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When physical distancing is your new norm, it can be tempting to trade the pots and pans for pickup at your favorite restaurant. A registered dietitian weighs in on taking a break from the kitchen.

By: Emily Newhard, RDN, LDN

Takeout or food delivery during a pandemic

There’s nothing like tucking into a flavorful pad Thai or a fresh enchilada at your favorite restaurant. But with new coronavirus restrictions, many restaurants are offering their dishes as takeout or delivery only. Given the need for preventive health measures, you may be wondering: Is this is a safe option right now?

The short answer is yes. As long as restaurants follow proper safety protocols and hygiene measures, there’s no risk to you or your food. These measures include all staff wearing the appropriate face mask, washing their hands thoroughly and frequently, wearing gloves and other protective equipment as needed, and cleaning equipment and disinfecting surfaces according to CDC and USDA guidelines. 

The box or packaging your food order comes in is safe. According to the CDC, the virus cannot survive well on surfaces such as food containers, meaning your risk of contracting COVID-19 from food containers or delivery packaging is low. Before eating your takeout, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer. 

Benefits of ordering takeout or delivery

Due to restrictions on dining in and limiting time in public, many restaurants run the risk of losing business. Ordering takeout or using a food delivery service can help benefit both you and your favorite local establishment. Here’s how:

  • Your order helps businesses stay open.
  • Takeout can help give you a sense of normalcy when many public places are closed.
  • You can enjoy a great meal without worrying about spreading any sickness to others in your community.
  • You don’t have to go to the grocery store if your food supplies are dwindling.
  • You get a break from cooking.
  • You can still enjoy your favorite dishes.
  • Since many restaurant dishes are larger than standard portions, you may get a few meals out of one order.

If you do opt to order takeout or delivery, keep in mind that many establishments may be shortening their hours and reducing their menu offerings. If you’re not sure, check out their social media channels for updates or call the restaurant.

Staying healthy when you order takeout or delivery

Follow these tips to stay healthy when ordering your favorite dishes.

  • Stick with places (and dishes) that you know and trust. 
  • As an added safety measure, you can also reheat your food when it arrives or after you pick it up.
  • If you’re worried about interacting with a delivery person, simply ask to have your order left on your doorstep or opt for takeout instead.

If you do have concerns about food safety during this time, now may not be the best time to try someplace new — and that’s OK, too.

Make healthy choices

Ordering takeout doesn’t have to be unhealthy. There are plenty of nutritious options on nearly every menu, and you can usually make your favorite dishes more nutrient dense by making simple adjustments.

  • Order whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates. This could be whole-grain pasta from your favorite Italian bistro or a whole-wheat hoagie bun or pizza crust.
  • Asian restaurants often offer brown rice instead of white, but it may not be on the menu. Don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Get your veggies by ordering dishes such as vegetable curries or stir-fries. You can always add vegetables as a topping or on the side of a meal. Substituting a salad for chips or fries will add nutrients and keep fat, sodium and calories lower.
  • Order sauces on the side. This lets you control how much is added. Not to mention that your meal won’t get soggy or wilt.

Don’t forget the protein

  • Choose lean meats such as chicken or fish when possible. Look for how they’re prepared: choose more grilled, steamed, baked or broiled and less fried or crispy options.
  • Try to limit heavily processed or preserved meats, such as sausage, salami or pepperoni, as these are high in fat and sodium. If you’re topping a pizza, chicken is the best choice.
  • Most cuisines provide vegetarians with plenty of protein-rich options such as tofu, beans, quinoa and nuts.

And just because you’ve ordered takeout, it’s still important to wash your hands to keep germs away and reduce your risk of getting sick.

Other things you can do to stop the spread

All of us can take action to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Taking these simple proactive steps will not only help those in our community who are at risk but help our local and national health systems better cope with those who contract COVID-19.

  • Practice physical distancing. Don’t shake hands, avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet away from others.
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing, sneezing and visiting public areas. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wipes with at least 60% alcohol are also good options for hand hygiene.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your mouth, nose and eyes.
  • Keep surfaces clean and disinfected at your home, workplace and school.
  • Wear a homemade cloth or fabric mask if you must leave your home. Here are DIY instructions from the CDC on how to make and wear cloth face coverings.

It can be challenging when your routine is disrupted and things don’t feel like “normal.” Enjoying a familiar meal in the comfort of your own home can help.

Next steps:

Visit our coronavirus resource center
Read our coronavirus FAQ page

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