Food on the Run: Beyond the Burger

By , SparkPeople Blogger
In our ongoing Food on the Run series, we have taken a closer look at many popular fast food chains as well as some that are up and coming.

Many have had entrees that focused on burgers, chicken, noodles or burritos. Today we take a broader look at another healthy fast food option that has given the traditional burger chains a run for their money over the last 25 years.

Whether you are calling ahead to a full-service Chinese restaurant for a take out order or stopping by a Panda Express, Chinese cuisine is a contending fast food option. Chinese cuisine provides a wonderful balance of a little sweet, a little sour and a little spice. There are wonderful lower fat, lower sodium and lower calorie choices to be made. At the same time, you could select a wonderful meal and blow your entire nutrition allowance for the day. It all comes down to knowing how to make wise choices as you order.

Here are some guidelines to help you the next time you are in the mood for Chinese.
  • Typically the more authentic the restaurant, the more nutritious the choices. More authentic Chinese restaurants will have a focus on veggies with a small amount of meat. Be careful of the more Americanized restaurants that are very heavy in their meat portion and only have small amounts of vegetables. A healthy entrée balance would be no more than five ounces of meat with, two cups of vegetables and about three-fourths cup of rice. It is best to stay away from dishes that are based only on rice or noodles.

  • Sodium intake can be quite high in Chinese cuisine. If lower sodium is a need, this might not be your best fast food choice. You can reduce the sodium in your meal by asking for NO MSG (monosodium glutamate).

  • Fat content can be another area of concern when eating at Chinese restaurants. Ask for your vegetables to be steamed. Ask for steamed brown rice instead of fried rice. Select sautéed or stir-fried meats instead of those that are deep fried and batter coated.

  • As tasty as they are, it is best to avoid the fried egg rolls, deep fried dumplings or Chinese spare ribs because they provide too much fat.

  • Instead of ordering your favorite sweet and sour dish that can be loaded with sodium and sugar, ask for it to be steamed and for the sauce to be put on the side. Dip your fork tines or chop sticks into the sauce before picking up the food and you will get the taste with significantly less sodium, sugar, fat and calories.

  • Fortune cookies are low calorie and an enjoyable ending to the meal and not something that should be missed.

Healthier Asian choices to keep in mind.
Soups – egg drop, miso, wonton or hot & sour
Entrées – stir-fried, steamed, roasted or broiled shrimp, steamed brown rice, chow mein or chop suey, steamed or baked tofu, edamame, stir-fried veggies or cucumber salad.
Sauces – ponzu, rice-wine vinegar, wasabi, ginger and low-sodium soy sauce.

Have you thought of making Chinese part of your fast food repertoire? What are your healthy favorites when you have Chinese?

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Lots of Asian choices in our community. We have Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese. So I love all the food but I do ask questions, to make sure there is no shellfish, oyster sauce, or soy by-products. I loved the tofu (soy bean curds), but found out later my body does not tolerate soy of any kind, tofu, textured vegetable protein (TSV - which is used to act like a meat extender), and soy sauces. I usually can deal with Tamari sauce - maybe because of different plants used? Report
I enjoy Chinese food quite a bit. My most common one to get is the Chicken or Combo in Garlic Sauce (with sugar not added). I sometimes like Kung Pao also. I only get the deep fried kinds if I am at a rush in Walmart or once in a whiile at Panda Express (bad, I know). My one reason for getting the Garlic or Kung Pao is that I like the veggies in it, and I am not much of a veggie eater. Report
I love Mongolian Grill. I pile on the veggies, rice noodles and a little tofu and they fast fry it for me, with garlic water instead of oil, while I watch. I can have my vegan food and DH can pile meat on his veggies. The local restaurant cooks mine on the grill by itself so no meat ends up in mine. They do that for all vegetarians/vegans who request it. Report
I am simply thrilled to know that some of my most favorite items are on the smart choices list. I love the hot & sour soup, chow mein, edamame & stir-fry. Also, I have a local one that does offer free delivery and ordering from the take-out menu is easier for me to control my urges. Thanks for the info! Report
I love chicken fried rice and at the restaurant I like best, the portion is 3 times what I eat at one sitting so I bring the rest home and my dh and I each have a meal of it. Not bad - 3 meals for one price. I know soy sauce is very high in sodium, but at home I use Bragg's Liquid Aminos, which has a third of the amount of sodium that's in regular soy sauce. Now I just have to remember to take it with me to the restaurant. Report
I love Panda Express for a quick lunch. Unfortunately that tasty Orange Chicken is packed with calories, 545 calories for a 6 ounce serving. I usually choose Mushroom Chicken, which a 6.3 ounce serving is only 150 calories!!! What a difference, then I opt for the steamed veggies as a side 8.3 ounces is 140 calories (compared to fried rice or chow mein which is 400+!) Report
My husband and daughter both have Crohn's so we seldom eat out. I love Chinese, and I rarely indulge. My fav.... egg drop soup. Report
We have a favorite local Chines restaurant that we visit every week or two. I like the vegetable-loaded dishes, like the beef chow yuk or the garlic green beans, but my guys love the noodle stuff. So we trade off. And I always ask for extra vegetables with the noodles.

Naturally, our favorite dish is the orange chicken, which is definitely a once-in-a-while treat! Battered, fried, drenched in orange sauce...oh, it hurts so good! Report
I avoid Chinese food - unless I make it myself! I don't trust that what I order - even if I ask for "no" msg will be served. It's just not worth it to me to run the risk of high sodium and/or high fat. Report
i like to get steamed chicken with veggies and brown rice. yummmmmm. easy to make at home too!!! Report
i love chinese food and there are several good take-outs nearby. i love the spicy dishes;such as kung pao. for me i think having spicy dishes satifies my hunger. so when i order i look for the dishes that have the "hot" symbol next to it! Report
nice info is good for all of us Report
ick ick ick ick ick - just can't say it enough. A friend just asked me to an american style chinese buffet - way scary. It was almost a sea of brown. maybe I haven't come across something to rave about. Also, after a meal i'm starving a couple of hours later - what is up with that?! oh well. Report
I love ordering "Chinese" for lunch, as the portions are always big enough for two meals. I get the lunch special, with a small amount of meat and TONS of veggies, and steamed rice which I actually eat very little of anyway. An eggroll comes with, but I leave that on the table for one of my coworkers along with the fried wonton chips. Moreso, I like making my own by steaming up some chopped broc, sliced carrots (cut them on an angle so it looks all restauranty!), snow peas, bok choi if I can find it. In my wok, I make the sauce so I can control the sodium, and saute any meat I might be adding. Then I stir it all together, so it's more stir-steamed and stir-sauteed than stir-fried. Truly, it's easy, and if you buy precut veggies, it's easier still. Report
I always opt for a salad when I go to fast foods and nowadays most have menus with nutritional values; so I know what I'm getting. Chinese food can be tricky. Thank you for the suggestions. Having steamed ANYTHING is the way I usually go if I have to break down. I haven't just yet. But these are useful tips. I love Orange Chicken and usually double up on it. But if I want success on losing weight, I'll either have to cut that down or try other things. I usually stick with one or two items, which are usually the ones higher in fat and higher in sugar. Thanks for the other healthy options. I will keep this article as a favorite. As I am making my weight-loss program a more natural one, this fits into my lifestyle when I'm on the run or out with friends and there aren't that many choices to eat when I have to stop and eat. Report
Chinese food is definitely one of my weaknesses! I've got a sister who's one of those people that can eat anything and never show it, and she's always wanting to go to PF Chang's. Probably the most delicious food on the planet (and yes I'm aware that it's not necessarily authentic) and some of the worst! Especially since it's served family style and you think you're ordering your own dish, but it's really enough food for 2-4 people. Who wants to share??

Luckily a good friend of mine got hired there a few years ago and has been telling me what's better on the menu. Now I stick to the lemon scallops (very low in fat and, surprisingly, sodium), steamed brown rice and the Szechuan green beans (they're high in sodium, I think, but they're so so good). I splurge with a Chang's cocktail and then get a dessert shooter if I have any room left (but I usually don't!) It makes great leftovers for lunch the next day too.

Ok, luckily we're going there for dinner tomorrow night because I am craving it something fierce now... Report
Well, unfortunately I rely heavily on fast food because we are always on the run and no matter how much I would like to plan ahead and take healthy meals with us...the reality is that it rarely happens. I have found a new trick in staying a little healthy in ordering though at these places by choosing vegan options. The choices are limited, but usually contain way less fat than the other choices. Report
I didnt know u could ask for no MSG. Report
it is not hard to create them at home where you don't add msg. I have a Japanese aunt that taught me several dishes to make.

Sweet & sour I now make it with stir fried chicken chunks & lots of veggies I make sugar free jams plums are one of my favorite. Just stir in several tablespoons full and heat thru Sugarfree jams only have about 35 calories in a tablespoons. I just recently found a really good egg roll recipe in th sparks recipes; Just search for Baked Egg Rolls I have been making them for years that way. The don't have to be fried!! Report
I don't eat fast food and I rarely buy take out or resturant food. If I do it will be chinese, very very rarely though, maybe once a year.
LIZABAKER, I will check out your blog for recipes. TY. Report
I sure do love Chinese food. I'm a fan of a lot of ethnic foods since it's usually MUCH easier to find a good, balanced vegan meal there than at Americanized restaurants. My two favorite Chinese places are both small, family owned and populated by a A LOT of Chinese or Hmong people. So, I'm assuming they are pretty authentic. ;) One is totally vegetarian and the other is so vegan friendly they even have veggie shrimp.

I also love our little local Japanese place. They use organic and local produce and everything is so fresh and tasty. I'm a fan of the kitsune soba soup... full of shiitakes, delicious housemade soba, fresh mushroom broth, a small serving of fried tofu and seaweed. NUM. They used to make a salad of gobo (burdock root) and carrot that was to die for. Sadly, it didn't sell well enough.

I'd like to see some info from Spark on Ethiopian food. I'm such a huge fan and they have such wonderful, flavorful vegan dishes. Mmm. Our little local restaurant is one of my favorite places to go. Split Peas and fresh injera = best ever. Man, St. Paul, MN is a paradise of delicious food. :D Report
I loved Chinese food..but now when I eat out I just get sick from all the oil. It never used to have that affect.. but I guess now my body just does not want it. If I feel like Chinese food now I make my own, omit the oils..and stir fry lots of veggies with a little rice. Really I don't miss Chinese food all that much anymore. Report
I missed Egg Rolls. Now I eat Egg Rolls at least every other day. I've found that Kahiki makes a veggie egg roll (70 calories) and a chicken egg roll (90 used to be 80, but I think they increased the amount of chicken). Both are amazing. A few minutes in the microwave with their wrappers on and, if you let them sit, they are really crunchy on the outside. It's a great snack, I feel like I ate something, and it isn't that many calories. The only down side is that they are a little expensive for grocery, but well worth it for my waist. Report
I find that Lao or Vietnamese can be even better (for you and taste) - as long as you can find one that is reasonably authentic and un-Americanized. (Like places that serve stir-fry over mashed potatoes for those who find rice to ehtnic or unusual.)
I love sesame chicken (breaded, fried chicken in a sugary sauce). I usually order chicken and green beans - stir fried and lots of veggies! A week in China made me realize that the food served in Chinese restaurants here is really not much like the authentic Chinese food. Report
I have learned in the past few months how to order chinese food - if I could eat it every day, I think I might! Report
I really love Chineese, Korean, Tai, etc. but do try to order the more healthier dishes so appreciate this article.

Has anyone tried or use Bragg Sauce?? I bought some at the local health food store to make my own stir fries at home but have not opened it yet. It is lower sodium so wanted to give it a try. Report
I love Chinese food, but unfortunately the stuff that I love is the Americanized cuisine. Bad, I know! Since having gastric bypass, I've really reduced the number of times a month that I have my favorite Chinese foods - wonton soup and egg roll. Now, I only treat myself once or twice a month, and that's ALL I'll get - one small wonton soup, and ONE eggroll. Moderation is key, right?? Report
Great to see SP look into this option, and even greater to see how many people LOVE Chinese food!

We're 1/2 Chinese (DH is from Hunan, home of the hot stuff!) and eat it at least 2-3 times per week - but all homemade. I can't stand the restaurant version of this delicious, healthy cuisine. When people say, "You must know where the best Chinese food is, we say, "Yup, our house!"

Guess what, y'all? It's easy and quick to make at home - with a little practice you can have a 3-dish dinner on the table in the space of an hour. And fat and sodium are NOT an issue (soy sauce in every dish is sooooo American). And as mentioned in the tips, Chinese food can be predominantly (or entirely vegetarian/vegan).

At the risk of falling into crass self-promotion, check out my blog, which provides recipes for healthy Chinese, homemade! . Report
I love Asian food! I agree that it's difficult to find healthy options at a typical Americanized Chinese restaurants. Report
I like Chinese food tood and ask them to leave the MSG out and they said they use very little. I like the Lobster Casserole thing(don't know what the name is) I ask and they didn't have a name for it. I just stay away as I like it ALL! Report
I love Chinese, but sodium is a real problem so (boo hoo!) I've had to give it up. :( Report
Mein Fun is my favorite dish. SO good. And Moo Goo Guy Pan is another great one. Report
Mein Fun is my favorite dish. SO good. And Moo Goo Guy Pan is another great one. Report
Mein Fun is my favorite dish. SO good. And Moo Goo Guy Pan is another great one. Report
Mein Fun is my favorite dish. SO good. And Moo Goo Guy Pan is another great one. Report
There are some great Chinese food which are also easy to prepare and nutritious. Will hv to find the recpie and post up onto Spark Recipe soon. Especially the steam fish (Mullet or Promfret) which is part of the Teochew cuisine. Gosh! I'm hungry now! Report
Good tips, but I was shocked to learn how high calorie wonton soup was from sparkpeoples calorie counter. One serving (3 wontons) is 340 calories! Not a good choice for an appetizer. Even with these tips, I think I'll just avoid chinese if possible. Report
this is good information. i wish i would have thought of this when i went for chinese the other day! Report
It always shocks me to find that most people are completely unaware that the
food served in chinese restaurants, is not authentic chinese food, but adapted
& americanized to please the mass. If you want to taste real asian food, you have
to find a restaurant that has many asian clients that eat in that place on a regular
basis. In large cities, where there are many local asian communities that is not
difficult. Once you taste the " REAL " thing, you will find it very hard to go back to what is "called chinese food" Report
I love Chinese food with rice and green beans and shrimp and yes the chicken with sweet and sour sauce over it. Report
I LOVE CHINESE! i have found a favorite that i feel is a great, healthy choice.
Steamed Dumplings with Steamed Veggies (no sauce)
Chicken Skewers with Steamed Veggies (no sauce) Report
We used to go for Chinese and sweet and sour was one of our favorites. But the more I learned about what's in restaurant prepared food the more we're turned off. We don't go for Chinese any more. Report
Thanks for the suggestions! Report
I love Chinese food! I have changed what i order... but i still get the taste of the food I love! Report
I love chinese food too and love to go to the buffet where I try my best to pick the healthier choices.

Korean food has way less fat than the chinese and I love it too but can't convince my husband to go there with me. Report
Schezwan Green Beans!
Yum!!! Report
I love Chinese food, but I avoid it from take out and other restaurants, because most of it is so unhealthy. I prefer to make my own instead, where I can control what goes in it. It takes a little bit of time, but it's really not hard to do. It also saves money; for the price of one meal eaten out, I can make 4-6 servings and have some to put away in my freezer for quick meals later. Report
I love chinese and i get the brown rice that cost a little more than white but it is better for you .. love chow mien lots of veggies in it it is sooo good.. going to take my daughter for her 13 b-day on wednesday.. when i do get it i have to have egg roll and 1 will not be that bad for me.. for the most part i do not get and fried foods .. with the brown rice it is yumm and a treat for us !! Report
Thanks! I made an edit to reflect healthier Asian choices. Report
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