How to make fast food or takeaways healthier

By guest blogger, nutritionist Dr Joanna McMillan

While cooking meals is a great way to ensure you are getting a balanced and nutritious diet, sometimes we can’t always do this – for a variety of reasons or even for a little relief from cooking from scratch every now and again.

Over the years, I’ve had many clients tell me that looking for a healthy and fast food option can almost be as tiring as cooking it. Food is fun and we should all enjoy the pleasure of eating delicious balanced dishes but when you’re time-poor, it can be hard to identify a healthy option among convenient choices.

Takeaway can be seen as a nutritionally inferior option but if you’re smart about it, you can have a meal that ticks all the health boxes. Here are my tips for making the healthiest decisions when you’re time-poor:

How to make your takeaway healthier

  1. Look for veggies and count the colours. Try to see a rainbow on your plate and if you can’t, add more different coloured vegetables. If you’re waiting for takeaway to be delivered, prepare a quick salad while you wait. Pizza doesn’t have to be a ‘naughty’ meal either, just consider a vegetable topped pizza and forego processed meats like salami and bacon.
  2. healthier takeawayConsider dairy products as a way to add flavour to a dish. Consuming dairy products is a great way to increase your protein and calcium intake so look for mozzarella, parmesan, bocconcini or fetta.
  3. Opt for ‘smart’ carbs. Consider low-GI, carb-rich wholegrains like quinoa and legumes such as chickpeas, lentils or beans. Opting for brown rice over white rice and whole wheat spelt/wholemeal breads is a great place to start.
  4. Enjoy protein-rich foods. Protein helps you feel fuller for longer so enjoy lean meats and seafood, particularly oily fish like salmon or trout.
  5. Increase your healthy fat intake. Extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds are scientifically proven to be nutritious so consider adding these to your dishes – nuts are one of my favourites as they give you healthy fats, plant protein and fibre.
  6. By all means, order a curry. Curry is still something that can be enjoyed, why not pick out meat and veggies from a green curry, put it on some brown rice and drizzle over some sauce?
  7. Order your takeaway online. I have worked with Menulog on a world-first initiative to identify healthy meals for its users. In addition to analysing the complete nutrition details of restaurant menus, I added a couple more parameters for dishes to be accredited – dishes must have less than 6g of added sugar per 100g and less than 600mg sodium per 100g (and less than 2,300mg sodium per serve). The Healthy+ symbol sits beside dishes accredited as being healthy on Menulog so look out for it next time you order. So far, we’ve accredited dishes from more than 20 restaurants, with many more on the way right across the country. Visit

Joanna McMillan

About Dr Joanna McMillan:

Joanna McMillan is one of the best-known nutrition and wellbeing experts in Australia, an award-winning author, popular media spokesperson and a regular nutrition expert on Nine Network’s Today show. She has authored a number of books including the internationally published The Low GI Diet, The Low GI Diet Cookbook (Hachette Livre) and Star Foods. In 2010 she won Best Health, Nutrition or Diet Related Book at the Food Media Awards for Inner Health Outer Beauty.

Image credit: iStock