Healthy alternatives to your favourite take-out foods

by Naomi Tupper on December 28, 2012 · 0 comments

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Take out foods may be quick and easy, but they are often laden with fat and calories and not a lot of nutrition.  By making your own version of your favourite take-outs, not only can you make them healthier, you can also improve the taste.  Making these tasty take-out alternatives at home can also help you save money and you may be surprised that most of them don’t take any longer than popping out to your local restaurant.

Pizza

Pizza can be extremely healthy, but unfortunately the majority of take out pizzas available are heavy in processed meats and cheeses, low in vegetables and high in calories.  Options such as stuffed, extra thick crusts and double cheese only add to the already high fat and calorie count.

However, do not panic if you are a pizza lover, as they are one of the easiest foods to make at home and you can customize them to suit your tastes as well as those of the rest of the family.

Pizza bases are readily available both fresh and frozen from supermarkets or you can whip up your own with a little forward planning.  If you are short on time, pita or other flat breads can work as a base.  Always choose wholemeal varieties where possible to bump up the fibre content and stick to a thin base to keep the calorie count down.

After you have chosen your base, the sky is the limit when it comes to toppings.  Healthier toppings that are low in calories could be vegetables (grill these first if they are very hard or use a tinned variety), tuna, lean meat, low fat sliced meats such as turkey, seafood and a little low fat cheese.  Using olive oil as a base for tomato sauces or to drizzle over the pizza also provides healthy unsaturated fats.  Avoid processed and fatty meats, as well as large quantities of cheese to reduce the saturated fat and calorie content.

Homemade pizzas make great healthy party foods, particularly for kids who can make their own topping.  Mini pizzas are also a good idea for portion control, as even if you choose a healthy base and topping, if you eat a whole family sized pizza it isn’t going to help your weight loss!

Hamburgers

Take-out hamburgers are another favourite that can easily be modified to reduce the fat and calories without losing taste.  In fact homemade burgers are often considerably tastier that the majority of fast food burgers, which are high in fat, especially unhealthy saturated fat, sugar, salt and calories.

When making a burger at home, choose a wholegrain bun as a high fibre starting point.  Top it with a barbequed or grilled burger made from lean mince, these can be bought from a supermarket or made by hand for a lovely chunky texture.

To lower calories and fat even further, if you make your burgers at home, add some grated vegetables to the minced meat, such as carrots, zucchini or pumpkin.  You won’t even taste the difference, but these provide extra nutrition and fibre, as well as reduce the amount of meat and therefore fat you are eating.

Finally, top your burger with plenty of salad and low fat condiments such as reduced fat mayonnaise or low fat yogurt dressing mixed with a little diced garlic.  A thin slice of low fat cheese may also be added, but try to avoid adding extra high fat toppings such as bacon.  Use herbs and spices for flavour, rather than fats.

Vegetarian burgers are also a good way to reduce fat and calories and still enjoy a good burger.  By making the burger with lentils, chickpeas or other legumes, fibre and nutrient content is vastly increased and fat and calories decreased.

Asian food

A lot of Asian food is already a healthy choice, such as steamed vegetable dishes and clear soups.  However, much of the take-out we eat consists of fried foods and high fat meats.  To make a healthier Asian style dish at home, choose a recipe based on vegetables and lean meats or fish.

When cooking noodles or rice at home, choose low methods such as steaming or quickly stir frying with a little vegetable oil in a very hot pan or wok.  Healthier versions of favourites such as fried rice and noodles can be made using a healthier stir-fry method with less oil, a large amount of vegetables and lean meats with skin and visible fat removed.

Subs and sandwiches

In a similar way to pizzas, the best place to start when making healthier versions of sandwiches or subs at home to a wholegrain or wholemeal bread base.  The next place to cut calories and fat is by leaving out butter or margarine.  Many commercial sandwiches have a thick spread of fat, no matter what the topping and in most cases this is unnecessary and adds very little to the sandwich in terms of taste.

As with pizza, it is best to choose low fat fillings, such as leans meats, vegetables and tuna fish, (in water if from a can).  Pack as many vegetables as possible into your sub for lots of vitamins and fibre.  Instead of high fat dressings such as mayonnaise, low fat yogurt with a dash of lemon juice and a little garlic and pepper makes a nice alternative.  A little balsamic vinegar can also add bite and moisten your sandwich, as can low fat cheeses such as cottage or reduced fat fetta.

French Fries

Possibly the most popular takeout food ever, French fries are notoriously high in fat, (usually of the unhealthy saturated version), and contain very little nutritional value apart from energy in the form of calories.  They are also high GI, meaning they cause a spike in blood sugar levels, which quickly drops leaving you hungry again.

To make a healthier version at home, oven baking is the best way to go.  Simply cut thick chunky chips (this leads to a lower surface area and less fat needed per chip), toss in a little olive oil and flavour with a little salt, or herbs and spices.  Roast in the oven until cooked through and crispy on the outside.  To make even more nutritious versions, use other vegetables such as sweet potato, which is low GI, or lower calorie options such as pumpkin, zucchini or beetroot.

Smoothies

Smoothies and milkshakes are a popular take-out food on the run, or simply to wash down a quick burger and fries at your local fast food joint.  Unfortunately, these are often very high in fat and calories, and contain little more nutrition than the calcium in the milk.

Smoothies may be a slightly healthier option; however, whilst these are advertised as a health food, often they provide as many calories as you should be eating at a whole meal.  Many commercial smoothies never see real fruit and are instead made with highly sweetened purees in addition to having added sweeteners such as honey or sweetened frozen yogurt or ice cream, all of which bump up the calories.  They are also generally very big in size, meaning of course that they contain a lot of calories.

To make a healthier version at home, aim for a size of around 250ml or a cup, as a snack or slightly bigger if it is replacing a meal such as breakfast.  Use low fat milk and natural low fat yogurt as a thickener and real fruit (frozen is ok), rather than syrups or purees.  Additions such as ice cream and frozen yoghurt should be avoided to lower calories, but crushed ice cubes can be used to thicken and provide good texture with no extra energy.  For a healthier chocolate fix, add a teaspoon of no added sugar cocoa to a banana smoothie.

Fried chicken

This is another take-out favourite that can easily be adapted to home cooking with much healthier results.  To lower the fat content, try shallow frying breadcrumbed chicken in a pan, rather than deep frying, using a much smaller amount of oil.  Always use healthy unsaturated oil such as canola or olive oil and have the oil as hot as possible before adding the chicken, as this causes the chicken to take up less of the oil.

Oven baked crispy chicken can also be very tasty.  Make sure the chicken skin is removed, as this contains a large amount of saturated fat, and use bread crumbs or even crushed cornflakes for a coating.  Bake in the oven until cooked through and crispy for a chicken dish that is much lower in fat.

It’s not that difficult after all….

Making healthy versions of take-outs at home is a great way to enjoy your favourites whilst still maintaining a healthy weight.  Home cooking allows you to increase the nutritional value of these foods, whilst reducing unhealthy fats and calories and often improving the taste as well.  Remember, for extra nutrition, serve these foods with a side salad and keep portion sizes reasonable for even lower calories.

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Naomi Tupper
About the author

Naomi studied Nutrition and Dietetics and Biotechnology. She is a certified dietician with experience in Type 2 diabetes and menu planning for weight loss. Naomi is a contributor for our Diet and Nutrition sections. You can connect with her on Facebook and Google+

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