TIPS TO LIVE BY

How to Eat Healthy When Ordering From a Delivery Service

April 15, 2021 - Katie McCallum

Some days, you just don't have the time or the energy to cook a meal — it's as simple as that.

This used to mean resorting to heating whatever you could find in your freezer or stopping for fast food.

Now, it means firing up your favorite food delivery app and choosing from the numerous restaurant options available.

Meal delivery services are certainly convenient, and the end result is restaurant-quality food sitting on your doorstep. But is ordering from a delivery service really any healthier than picking up fast food?

"It's certainly possible to eat healthy when ordering from a delivery service, but, unfortunately, it's probably easier to order an unhealthy meal than a healthy one," warns Dr. David Victor, director of the metabolic liver disease program at Sherrie and Alan Conover Center for Liver Disease & Transplantation at Houston Methodist Hospital. "None of these meal delivery apps offer calorie counts or nutrition facts, which makes it hard to separate what's healthy from what's not."

Next time you're browsing through Uber Eats, Door Dash, Postmates, Grub Hub, Favor, ChowNow — whichever app you swear allegiance to or just have a coupon for — try these eight tips for eating healthy when ordering from a delivery service:

1. Choose grilled over fried

When fried foods are an option, they can be hard to resist. But, Dr. Victor says it's important to fight the urge.

"The fact of the matter is that submerging food in cooking oil — which is what deep frying is — increases the calories, carbs and fat content of the food. Not only is eating fried food an easy way to overdo it on your daily calorie intake, the extra fat you're getting isn't the healthy type of fat. And if it's frying oil that's been used over and over, which is common in restaurants, unhealthy trans fats may be present."

Instead of fried options, Dr. Victor stresses the importance of going grilled. Lean proteins, such as chicken or fish, that are grilled are the healthiest choices.

2. Substitute your sides

This one's hard — we know — but, if you want to order healthy, it's important.

"If your meal comes with fries, substitute for a non-starchy veggie option, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, green beans or a side salad. If you're worried about feeling full, ask for extra veggies or order an extra vegetable. This will give you more food and variety, but, more importantly, it will help you feel full," says Dr. Victor.

3. Know that not all salads are created equal

There's always a way to turn a healthy menu item into one that's less-than-healthy — and salads are probably the perfect example. What should be a great source of veggies and lean protein can easily turn into a creamy, cheesy, calorie-laden meal.

"The most important thing with a salad is to check what's actually in it. Or, if you're building it yourself, making healthy choices. Unhealthy toppings and dressings can quickly pack in the calories," says Dr. Victor.

Here are Dr. Victor's do's and dont's of ordering a salad:

  • Do make sure it's filled with plenty of leafy greens
  • Do add plenty of non-starchy veggies, such as bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and mushrooms
  • Do choose a lean protein, like grilled chicken, turkey or shrimp
  • Do ask for the dressing on the side
  • Don't add bacon bits, fried noodles or chips
  • Don't pick a protein that's been fried
  • Don't confuse pasta salad, potato salad, coleslaw or any other cream-based "salad" with real salad

Pro tip: With that dressing on the side, leverage the fork-dip method. Take your empty fork, dip into the dressing and then spear a bite of salad. This is an easy way to avoid excess calories and you'll be surprised by how much you can still taste the dressing.

4. Skip the appetizer and dessert

It's true, variety is the spice of life. But it's also true that too much food is...too much food.

Sure you can commit to portion controlling yourself while eating that appetizer and only eating a few bites of your dessert. But first, do you really trust yourself to accomplish that? And, second, what if it's still too much food?

"The more food you order, the likelier you are to overeat. If you do want something in addition to your main meal, opt for a small side salad and ask for the dressing on the side," recommends Dr. Victor. "As for dessert, these items are often packed with added sugar, simple carbs and saturated fat — none of which are particularly healthy."

5. Be cautious about relying on the "Healthy" filter many apps offer

Sometimes, you don't want to think and you just want to let the algorithms do the work for you. And while some food delivery apps have a "Healthy" filter that seems to weed out the obviously unhealthy options, like fast food chains and burger joints, approach this filter with extreme caution.

"Just because a restaurant is tagged as 'healthy' doesn't mean everything it offers is actually healthy," warns Dr. Victor. "We've already talked about how a salad can easily be made unhealthy, but there might also just be other less-than-healthy things on their menu, like fried foods, creamy sauces and enormous portions."

For instance, poke restaurants are a prominent staple in the healthy section of many delivery apps. But Dr. Victor points out that a single poke bowl can easily contain over 1,000 calories.

"Rather than relying on a filter or setting, leverage the healthy tips above when ordering your meal," recommends Dr. Victor. "You might even try having some pre-loaded options ready to go for when you're acting fast and don't want to accidentally make an unhealthy decision."

6. Consider splitting heavier meals

Sometimes, you just really need that burger and fries. And that's okay — sometimes.

"When you do order something less healthy, you can still do yourself the healthy favor and split the meal with someone. If you're worried you'll still be hungry, order a side of veggies! Then you get a little of everything," says Dr. Victor.

And if you don't have someone to split with, save what doesn't fit on your plate (we're just about to get to this) for another meal.

7. Resist the urge to eat straight from the to-go container

What's always been a bit of an unhealthy issue with eating at a restaurant remains an issue when you're using a delivery service — enormous portions that exceed what you need.

"Most restaurant serving sizes are more than a single serving. To overcome this, I recommend taking food out of the delivery container and putting it on a standard 9-inch plate. Half of your plate should consist of veggies and/or fruit, a quarter of it should be made up of protein, and, ideally, carbs should be limited to about the size of your fist," explains Dr. Victor.

If there's extra food that doesn't fit on your plate, save it! You don't have to eat all that is delivered to you in a single sitting.

8. Limit yourself to three times a week

With something as convenient as a meal delivery service, it can be easy to overdo it without even noticing.

"If you're ordering from a delivery service more than three times a week, make sure you're working to understand how many calories you're getting. This may mean checking the restaurant's website for nutrition info and calorie counts. What you definitely don't want to do is repeat the same unhealthy mistakes several times a week without even knowing it," says Dr. Victor.

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