Healthy Restaurant Hacks & Dietitian Favourites

Who would have thought that cooking at home would be so exhausting!?

And your mealtime challenges are compounded further by bare grocery store shelves and a lack of time.  When you need a night off from cooking and dine-in restaurants aren’t an option, takeout can be a convenient alternative. Your local restaurant may save the day!

Even though restaurants are closed to eat-in diners, they may still offer takeout meals. Now is the perfect time to invest in takeout to save your sanity AND keep small businesses afloat. 

Making healthful choices from an online menu can be a challenge — especially since nutrition facts are not always posted to online menus.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind to help you decipher the meal delivery or take-out menu:

1. Go for whole grains

  • Ask if you can get brown rice instead of white.
  • See if noodle-heavy dishes (looking at you, lo mein) can be made with brown rice instead. Brown rice is a high-fiber whole grain, whereas noodles are made with processed white flour. Some restaurants like Kinton Ramen are now even starting to offer shirataki noodles that are very low in calories, so it’s OK if you overindulge a bit.
  • Opt for whole-wheat pizza crust. If that’s not an option, choose thin-crust pizza — even though it’s made from refined flour, a thinner crust will lighten the card coma.

2. Pick your protein wisely

  • Regardless of the restaurant, try to lower the fat content that will leave you feeling heavy by choosing Chicken or seafood instead of beef, lamb or pork.
  • Legumes or tofu can also be great light choices. 

3. Prioritize veggies

  • Takeout doesn’t mean you have to skimp on veggies. Try asking for double veggies in your dish, instead of unhealthy starchy options.
  • Skip the appetizer. Instead snack on some baby carrots, sliced cucumbers and celery sticks as an appetizer at home while you wait for your food to arrive, to keep you from overeating.
  • Swap in veg when possible 

    • Choose a side of broccoli or seasonal veg or garden salad instead of fries.
    • Get a lettuce bun for your burger.
    • A side salad and a broth-based vegetable soup
    • A side of salsa to use in place of ketchup or another sodium-heavy condiment.

4. Be wary of dairy

  • Dairy has nutritional value, but a takeout meal loaded with dairy can do more harm than good. 
  • To get the deliciousness with fewer calories, ask the restaurant to prepare the dish:

    • With half the cheese or a lower-fat cheese, such as American or provolone. (Or — even better — ask for the cheese on the side.)
    • Using avocado instead of dairy — the avocado has a great creamy texture.
    • Without condiments like sour cream (or ask for them on the side).
    • With a vinaigrette instead of ranch dressing. But make sure it’s a balsamic. Some vinaigrettes can be worse than a ranch if they are very high in sugar as well as fat

5. Forget anything fried

  • Terms to be mindful of include “crunchy,” “crispy,” “battered” and “breaded,” which often can mean they’re higher in fat from being deep fried. 
  • Baked, steamed, roasted or grilled are healthier ways to prepare foods. Try these:

    • Steamed summer roll instead of a deep-fried spring roll.
    • Grilled, not fried, chicken parmesan.
    • Steamed vegetable dumplings instead of fried wontons.
    • Soft-shell taco rather than a fried hard-shell taco (or even better — a taco salad with lettuce).
    • Baked potato instead of fries.

6. Skimp on the sauces

  • Many dishes are slathered in sauce, so ask for:

    • Less sauce.
    • Sauce on the side.
    • A veggie-based sauce (like marinara) instead of a cream-based sauce (saving you hundreds of calories and several grams of saturated fat).

7. Rethink your drink

  • Calories from sugar-sweetened beverages can add up quickly and provide little nutritional value. Choose options like water, low-fat or fat-free milk or drinks such as unsweetened coffee or tea.

Incorporate All Food Groups
Use the plate method to provide an easy tool for helping you have a balanced plate. Simply put, divide a plate into four quarter when you eat:

  • Carb: Fill one-quarter of your plate with grains. Choose whole grains when you can, such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, potato or whole grain bread.
  • Protein: Make one-quarter of your plate a protein food, such as fish, chicken or a lean source of meat.
  • Vegetables: The last half is for vegetables such as spinach, broccoli or carrots.

Local Dietitian Picks

  • Mezes (on the Danforth)

    • Fave dish – any of their salads topped with grilled calamari or shrimp with a side of roasted potatoes 
  • Bangkok vegetarian

    • Fave dishes – fresh rolls, Tom yum soup, Thai basil tofu 
  • Imperfect eats

    • Fave dish – build your own bowl with all the toppings, chipotle chicken or lemongrass tofu over 1/2 black rice, 1/2 greens 
  • Almond Butterfly Cafe (designates gluten-free)

    • Fave dishes – build your own breakfast sandwich with egg, turkey and tomato OR traditional breakfast with vegan kale Caesar salad
  • Chin Chin’s

    • Fave dishes – beef and broccoli over Napa salad or salmon poke bowl 
  • Riz

    • Fave dishes – chicken lettuce wraps, edamame, fresh cold rolls, thai satay’s, thai basil shrimp, plant based buddha bowl ​​
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