dressing on the side.

Top tip: Ask for extra salad and greens on burgers; make a side salad to complement pizza; or microwave veges to accompany a curry.

Thai and Chinese

Here’s how to give your favourite Asian dishes a healthy makeover.

  1. Keep kilojoules in check: Your best choice is a simple stir-fry with plenty of colourful vegetables, some lean meat, seafood or tofu, and a small amount of steamed rice or rice noodles. Our top Chinese picks are beef in black bean sauce, and chicken and cashew nut. For a lighter Thai meal, go for a Thai beef salad, with lots of fresh herbs, or chilli–basil chicken or beef.
  2. Make special requests: If the vege content looks light, request a side of steamed Chinese broccoli or bok choy, or a green papaya salad. Ask for plain steamed rice instead of fried rice to save you over 700kJ (168cal) per cup.
  3. Cut back on saturated fat and salt: Asian sauces tend to be extremely salty. If you have high blood pressure, find a dish that’s free of soy sauce or, better still, choose another cuisine. To cut the excess fat, avoid fried, battered and crispy meat, as well as fried noodles and entrees like oily spring rolls or curry puffs. Steer clear of curries and soups made from coconut milk, such as laksa, as they are very high in saturated fat.

Not-so-fantastic plastic containers

  • When you eat takeaway straight from the container, it’s hard to keep track of how much you’re actually consuming.
  • Before you tuck into your takeaway, transfer a healthy portion to a standard dinner plate and refrigerate the rest in a glass container to enjoy the next day.
  • A 2014 CHOICE report from Australia recommends avoiding re-heating food in clear plastic takeaway containers to reduce the risk of chemicals (plasticisers) contaminating food. While the extent of the risk is not clear, studies have shown chemical migration increases with fat content.

Healthy Food Guide ‘makeaway’ recipe alternatives

Sweet chilli chicken and noodle salad

Beef and black bean stir-fry


There’s nothing quite like an old-fashioned burger, but it’s very tempting to upsize, especially when you’re hungry-bordering-hangry.

A side of chips and can of soft drink can double the kilojoules without you even noticing.

  1. Keep kilojoules in check: Keep it simple. A plain burger comes with meat, salad and bread, but a burger with the lot has bacon, cheese and rich sauces, plus the combo deal — all of which provide extra fat, salt, sugar and kilojoules.
  2. Make special requests: Most places let you ‘build your own burger’. But never assume a boutique burger made with premium ingredients, such as a ‘low-carb’ bun or ‘crispy trim bacon’, is any healthier than a Big Mac. Check out what’s actually going into it and, where possible, have a look at the nutrition information
  3. Cut back on saturated fat and salt: Experiment with low-kilojoule ways to add flavour, such as roasted veges, a spicy tomato relish or fresh beetroot and grated carrot.

Healthy Food Guide ‘makeaway’ recipe alternatives

Top tip: Takeaways can be a balanced meal. Turn a kilojoule-laden ‘meal deal’ into an ‘ideal meal’ by using this healthy plate model.

Thai chicken burger with apple slaw

Tandoori chicken burger

Best beef burger

Mexican chicken burger  


Creamy pastas, hearty lasagne and garlic bread can be delicious, but with these smart tips you can enjoy a love affair with Italian cuisine without worrying about overdoing it. Buon appetito!


  1. Keep kilojoules in check: A healthy slice starts with the base, so forget a thick base with a cheese-stuffed crust. You’ll cut back on kilojoules, saturated fat and salt by ordering a light, thin base instead. Stick to a healthy serve of two slices, which may mean sharing a medium pizza among four people, or wrapping up leftovers for the next day or two.
  2. Make special requests: Don’t hesitate to ask for extra vegetables on your pizza, such as mushrooms, courgette, capsicum and onion. Or, make a big green salad at home to increase your vege intake.
  3. Cut back on saturated fat and salt: Meatlovers’ pizzas tend to be higher in saturated fat and sodium, owing to the hefty mix of ham, bacon, salami and pepperoni. Swap for a vegetarian, chicken or seafood pizza, but also try to avoid or limit other salty suspects, such as feta and anchovies, and enjoy smaller amounts of cheese.
  4. A better crust: Swap a cheese-stuffed crust for a thin crust to slash around 200kJ (48cal).


  1. Keep kilojoules in check: Tomato-based pasta dishes, such as napolitana and marinara, are much lower in kilojoules and saturated fat than those with creamy sauces, such as carbonara. To keep your meal balanced, have the pasta dish cover no more than half your plate (around 1–1 1/2 cups total).
  2. Make special requests: Bump up the veges by ordering a rocket and pear side salad or a garden salad to fill the other half of your plate. Or save money by putting together a quick tossed salad at home and dressing it with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
  3. Cut back on saturated fat and salt: Omit the side of garlic bread, and season your pasta with black pepper instead of loads of cheese. Just two small pieces of garlic bread can add over 700kJ (170cal) to your meal.

Healthy Food Guide ‘makeaway’ recipe alternatives

Salmon and mushroom pizza

Pork meatballs with spicy tomato sauce

Parma ham pizza


With all of those aromatic spices, Indian food is a real feast for the senses but some dishes can be high in energy and salt. Here’s how to keep it on the menu, in a healthier way.

  1. Keep kilojoules in check: Butter chicken and lamb rogan josh are favourites, but the coconut cream they’re made with can see the kilojoule and saturated fat content soar. Spice things up by ordering your favourite dish, plus a healthier dahl or vegetable curry (without coconut milk), so that you can enjoy classic flavours, but in smaller portions.
  2. Make special requests: Choosing dahl or a vegetable curry also increases your vege intake. Or you can microwave green beans, carrots or cauliflower to have on the side. Cooking your own rice, such as low-GI basmati or doongara, is another smart swap.
  3. Cut back on saturated fat and salt: Avoid ordering extras, like cheesy stuffed naan, curry puffs and samosas or deep-fried poppadums. If you don’t want to miss out on the crunch, buy plain poppadums from the supermarket and microwave them. You won’t notice the difference!

Healthy Food Guide ‘makeaway’ recipe alternatives

Indian chicken and vegetable curry

And here’s  all our healthier homemade takeaway recipes.


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