Ordering food for delivery online is often more convenient ... and calorie-dense?
Last year, the online food delivery service Seamless served more than $400 million in orders -- and GrubHub, another popular site, has found that those online orders tend to peak on the weekends, according to a spokesperson. Clearly Americans are more comfortable asking for their dressing on the side online (and other ordering quirks) -- but is it coming at a nutritional price?
A recent study from the University of Rochester's Simon Graduate School of Business looked at how people placed orders from a North Carolina pizza chain -- those who ordered online ended up with dishes that had 6 percent more calories, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The reason? More complicated and tailored orders and, in turn, more toppings, according to the report -- there seems to be something more comfortable about being a pain in the you-know-what anonymously over the Internet than there is asking someone behind the counter or over the phone to customize every last detail. No hold-the-bacon, sauce-on-the-side, substitute this-for-this guilt in sight.
We Healthy Living editors could relate. One of us confessed to ordering two bagels on Saturday morning instead of the customary one. You know, just because. Another gets extra food with the intention of leftovers ... but eats every bite, every time. And yet another adds a fatty appetizer with the pretense that she needs to fulfill the minimum delivery price.
And that got us thinking to some of the major diet traps we encounter when ordering our food with our fingers. So we rounded up seven of the biggest roadblocks -- and expert-proven tips to beat them.
The Roadblock: There's A Minimum Order Amount -- And Your Entree Doesn't Meet It.
The Solution: Some restaurants require a minimum dollar amount to deliver -- and hey, we get it. If you're going outside to deliver to us in our pajamas, you want to get your money's worth. But needing to hit that $20 threshold can send you into a nutrition tailspin ("I guess I have to get dessert," or "An appetizer it is!"). But instead of doubling your calorie count, order something extra that you can throw into your fridge for tomorrow's lunch or a healthy snack, suggests Heather Bauer, R.D., CDN, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/heather-bauer-rd-cdn/" target="_hplink">HuffPost blogger</a> and <a href="http://www.bestowed.com/pages/about-us" target="_hplink">founder of the website Bestowed</a>. "For example if you're ordering a salad, add a banana and an apple to your order," she says. "You'll meet the minimum and have guaranteed snacks for the week, making you less likely to hit up the vending machine." While you're at it, if the meal shows up looking super-sized, dish out an appropriate portion on your plate and put the rest in the fridge right away -- no doggy bags necessary.
The Roadblock: It's the weekend, and you're craving comfort food.
The Solution: According to a spokesperson for Seamless, a popular web-based food ordering system, the site sees healthier orders on Mondays -- but as the week wears on, people are more likely to indulge in comfort foods like pizza, with a spike on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And there's science behind that, Bauer says -- we know people are more temped by junk food when they're sleep-deprived, which often happens as we rack up sleep debt throughout the week. So by the time Friday and Saturday roll around, you're craving a good old cheeseburger and a bucket-load of fries. "As we get more exhausted we definitely start to gravitate toward more white refined carbs, " she says, like Chinese food or pizza. "Those don't ultimately make us feel better." In fact, overloading on a huge meal at the beginning of the weekend can set you up for two days of binging. Instead, try to satisfy the craving with foods that are big in volume and flavor, but with fewer calories. Bauer recommends finding what she calls "healthy cheats," or compromises between a full-blown diet disaster and a plate of steamed chicken and broccoli, which will only make you feel deprived. If you want Moo Shu chicken, eat it in a lettuce wrap. Dying for a cheeseburger? Indulge in a steak with a ton of vegetables. "It's better than going full off the deep end," she tells HuffPost. "It's like a healthy cheat meal."
The Roadblock: It's easier to customize your meal online, and that can lead to more calories.
The Solution: The opportunity to customize your meal without being inhibited by an impatient sales clerk is tempting ("Why decide? I'll have sausage <em>and</em> Pepperoni?" or "I'll add avocado, sour cream <em> and</em> cheese to my salad"). In fact, <a href="https://dl.dropbox.com/u/9082176/mcdevitt_internet_inhibitions_april_2012.pdf" target="_hplink">The University of Rochester's report</a> found that people who order pizzas online make them 15 percent more complex -- and that translates to 6.1 percent more calories. But the ability to tweak your order unfettered can swing the other way, too, helping you to actually craft a healthier meal. "You can use so much more discretion when you're online," Bauer says. "You can be as picky as you want. You don't have to worry about offending anyone at the table or the chef." So go ahead, order every sauce on the side or ask for your fried food to be steamed instead. "You can recreate a whole entree if you want to," she says. You also have a plethora of restaurant nutrition information at your fingertips. Literally. You can also mix and match with things you have at home -- order a sandwich sans roll, then put the whole thing on your own, healthier bread. Or whip up your own balsamic vinaigrette.
The Roadblock: You're ordering with a roommate (neighbor, partner, etc.) who only likes to have unhealthy cuisine delivered.
The Solution: Can't spot a healthy entree on that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/healthy-mexican-takeout-food_n_1563652.html" target="_hplink">Mexican delivery menu</a>? Don't know how to make a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/27/italian-takeout-nutrition_n_1460538.html" target="_hplink">cheesy pizza more nutritious</a>? Instead of caving to the pressure of your ordering partner, why not order from two places, Bauer suggests. You're already ordering online, and no one says the food has to originate from the same place, as long as it ends up the same table. "One of the benefits of ordering in is that there are tons of options," she says. And many online sites let you filter out "healthy" options with the click of the mouse (just as easily as sorting by type of cuisine). Running up against a minimum delivery order amount? See slide one, and order a salad for lunch tomorrow. And while we're talking ordering with other people, Bauer suggests avoiding large groups. "When one person wants to order a cheeseburger and French fries you'll be tempted to order the same as well," she says. "It's also easy to fall into sharing unhealthy items because you think it's half the calories. While this may be true, it's better to order on your own and make healthy choices."
The Roadblock: Ordering online means waiting at home ... with plenty of pre-meal snacks.
The Solution: If you're starved and just placed your order, a screen telling you the food won't arrive at your door for another 45 to 60 minutes can start a snack session that adds up to more calories than the meal itself. Not to mention you'll likely be eating in comfy clothes that expand as needed. While we get that half the fun of delivery is, well, the delivery part, picking up your food can be a healthier bet. Bauer tells her clients to order their meals on the way home (many online ordering sites have apps for mobile convenience) and walk back after picking it up. That way you won't be sitting around waiting for it to arrive with a kitchen full of snacks. Added bonus? You'll get a bit of a walk.
The Roadblock: Once your food arrives, you've changed into your stretchiest sweatpants.
The Solution: Whether you choose to pick up or not, avoid the temptation to change into your stretchiest house clothes for your meal; sticking to a regular outfit that you might wear to eat out will help you to keep overeating in check, Bauer says.
The Roadblock: You're eating in front of the TV ... and before you know it, all your food is gone.
The Solution: You ordered your food on one screen ... and by the time it arrives you've settled in front of another. But Bauer tells people to skip zoning out in front of the TV with your takeout container on your lap -- that only encourages mindless eating. Don't have anyone to eat with? Bauer suggests calling up a family member or friend so you can still have a conversation while eating without turning to the company of television. Just hold the phone away from your mouth when chewing.