A home-cooked meal is often much healthier--and cheaper--than ordering out. But when you're short on time (and who isn't these days?), calling in delivery from time to time is inevitable. In fact, according to a recent survey from Technomic, 57% of consumers order take-out meals at least once a week, compared with 49% of consumers in 2008. Thankfully with a little bit of planning, you can safely navigate the menus of your favorite to-go joint. (Search: What are the worst take-out foods?) Read on for seven perfect orders from common restaurants. Each of the following meals contains between 400 and 500 calories and key nutrients to help you feel full and satisfied.
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Choose: Thin-crust veggie supreme pizza (about 460 calories for 2 large slices)
Pizza can be a reasonably nutritious meal if you build it right. To cut calories, opt for a thin crust. On a slice of Papa John's you'll save about 40 calories per slice just by selecting thin-crust. (Video: Lose Weight in Seconds) Skip or minimize extra cheese and meats that tend to be fatty, like pepperoni or sausage, and load up your pizza with veggies instead, suggests Hope Warshaw, RD, author of Guide to Healthy Restaurant Eating. In addition to saving you calories, the veggies will inject a couple of grams of dietary fiber into your meal (about 2 g a slice) as well as traces of vitamins.
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Choose: Ginger broccoli chicken (9 ounces) with brown rice (1 cup) (about 500 calories)
"There are lots and lots of options for making Chinese food healthier," says Marisa Moore, RD. Though many foods on the menu are breaded and fried, you usually have the opportunity to have them grilled or sautéed--just ask, Warshaw says. However, watch your portion sizes. Most Chinese food meals contain two to three servings, so off the bat, divide your food and eat only half. Ginger chicken and broccoli lets you load up on protein and other nutrients, and brown rice provides a serving of whole grains.
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Choose: A small salad with oil and vinegar, chicken Marsala (4 ounces or 1 breast), and a side of steamed broccoli (about 482 calories)
Start with a salad as a low-cal appetizer, and for your entrée opt for chicken, which packs a lot more protein than pasta (about 35 g per 4-ounce serving), says Moore. Marsala can be a viable option, as long as you control your portions (limit yourself to a piece of chicken roughly the size of a deck of cards). "It's very flavorful and it's not breaded. It also typically doesn't come with a ton of cheese and pairs well with vegetables," Moore says. Request a side of veggies to add bulk to your meal for fewer calories than pasta or meat. A cup of steamed broccoli will bring 6 g of fiber and substantial amounts of vitamins A and C to your plate.
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Choose: Chicken tikka over brown basmati rice(1 cup) (about 487 calories)
Skip dishes that are made with coconut-based curries and choose chicken or beef tikka. These dishes pack protein (about 27 g) without carrying too much fat, because the meats are marinated in yogurt and spices and then roasted, Moore says. Also check to see if the restaurant offers brown jasmine or basmati rice, which contain more filling fiber than white varieties.
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Choose: Edamame (1 cup), miso soup, 6 salmon and avocado rolls (about 444 calories)
"Edamame's a wonderful starter," Moore says. It's loaded with protein, fiber, and iron, and the pods slow the eating process to help keep portions in check. Eating miso soup before your meal also will help control your appetite. When you order a roll, select one of the smaller, simpler offerings such as tuna, or salmon and avocado, and choose brown rice, if possible. A salmon and avocado roll packs valuable omega-3s and monounsaturated fatty acids, which help fight belly fat.
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Choose: Green papaya salad, 1 summer roll, and 1 chicken satay skewer with 2 tablespoons of satay sauce (about 474 calories)
Think about making a meal out of appetizers. Thai summer rolls and green papaya salad, which are typically on the starters menu, give you a chance to fill up on fresh, not fried, ingredients. The salad will set you up with about 15% of your recommended daily fiber allowance, as well as a healthy dose of vitamins A and C. Cap off your meal with 1 skewer of chicken satay, which gives you more than 20 g of protein. Plus, the dipping sauce, which is made from peanuts, contains additional protein and heart-healthy MUFAs.
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Choose: Chicken fajitas with 1 tortilla (about 500 calories)
"Fajitas are always a winner," Warshaw says. You're getting nutrients from the peppers, and the meat is usually grilled. Plus, fajitas are served on soft tortillas, which are not fried, unlike hard tortillas. "Just skip the sour cream and don't eat too much," she says. Each tortilla can pack more than 100 calories, so a good way to control your calories would be to skip the tortillas altogether or eat only one.
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