How to choose the best takeaways

How to choose the best takeaways

We all eat takeaways sometimes… nutritionist Brigid Chunn investigates the best (and worst) takeaway options.*

Let’s face it. There are times when we all turn to fast food. While we’re not recommending fast food as a regular part of your diet, on those odd occasions it is possible to cherry-pick the menus and find options that are OK.

We’ve analysed and compared the nutrition information of items on the menus of some of New Zealand’s major fast-food chains. And based on these comparisons, we’ve given you our top five picks for burgers, sandwiches, salads and pizza. So no more having to spend ages staring at the menu trying to work out the best (healthier) option.

*Information collated in August 2013.


Best burgers

Go for the plain or original option and add a salad on the side.

BEST PICK: Nando’s Supremo Chicken Breast Burger (no mayo)

A grilled chicken breast with lettuce, tomato, peri peri chutney in a Portugese roll.
1747kJ/416cal, 35.3g protein, 3.7g fat, 0.7g sat fat, 685mg sodium

McDonald’s McGrilled chicken burger

A wheatgerm bun with a marinated chicken breast, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.
1560kJ/374cal, 25.4g protein, 15g fat, 1.7 sat fat, 640mg sodium

Burger King Whopper Jr with lite mayo

A smaller serve size burger with a beef patty, tomato, pickles, onions, lettuce, ketchup and reduced-fat mayonnaise in a seeded bun.
1250kJ/298cal, 17.4g protein, 11.8g fat, 5.1g sat fat, 475mg sodium

Wendy’s Hamburger

The plain burger with pickles, red onion and sauce in a bun.
1163kJ/328cal, 29g protein, 10g fat, 3g sat fat, 581mg sodium

KFC Colonel Burger

A chicken breast coated in herbs and spices with lettuce, tomato, red onion and sweet mayonnaise in a seeded bun. A little high in sodium, but the best option on the KFC menu.
1580kJ/376cal, 23.5g protein, 10.7g fat, 1.8g sat fat, 830mg sodium

Hall of shame: Carl’s Jr Western Bacon? Thickburger

Beef, three strips of bacon, two slices of cheese and onion rings with barbecue sauce in a seeded bun. This has no place on any menu as it has more than the recommended upper daily intake for sodium and saturated fat, and at 5220kJ/1243 cal, more than half the kilojoules most of us need in a day.

Tips for burgers

  1. Ask for grilled rather than fried wherever you can so you’ll get less fat and kilojoules.
  2. Never super-size and try not to order a meal deal, as adding a small fries and a soft drink can almost double the number of kilojoules. Large fries and a drink will triple your kilojoules.
  3. Another trick is to hold the sauce, which can add energy without you realising. For example, a McDonald’s mayonnaise sachet adds an extra 9.8g fat with nearly 2g saturated fat.

Burger surprise!

Don’t assume vegetarian options are healthier. Often they include extra cheese and/or sauces and the vege burger may be deep-fried. For example, the Burger King Salad Burger has 2622kJ/624cal, 31.3g fat, 8.6g sat fat and 1285mg sodium — that’s more kilojoules, fat and sodium than a McDonald’s Big Mac!

Smart swap

If you must add fries, order the smallest portion. Choosing a small over a large-sized McDonald’s French Fries will save you 650kJ/155cal, 8.2g fat, 0.8g sat fat and 197mg sodium.


Sushi is very popular as a takeaway food and while it tends to be low fat it may be higher in energy than you think. St Pierre’s Double Avocado and Jumbo Fresh Salmon eight-piece pack has 2982kJ/710cal.

Aim for a total of 2500kJ/595cal, or less if you’re watching your weight. Teriyaki marinades and sauces, miso and soy sauce are high in sodium so try to keep these to a minimum. Tempura, deep-fried or fried sushi and Japanese mayonnaise are all high in saturated fat and are best avoided.

GREAT CHOICE: St Pierre’s Brown Rice Sushi

Opt for brown rice in your sushi for an extra 50 cents. You’ll get whole grains, fibre and B vitamins.


Choose a small pack of sushi (four to five pieces), and add a side of edamame beans.


Best sandwiches

Go for sandwiches with protein and salad or vegetables.

BEST PICK: Pita Pit Tuna

To make this self-selection sandwich, choose wholemeal pita, lettuce, tuna, tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber, red onions, mushrooms and tzatziki spread.
1450kJ/347cal, 1.6g fat, 1g sat fat, 33.8g protein, 473mg sodium

Subway Roasted Chicken 6-inch (6g fat or less)

Roasted chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, capsicum and cucumber on white or wheat bread.
1180kJ/281cal, 23.5g protein, 4.0g fat, 1.3g sat fat, 438mg sodium

Habitual Fix Tree Hugger

Roasted vegetables, spinach, red onion, capsicum, pumpkin seeds, basil extra-virgin olive oil and mayonnaise.
1807kJ/452cal, 13.8g protein, 6.6g fat, 0.1g sat fat, 935mg sodium

Wishbone Roast Beef & Horseradish Aioli Sandwich

This sandwich is low in energy so you may need to add fruit and a pottle of yoghurt for a complete meal.
(2 slices bread): 1000kJ/238cal, 12.3g protein, 12.6g fat, 1.8g sat fat, 277mg sodium

Hall of shame: Habitual Fix Manwich

Chicken schnitzel, bacon, relish, avocado, caramelised onion, tomato, cheese and mayonnaise. This has between one-third and a half of the kilojoules most of us need and exceeds the daily upper limit for sodium (2622mg).

Tips for sandwiches

  • Make sure you include some form of protein — lean meat or chicken, fish, eggs or a vege alternative — in your sandwich. Salad alone won’t fill you up for long.
  • Avoid deep-fried or schnitzel versions. These sharply raise the kilojoule and fat counts. Bacon, ham, and cheese will increase the sodium content so keep an eye on how much is used.
  • Sometimes a sandwich is not quite enough, so if you need something else a piece of fruit or a small pottle of yoghurt may do the trick.

Sandwich surprise

Watch those extras added to sandwiches — they mean extras in kilojoules, fats and sodium, too. For example, if you choose to add extras on the Pita Pit Tuna sandwich — their ranch sauce, USA mayo, cheddar cheese and avocado — this adds up to 2003kJ/477cal, 49g fat, 11g saturated fat and 629mg sodium.

Smart swap

Instead of Subway’s Chicken & Bacon Ranch (bacon, chicken, salad and cheese), go for the Chicken Strips (with salad and no cheese or dressings) and save 770kJ/183cal, 16.9g fat, 5.4g sat fat and 497mg sodium.


Best salads

Look for a salad based on leafy greens with as many different colours as possible.

BEST PICK: Tank Thai Chicken Salad

Chicken with a good helping of salad mix, red onions, carrots, crispy noodles and Thai dressing. Low fat, low kilojoules and low sodium.
1106kJ/263cal, 25.07g protein, 3.7g fat, 0.9g sat fat, 352mg sodium

Habitual Fix Mexicano Salad

A colourful leafy salad with chicken, cos lettuce, onion, carrot, avocado, coriander, corn chips, chilli lime dressing.
1696kJ/404cal, 24g protein, 19g fat, 4g sat fat, 592mg sodium

Wishbone Smoked Chicken Salad Tray

A salad with kumara, smoked chicken, lettuce, tomato, spring onion, capsicum, oil and a dressing. Add a bread roll and fruit for a complete meal.
1520kJ/362cal 13.8g protein, 25.3g fat, 3.2g sat fat, 231mg sodium

Subway Roasted Chicken Salad (6g fat or less)

This salad is low in energy so add a bread roll and fruit for a complete meal.
526kJ/125cal, 17.3g protein, 2.7g fat, 0.7g sat fat, 345mg sodium

Pita Pit Chick ‘n Fala

A salad with chicken breast, falafel, lettuce, tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber and red onion. For a more satisfying meal add a Pita Pit smoothie.
819kJ/195cal, 21g protein, 5.5g fat, 1.9g sat fat, 549mg

Hall of shame: Wendy’s Taco Salad

A lettuce base with mince and chilli beans, corn chips and sour cream. This salad has 1128mg sodium (half the daily upper limit) and 15g saturated fat.

Tips for salads

  • Look for salads with lots of leafy greens, rather than pasta or potato, to help keep the kilojoules in check and ensure you get lots of filling fibre.
  • Make sure your salad is a balanced meal by making it one-quarter chicken, meat or eggs, one-quarter carbohydrates (rice, noodles, potato or a bread roll) and half vegetables (greens, carrot, capsicum or mushroom).
  • If your only option is a garden salad, ask to add chicken or egg to up the protein and buy a small grainy bread roll.
  • Watch sauces and dressings — creamy Caesar dressing, ranch dressing or mayo can add extra kilojoules and saturated fat. Go for olive oil, balsamic or vinaigrette dressings and ask for them on the side so you can add your own (just one or two teaspoons).
  • Salads can come with different types of cheeses, nuts, avocados and croutons. Too many and you can quickly blow your kilojoule budget for the day, so keep it simple.

Smart swap

Replace an Asian Chicken and Noodle Salad Pottle from Wishbone with the Thai Chicken Salad from Tank and save 884kJ/210cal, 18.4g fat and a whopping 888mg sodium.


Best pizzas

Stick to two regular slices of a large pizza for a healthy-sized portion.

BEST PICK: Domino’s Value Range Classic Crust Trio of Veg

Baby spinach, mushrooms and fresh tomato with oregano and mozzarella cheese topping.
Per slice: 662kJ/158cal, 6.2g protein, 2.4g fat, 1.2g sat fat, 262mg sodium

Hell Pizza Pride Vegetarian

Regular pizza base topped with tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, capsicum, pineapple, mozzarella cheese, herbs and spices. Olives, garlic and jalapeño peppers optional.
Per slice: 793kJ/189cal, 8.8g protein, 4.9g fat, 2.7g sat fat, 197mg sodium

Pizza Hut Veg Delight on a Deep Pan pizza base

Mushroom, onion, capsicum, pineapple, tomato and mozzarella cheese topping.
Per slice: 600kJ/144cal, 5.6g protein, 4.5g fat, 2.1g sat fat, 220mg sodium

Hall of shame: P?izza Hut’s XL Meat Lovers or XL Hot ‘n’ Spicy on a Stuffed Crust

Two slices have over three-quarters your upper daily limit for sodium and more saturated fat than recommended in an average day.

Tips for pizzas

  • Share! Order one pizza between four unless it’s very small, and don’t order extra-large sized unless there are lot of you.
  • Add a salad. A side of salad or veges will help fill you up and get your nutrition balance right.
  • Opt for thin and crispy bases rather than thick or cheesy-filled types (see Smart swap, below).
  • Choose a topping with veges rather than meat or cheese, which can be salty, fatty and lack fibre.

Pizza surprise!

Choosing Pizza Hut’s Beef & Onion on a Thin’n Crispy base rather than their Meat Lovers on a Stuffed Crust base saves you 360kJ/86cal, 260mg sodium and 3.4g saturated fat per slice — which all adds up when you have two or three slices.

Smart swap

Consider your choice of pizza base as it makes a difference. For example, having a Domino’s Value Range Veg Trio topping on a thin base instead of a Cheesy Crust base saves 240kJ/57cal, 3.4g fat, 2g sat fat and 114mg sodium.


A flavourful and spicy cuisine but it can be high in kilojoules and fats. It’s good to stick to rice, dhal and meat or fish cooked Tandoori-style. Other healthy choices are curries that are tomato or yoghurt-based.

Watch for dishes with coconut cream, ghee or anything deep fried — they tend to be high in saturated fats.


Keep away from samosas, bhajis and pakoras as they are deep fried.

Smart swap

Swap naan bread for poppadums and save about 19g fat. Swap butter chicken for tandoori chicken and reduce fat and saturated fat.

Fish ‘n chips

Fish and chip shops vary. Some use good oils and healthier deep-frying processes, offer grilled fish and use less salt and thicker fries, which are all good choices. Avoid extra deep-fried vegetables or fruit: the batter and the deep-frying turn them into high-fat products.


Ask for no salt and get salt sachets and add sparingly. This is one way to keep the sodium down.

Smart swap

Swap shoestring fries for wedges and save 9.8g sat fat per 100g.


Kebabs with lots of vegetables, hummus and tabouli are great options. If you’re adding meat or chicken, keep an eye on the fat content. Watch out for the added sauces and deep fried falafels as they can add unwanted energy and fat.


Leave off the dressings. Kebabs are tasty enough.

Smart swap

Choose a vegetarian kebab over a lamb kebab to reduce the kilojoules and increase fibre.


Spicy and aromatic, some Thai food can also be high in kilojoules and fats due to coconut milk and peanut sauce. Keep away from fried finger-foods and fried noodles. Your best bets are ingredients on grilled skewers, stir-fries with rice and the chicken or beef salads.


When eating a curry dish fish out your meat and vege pieces, which will be coated in the sauce, and leave any remaining sauce ‘soup’.

Smart swap

Swap deep-fried fish cakes for a spicy prawn soup.


Stir-fries with steamed rice, steamed fish or hot soups are good options. Steer clear of deep-fried and sweet and sour dishes. Avoid items with lots of sauce as they can be high in sodium.

Smart swap

Swap fried rice for steamed rice and save 646mg sodium and 7g fat.

Still thinking in calories? 1 calorie = 4.2 kilojoules

Author: Brigid Chunn

Healthy Food Guide

First published: Nov 2013

2017-09-09 18:54:02

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