Ordering Chinese takeout is easy. Ordering healthy Chinese takeout takes a little more thought. But finding the healthiest food from your favorite Chinese restaurant shouldn’t be hard—hi, that defeats the whole purpose of ordering in—so we’ve put together something of a healthy Chinese food options cheat sheet for you. We asked registered dietitians how they navigate the menu when there’s just no way they’re cooking tonight. The themes we heard over and over again? Watch out for sauces that go overboard on the sodium, steamed is healthier than fried (duh), and load up on veggies.
What if your favorite dish doesn’t make this list? Well, there are a couple ways to think about it. If you’re ordering out of sheer convenience and determined to make the healthiest choices possible, use this advice as a guide to meet this goal. If you’re ordering because you’re seriously craving something in particular…order it, enjoy the hell out of it, and don’t waste your time feeling guilty about it.
These 17 healthy Chinese food options are what registered dietitians order for themselves, and we have to admit, we’re getting hungry just looking at them. Let this list inspire your next takeout order. Who knows, you might even discover a new favorite.
1. Shrimp and Vegetables With Black Bean Sauce
“You get lean protein from the shrimp, and lots of antioxidants, fiber, and even a bit of water from the veggies,” says Keri Glassman, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., and founder of Nutritious Life in NYC. She always orders her sauce on the side, so you can control how much is on there.
2. Beef and Broccoli
This classic dish gets a thumbs-up for its filling power. “I like beef and broccoli with brown rice,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, R.D. “You don’t need too much beef to feel full.” Chicken and broccoli is a good option, too.
3. Mixed Vegetables
You’re probably not surprised that vegetables made the list. Patricia Bannan, M.S., R.D., recommends ordering steamed or even lightly stir-fried veggies on the side—the more, the better.
4. Extra Vegetables
Rather than ordering a separate dish, see if the restaurant will bulk up your current order with extra veg. “Ask for extra broccoli, carrots, or snow peas in any dish,” suggests Sarah-Jane Bedwell, R.D., L.D.N. “These are three veggies that Asian restaurants typically have on hand.” This tactic is one of her favorites for filling up her plate.
5. Moo Shu Vegetables
Maxine C. Yeung, a registered dietitian, personal trainer, and wellness coach, and owner of The Wellness Whisk, likes to order this dish, which is typically served with hoisin sauce and thin pancakes for wrapping. “This dish is majority vegetables—a mix of diced egg and vegetables, such as cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and sometimes cashews, flavored with scallions, ginger and garlic,” she says, adding, “It’s low in carbohydrates if you limit the number of pancakes or substitute with lettuces for wraps.”
6. Moo Shu Chicken
Glassman goes for the chicken version for the lean protein it provides. “But make sure to ask for light sauce,” she says. “It’s most likely high in sodium and (unhealthy!) fat.” Yeung also points out that the hoisin adds unnecessary sugar.
7. Steamed Anything
“I usually ask for my dish steamed with the sauce on the side,” says Scritchfield. “Steamed helps to reduce the oil in the dish, making it lighter in calories and possibly a bit easier to digest. You can get most any dish steamed.” This works for veggies, lean protein, rice, you name it.
8. A Small Soup
Eating a broth-based soup first can help you eat less later on, explains Alissa Rumsey, R.D. She prefers hot and sour soup, while Bedwell goes for wonton. Keri Gans, R.D., always orders egg drop soup. “A one cup serving is only 66 calories, so even though your serving from a restaurant is larger, the calories are still in check. It also provides around 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber per one cup serving.” It’s high in sodium, thought, which is something to keep in mind if you’re trying to watch your intake.
9. Moo Goo Gai Pan
Entrees that come with plenty of veg are always good options, says Rumsey. “Moo Goo Gai Pan typically consists of stir-fried chicken with mushrooms and other vegetables, providing a balanced meal with just a light sauce. It comes with a lot of vegetables, so they are the main part of the meal, not just an afterthought.” This is a favorite of Bedwell’s, too: “It’s flavorful and lean with chicken, mushrooms, and other mixed veggies and is not as high in sugars and fats as many other dishes.”
10. Chinese Eggplant With Garlic Sauce
“I like Chinese eggplant in spicy garlic sauce because it’s all vegetable! In addition to the eggplant, it usually comes with broccoli too,” says Scritchfield.
11. Steamed Dumplings
“If you want an appetizer, [go for] a vegetable dumpling that is steamed and not fried,” says Gans. You might also recognize these as potstickers—either way, they get top marks when they haven’t been fried in oil and they’re filled with veggies.
12. Brown Rice With a Scrambled Egg
Scritchfield has a simple, healthier swap for fried rice: Order brown rice and ask for a scrambled egg on the side. “Most takeouts have eggs for the fried rice, and they are willing to do this for you,” she explains. “Brown rice has a lower glycemic index as compared to white rice, which helps reduce insulin spikes.”
13. Shrimp or Tofu Entrées
While Gans herself typically prefers broccoli and garlic sauce, “If it is a higher-end restaurant I might opt for some shrimp,” she says. Bedwell adds that steamed shrimp is a great way too add lean protein to your meal—if you’re a vegetarian, she recommends grilled tofu instead.
14. Kung Pao Chicken
Bring on the spice. Order Kung Pao chicken instead of sweet-and-sour chicken, sesame chicken, and General Tso’s chicken, says Bedwell. “It comes with abundant vegetables, sans the fried chicken!”
15. Buddha’s Delight
“If I want to do a vegetarian meal, I’ll go for Buddah’s Delight since it is a flavorful dish that is primarily steamed veggies with a little tofu for protein,” says Bedwell. This is a personal favorite of Rumsey’s, too.
16. Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Glassman calls this “an obvious choice to get veggies and protein all in one.” Plus, they’re fun to make and eat.
17. Sauce on the Side
This tip came up again and again. “By getting it on the side you can better control the amount you eat,” says Rumsey. “Often I take two or three tablespoons of the original sauce and mix it with low-sodium soy sauce.” Bannan adds, “For comparison, one tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce has 22 percent of your days’ worth of sodium and one tablespoon of regular soy sauce has about 38 percent of your days’ worth of sodium.”