Restaurant Guide

What 8 Diet Experts Order at Chinese Restaurants

Chinese food can be a dangerous foe to your weight loss efforts.

Restaurant Guide

What 8 Diet Experts Order at Chinese Restaurants

Chinese food can be a dangerous foe to your weight loss efforts.

There are countless menu items that get a pan-fry treatment before they’re doused in copious amounts of mystery sauce that can be packed with sugar and cornstarch. Thankfully, your neighborhood Chinese restaurant doesn't have to be off limits! It's a bit trickier to navigate than the fast food joint where calorie counts are easy to come by, but even your local spot's menu has some hidden, healthful gems. We've asked 8 diet experts how they navigate the Chinese menus they love in order to feel satisfied without ruining a week's worth of calorie cutbacks. Here, their favorite things to order and suggestions for making your weekend takeout work for your diet:

Keep It Steamed

"I eat steamed vegetable dumplings without sauce. I often pair them with either chicken and broccoli in brown sauce (I ask for a little sauce made without sugar) or steamed shrimp dumplings. The most important thing when it comes to Chinese food is to watch portion sizes. I stick to a small bowl and have, for example, one cup of shrimp and broccoli with a side of four veggie dumplings. If I want a treat, I'll order a shrimp spring roll with no more than 4-5 of the vegetable dumplings; because my portion is small, I don't feel bad for having something fried–especially since I don't do it that often. Plus, the spring roll has a ton of veggies in it!" – Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Author of Younger Next Week

Double Down on Veggies

“For starters, I go for a hot and sour or wonton soup. It is around 100 calories or less, and research shows starting with a broth-based soup helps us eat less throughout the meal—effortlessly! In general, I go fresh instead of fried. I try to skip the fried egg rolls and fried rice and go for vegetable spring rolls, steamed vegetable dumplings, or steamed brown rice. For healthy entrees, I go for a fish or chicken with vegetables or moo goo gai pan–a tasty dish with chicken, mushrooms and lots of other vegetables.” – Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, author of Eat Right When Time is Tight

Stick to the Basics

"When I dine out, I look for the dish that provides me with an array of colorful vegetables and a healthy source of protein. A good rule of thumb at Chinese restaurants is to eat no more than a fistful of rice and, when possible, opt for brown rice for the added fiber. A mixed vegetable dish is a good choice if it’s steamed and doesn't include a fatty or sugary sauce; hot and sour soup is not only warming, but also low in calories without being short on flavor. For entrees, look for options with a lot of vegetables and a protein that isn’t fried or breaded. Try beef and broccoli, string beans with chicken, or moo goo gai pan." – Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, founder of Family. Food. Fiesta.

Practice Portion Control

"I always look for veggies–lots of veggies–in any dish I order. I tend to steer myself towards chicken or tofu instead of beef. Some Chinese restaurants have brown rice, so I'll request that; but, most important–whether with brown or white rice–is the quantity. It's easy to eat too much starchy rice. Portions are always too big, so eating less than half is wise. I generally recommend avoiding anything 'crispy' (code for fried), ‘sweet and sour’, and anything with peanuts or peanut sauce (healthy fat, but loaded with calories). Chicken and broccoli is a go-to of mine." – Jennifer Neily, MS, RDN, LD, FAND, Neily on Nutrition

End on the Right Note

"When faced with a takeout menu, I’d go for Buddha’s Delight–with mounds of steamed vegetables and tofu for protein, this vegetarian dish is usually a safe bet. Vegetables are the star of the dish. The veggies are filling and the protein satisfies. Chicken and broccoli is another good option, just be sure to keep your rice portion in check. If you’re dining in the restaurant, take advantage of the hot tea available in most Chinese restaurants. Save room for tea after your meal to cleanse the palate and signal the brain that you’re done eating." – Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, Marisa Moore Nutrition

Take Back Control

"First, I always skip the sauce. Chinese restaurants are notorious when it comes to adding excessive amounts of salt to their food. I like to take back some of the control by avoiding added soy and other sauces. Second, I choose the safe foods. These days, most Chinese restaurants offer steamed vegetables and brown rice. I try to fill half the plate with the veggies and fill about 1/4 the plate with brown rice. This will dramatically lower calories and fat of your dish." – Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, National Media Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Pregame with Soup

"I always order an egg drop soup, broccoli sautéed with garlic and oil and brown rice (but only eat 1/2 cup): the broccoli provides a lot of vitamin C and not as many calories as many of the meat-based entrees; the egg from my soup provides protein for my meal without a lot of added fat; and the brown rice nutritious whole grains." – Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet

Strike a Balance

"As I do at any restaurant, I drink two glasses of water while ordering, then look for a soup for an appetizer since the choices (like egg drop soup) are typically lower in calories but filled with protein. For my main, I go for the steamed entrees and ask for sauce on the side so I can control how much I use. Most sauces found in American Chinese restaurants are the source of all the fat and sugar in the dishes. I usually combine 2 tablespoons of the dish’s original sauce with a low-sodium soy sauce to save on calories. Steamed meals should always have a combo of one portion of protein (such as beef, shrimp or chicken) and non-starchy vegetables (like broccoli, mushrooms and spinach). Always drink water throughout the meal to balance out the sodium used in many of these restaurants." – Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN