Ordering takeout is essentially the last remaining string connecting us to pre-quarantine delights. Can’t go to bars, can’t go to restaurants, can’t go to the movies, can’t hang out with your friends but by the grace of God and tireless delivery workers, you can still get a fuckton of sodium-doused noodles brought to your door. The restaurants need your business, and you need some reminder of pre-quarantine life to maintain your sanity.
Considering how it’s not the best thing for our wallets right now (especially with that fat tip you should really, really be giving) and maybe isn’t the healthiest choice, either, you might be inclined to strategize your takeout to both maximize the number of meals you get out of it and also not leave your body in a shambles. Thus I present to you: takeout meal prep.
If you wanna order a ton of takeout and eat it all in one sitting, that’s totally fine. Now more than ever, there’s literally nothing wrong with that. But if you wanna stretch it out over a few meals, you’re going to need to plan out the order.
“Choose foods that have a great shelf life for the next day so you don’t feel compelled to eat the whole thing at one meal,” advises Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and media spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. When picking a meal, Valdez says it should have at least three of the four following groups: grains, legumes, proteins and vegetables. “By eating a balanced meal with these food combinations, you will feel full with eating less, and portioning out the meals will last you for more than a couple of days,” he explains.
Some cuisines are better suited for this than others, and reheat-ability is a factor. A burrito, for example, can definitely meet your nutritional needs and be spread out over two meals, but it won’t take long for the tortilla and its contents to get soggy. As a better option, Valdez recommends Italian or Chinese food. “It does very well in the next meal and can be easily portioned to multiple meals,” Valdez says of Italian food. “Some restaurants may even provide extra bread at no extra cost,” helping you maximize the rest of your order.
But Chinese food is really king when it comes to takeout meal prep. Many American-Chinese restaurants “provide big portions at a low cost,” says Valdez. “With that in mind, your dollar can stretch far and provides you a variety of options — brown rice, white rice (which can be cooked into fried rice the next day), various meats with vegetable and vegetarian/vegan options.” Valdez recommends ordering saucier foods with the sauces on the side, as they may hold up better this way.
Chinese restaurants are also good places to buy another of Valdez’ takeout meal prep choices: soup. “Soup is perfect base to have for vegetables and lean meats. The great thing about it is that it can be bought in huge portions,” he says. He also recommends seeing if the restaurant will sell you tubs of broth, which can be used in a ton of different customizable ways without getting boring.
As an example of a possible order arrangement, I’ll use my recent Chinese takeout order. At K&A Canton in L.A., I ordered a vegetable lo mein lunch special for $6.50, a tub of hot and sour soup for $5.95 and crab rangoon for $5.95. The lunch special was huge, coming with a small soup, spring roll and fried rice. I easily split that into two meals. The tub of soup offered at least three full servings, which I made into more of a meal by eating the crab rangoons with it on the side. After tax and tip, I spent somewhere around $25, coming out to $5 a meal. That’s hard to beat for putting in no effort besides driving to the restaurant to pick it up. It didn’t exactly meet Valdez’ nutrition requirements because I didn’t include a significant protein, but it was delicious anyway.
If you’re willing to get crafty and put in a little work yourself, you could easily lower that price per meal by making your own grains, like rice or pasta, to add to whatever you order. To make the whole thing feel more like meal prep, you could divvy up your order into Tupperware containers upon receiving it, too.
Maintaining our physical health might be important right now, but maintaining our mental health is probably the bigger challenge. If meal-prepping your takeout gives you a sense of control and one less thing to worry about, awesome. But if eating two days’ worth of Chinese food over the course of one episode of The Sopranos is what better serves your spirit, that’s okay, too.