Diet therapy

Healthy ideas for family takeaway meals

healthy hamburgerDid you know that in 2012 around 21% of New Zealander’s weekly food expenditure was spent on eating out and takeaways? A survey of New Zealand children in 2011/12 found that 7% of children 2-14yrs ate fast food three or more times per week.

More takeaways were consumed by Maori and Pacific Island children than other ethnic groups. Also children living in deprived areas were more likely to have eaten takeaways 3 or more times per week (12%) than those children living in the least deprived (2%).

Why do people buy takeaway foods?

They taste good

Normally served hot, fried and crispy these foods usually contain extra fat, salt and sugar that appeals to most people’s taste buds. For families whose children may have a myriad of food dislikes, takeaways offer more alternatives than are usually available at home so are welcomed by everyone as “a treat”.


Busy families trying to cram lots of activities into one day may find picking up a takeaway meal a welcome break from cooking a regular meal at home.

Cheap and fast

Some takeaways are a cheaper alternative to cooking a regular meal at home and can be served a whole lot faster.

Availability and entertainment

Whether you are looking for a coffee to go, a snack or main meal you don’t have to go very far within a city block to find some form of takeaway outlet. Often here too you may find provided a space to sit and dine; playground facilities for children; a place to watch TV; colouring in and games to occupy children; entertainment such as bowling allies or pools or just a space for young people to “hang out”.


A takeaway meal can also provide the opportunity for people to try new foods that they may not know how to cook at home. It is now possible to enjoy Japanese foods such as Sushi; Mexican; Egyptian, Indian; Chinese; Vietnamese; Thai etc  cuisine without having to leave New Zealand or take a course in international cooking.

What are the health concerns regarding takeaway foods?

The odd takeaway every month or so is unlikely to harm an active child.However when eaten on a regular basis they may cause problems in the following ways:

Fat content

Takeaways are often fried foods and therefore contribute large amounts of saturated fat and salt into the diet that can contribute to excessive weight gain, diabetes and increased risk of heart disease.

Vitamins and minerals

Although takeaway foods may be a rich source of energy, they are often a poor source of vitamins and minerals that we all need for physical and mental wellbeing. This is more of a problem for those who regularly eat fried foods e.g. fish and chips, pies, hot dogs and fried chicken meals where fresh vegetables are not included.

Cooking skills are declining

Some health professionals are concerned that a heavy reliance on pre-prepared foods not only is contributing to a loss of cooking skills within the home, but is also laying more families bare to opportunities for the contraction of harmful food bourne bacteria and food poisoning.

Cost factors

If expected and eaten regularly takeaway foods can make a big hole in a small food budget and this may add an unnecessary financial burden to some families on the “bread line”.

Despite these negative factors the takeaway industry is here to stay and there are certainly many times when because of a lack of time or for convenience we need them. It’s all about food choice.

Finding a healthy takeaway

The following hints aim to reduce your intake of fat, especially saturated sources, and salt while trying to incorporate more nutritious meal options that are fast and low-fat for when time is limited.

Here are two simple tips that can greatly reduce the negative effects of a takeaway meal.

1. Replace fat with fibre

Choose sandwiches instead of savouries; filled rolls instead of pies; muffins or scones instead of cakes and cookies; fruit instead of chocolate; soups instead of thick shakes; salads or baked potato instead of chips.

2. Watch what you drink

Also be wary of adding to the calorie load of a takeaway meal by choosing drinks to have with them that are energy laden. A diet soft-drink, bottle of water or a trim milkshake contains considerably fewer kilocalories than a normal soft-drink, juice or beer.

In the Health of NZ Children Survey 2011/12 the Ministry of Health found “that 20% of children aged 2-14yrs drank soft drink more than 3 times a week. After adjusting for ethnic group, age and sex, children living in the most deprived areas were1.8 times as likely to have had 3 or more fizzy drinks as children living in the least deprived areas.”

How do takeaways compare?

Often making very subtle changes to the way food is prepared or cooked can greatly reduce it’s fat and energy content.

High Fat Option Fat (g) Energy kcal.kJ Lower Fat Option Fat (g) Energykcal/kJ
(average serving)
Butter chicken & rice



Chicken chow mein



Fried rice



Boiled rice



McDonalds® cheeseburger



Subway 6″ turkey®



MacDonalds Big Mac® burger



Chicken souvlaki



Meat pie



Potato topped pie



Fried chips (scoop)



Medium baked potato



Pasta + cream sauce



Pasta + tomato sauce



Pizza Hut Reg® supreme



Cheese toastie



MacDonald’s Sundae®



Low fat yoghurt



Fried fish (1 piece)



Grilled fish (1 piece)



Sausage roll



Currant bun



Banana cake



Bran muffin



Potato crisps (50g)






Peanut chocolate bar



Muesli bar Mother Earth®



Tips for making healthier choices

Eating out

It can be fun to try different foods but a couple of simple tips can greatly reduce your fat intake.

  • Chips- choose wedges instead of shoe-string fries or crinkle cut chips.
  • Cooking method- grilled fish has less fat than fried
  • Type of fat -some takeaway outlets use oil for cooking rather than meat tallow. Oil is a healthier alternative but remember that the kilocalorie content will be similar.
  •  If friends are going out to buy fish and chips then other, healthier options for you could include:

Hamburgers, extend with beetroot, pineapple, salad or onion rings rather than layers of more meat, cheese or egg.

Pizza, especially thin based, with chicken, seafood or vegetables rather than meat lovers, or those covered in ham or salami. Even healthier when served with salad.

Asian, choose dishes based upon vegetables e.g.chicken chow mein and order steamed rice rather than fried. Also there are fewer kilocalories in sauces such as sweet and sour than in those based in coconut which is a source of saturated fat.

Vegetarian kebabs or souvlaki, these are healthy because of their high vegetable content

Sushi uses fresh foods that aren’t fried

Toasted sandwiches – you can reduce the fat by choosing only one protein food eg have cheese and tomato rather than ham and cheese.

Subway®– these are particularly healthy if you choose whole grain bread with lots of vegetables and one protein filling (such as meat, egg or cheese) rather than having all three protein filling.

Potatoes, baked, stuffed potatoes.

Yoghurt and a banana.

Milkshakes or smoothies made with trim milk and no ice cream.

Homemade fast foods

While it is fun eating takeaways away from home, a similar style of food can be eaten at home simply by having ingredients on hand to make meals quickly. If you plan to do this when you out shopping it is easier to have foods on hand when you need them. Also if you can keep in your freezer things such as pizza bases, pita bread, Panini, hamburger buns, wraps then these foods can also provide a great vehicle for using up leftovers. e.g:

Souvlakis- pita bread filled with left overs you may have in your fridge or freezer such as beef, chicken or lamb; chilli beans plus humus, salad/coleslaw and tzatziki.

Panini’s—fill with low-fat cheese or chicken or pastrami or ham or salmon with pesto, spinach, mushrooms and tomato.

Pizza—Pita bread base with tomato puree, mozzarella cheese and your favourite toppings.

Hamburgers-if you put out on your bench ingredients such as grated cheese, tomato, lettuce, beetroot, cooked patties, onion and mushrooms then everyone can assemble their own burger.

Omelette—Salad, beetroot, bread rolls. Bulk up omelette with rice, potato, or use left over vegetables to make a frittata.

Pasta—topped with mince, meatballs, tomato based sauce and grated cheese.

Rice Risotto—cook rice in the microwave with chopped onion, vegetables and ham.

Stir fries—Vegetables and fast cooking meats such as schnitzel, beef, pork or chicken.

Baked potatoes—Top with a small can of tuna, chilli beans or salmon and serve with a salad.

Toasted sandwiches—Low fat cheese and tomato or baked beans, serve with a green salad.

Fish cakes—combine a small can of salmon, mashed potato and a beaten egg; add herbs and seasonings to taste. These can be made ahead and frozen until needed. Then grilled or microwaved and serve in a hamburger or with a salad or cooked vegetables.

Saving money this way can divert funds to other healthier activities the family can share such as a trip away, going bowling, playing mini golf, going to a swimming pool etc

If you would like more ideas on how to reduce your fat intake or a personal nutritional assessment then contact us today.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

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