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The Take-Out Era. How to Navigate To-Go Foods During a Pandemic

We all know by now that home cooked meals are the better way toward good health. But sometimes……

When it comes to convenience, cooking a good meal might not be on the top of your to-do list. It is understandable. Even through this pandemic, having more time at home does not necessarily translate into more healthy home cooked meals. For a lot of households, more time at home means more clutter, more responsibilities that need micro-managing, more attention to detail other than food. Kind of a backward way of doing things because we all know how important sustenance is to our good health.

So, let’s dive in. If you have noticed that more meals come into the house already prepared than those where you do the preparing, it might be helpful to know just what you are ordering from those take-out places and how you can cut way down or make healthy swaps on those harmful ingredients.

You might not be surprised to know that sugar, fats, and salt are the top culprits when it comes to ordering by phone or stopping for a meal at the take-out window. Processed food is the technical term for drive through foods or frozen meals at the grocery store. Any whole meal that comes in a box or a bag is likely to have preservatives added to the food to keep it shelf stable and likely to have a high sodium count. Our bodies only need 500 milligrams per day, and we average 3,500 per day. Same for take-out window/drive thru window foods. The food comes whole and frozen to those locations and includes shelf/freezer preservatives which the kitchen crew has then set to a timed schedule of how to cook each food item and for how long to make it taste “real” and as if it were prepared just for you, fresh in the moment you ordered it.

A quick look at some of the foods that we should pay more attention to:

Chicken Nuggets rarely contain only chicken. Nuggets pre-made mostly contain bulking agents and leftover bits of carcass which includes more fat and little protein. Here is an example:

McDonald’s 10-piece Chicken Nugget Meal Nutrition –

Calories: 950

Fat: 40g

Sodium: 1155mg

Sugar: 56g

Chicken nuggets and tenders made from home by using baking, broiling or an air fryer are healthier option to consider if you want to keep these little golden gems in your meal rotation. Choose cutlet that contains as little visible fat as possible, cut up chicken breast into nuggets or strips and season with your favorite spices and do not forget to use your favorite choice of bread to make your own breadcrumbs. The more you control how you prepare your food, the healthier the food will be.

This is a big one, Chinese Food We all know that feeling so full so quickly from eating Chinese food. The reason is because most Chinese food restaurants use a flavor additive called MSG, Mono-sodium Glutamate. MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, a common amino acid which interacts with the salt that is put on the Chinese food along with the MSG. If you experience “Chinese food syndrome” you are reacting to the MSG. You might experience symptoms like your throat swells, and an instant migraine headache. It feels as if your temples are being squeezed tight in a vise and the pain is immediate.

If you have a good relationship with your local Chinese restaurant, it pays to ask if your favorite dishes can be prepared without MSG. Ask if any fried dish you want to order can be lightly fried instead of deep fried or sauteed in light oil. Brown sauce is a culprit of unhealthy Chinese food.

Chow Mein Nutrition (1 cup) -

Calories: 513

Fat: 20g

Sodium: 860mg

Sugar: 9g

General Tso’s Chicken Nutrition (1 order) -

Calories: 1577

Fat: 88g

Sodium: 2327g

Sugar: 62g

Choose steamed vs. fried foods like dumplings but ditch the soy sauce because it is very high in sodium. Choose brown rice vs. white rice. To make this a healthier dish and cut those numbers way down choose thin rice noodles, sesame oil, chicken broth, low salt soy sauce, garlic, assortment of vegetables including cabbage, arrowroot (acts the same as cornstarch) and a dash of brown sugar or any sugar substitute you like.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Salads

(and sometimes it's not so easy to tell)

We tend to think that if we are eating salad, we get a free pass to having to think about our meal because the meal is all health approved vegetables. Well, not quite. Let’s look at what goes on top of the salad because I bet just eating naked salad is not the choice.

Restaurant salad has a host of high fat ingredients such as creamy dressing options, crispy fried noodles or crispy chicken, croutons, bacon bits, cheese, tortilla strips, sour cream, etc. A healthy salad will be a bit trickier to achieve but your body will thank you so much and use the goodness of the vegetables to better health advantages simply because you made a few changes.

Healthy Salad Swaps:

Baked Chicken > Crispy (Fried Chicken)

Vinaigrette Dressing > Creamy Dressing

Fork Dip Method > Pouring Dressing on Salad

Goat or Feta Cheeses (small amount) > Shredded Cheeses like Cheddar (handful)

Seeds and Cruciferous Veggies > Croutons

*An easy way to tell if your fruits or vegetables are safe and fresh is the sight, smell, and touch test. Uniform color, no resistance when touched, no odd odor at all.

...And last but not least....Pizza!

Pizza is probably the easiest food to make healthy without too much fuss. Using whole wheat flour or whole white wheat flour as your base is the first step. Nowadays you can also use chickpea flower, cauliflower, buckwheat flour, oat flour, almond flour, or a plethora of other healthier dough options. Get creative because you can.

In a healthy food article put out by, “it all starts with the crust.” And just like we saw when making a healthy salad, making a healthy pizza is all about the toppings. Meat toppings can boost saturated fat, salt, and calories while vegetables tend to yield a lower calorie pizza. Example:

Large slice of Pizza Hut’s Thin ‘N Crispy Veggie Lovers Pizza

Calories: 240

Fat: 6g

Sodium: 710mg

Large Slice Pizza Hut’s Meat Lovers Pan Pizza

Calories: 480

Fat: 21g

Sodium: 860mg

Convenience pizza found in the frozen section of the grocery store list their ingredients and nutritional statistics on the box and therefore it is super important to read the nutritional labels. Making pizza a once per month treat will satisfy a healthy diet and will yield a lot less sodium intake for children and adults.

A healthier version to make more often will include sauce you make yourself to control the salt intake, will include fresh veggies, skim milk mozzarella cheese or a healthier cheese, and healthier cooked meats. Change the way you create your pizza base by using whole wheat English muffins, small wheat bagels, whole wheat pita bread, sourdough bread or rye bread. And don’t forget to add spices to your homemade dough and toppings. The more flavor you use the fewer add-ons you’ll need and the fewer calories you will consume.

Check out some of these companies for great meal kits and prepared foods:

These types of companies take the guess work and the shopping out of the dinner equation. Some you still have to prep but they help with portion control, not wasting produce, and fresh/clean ingredients.

  1. Every Plate - Fresh food meal kit with easy recipes and good portions.

2. Freshly - Pre-made meals delivered to your door.

3. Feast & Fettle - For my Massachusetts followers, this is an amazing meal delivery service!

4. The Strong Kitchen - For my Connecticut followers, this is a great meal delivery service!

For more personalized help with nutrition or meal plans, please email

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