So here we are, then, September. Some people had a ‘hot girl summer’. Others had a ‘feral girl summer’. I have had a lazy girl summer.
The pandemic hangover has been very real inside this mind and body of mine over the past year. It’s not like I’ve been so strung out that I can’t get stuff done. I’ve done a flat move, solo. I have replied to my emails, pitched my article ideas and written them up (alright, some of them).
I have intricately plotted and hype-woman’ed my way through multiple hen do’s for women I love. I have sent cards (mostly late) to far-away loved ones; and attended celebratory pub and park sessions without falling asleep or bringing down the vibe.
I’ve been – I think it’s fair to say – okay craic. But in my own world – somewhere I’ve long found a good deal of solace – the cracks were deepening.
Dreadfully off-brand to admit as a WH editor (not least one hosting a podcast helping people achieve their health goals by building positive routines and practising them consistently) but, lately, my healthy habits have been…not that.
Exercise was minimal. Mental health-supporting activities were occasional bolt-ons to my days, as opposed to a built-in non-negotiable. But the real ground zero of the chronic self-neglect was my kitchen.
I, a former militant lunch prepper (who drew laughs and derision from housemates of yore for hard-boiling batches of eggs) was mainly living off toast, porridge oats, peanut butter, apples and cheese slices. (So, it’s not like I was solely running on Gregg’s and Coke Zero.)
I, who loved cooking for others’ attention so much that I once fancied myself a budding food blogger (it was 2015, okay) was having people round to mine ‘for dinner’ and then ordering us noodles from the local Thai or dragging them across the street for a plate of pasta.
Speaking of, I would honestly count cooking pasta from a packet, stirring in pesto and *elevating* my dish with parmesan flakes and basil leaves as worthy of recognition on my theoretical self-care star chart.
I thought the move from a poky, long-neglected kitchen with a squat fridge and one of those letterbox freezers (love you, London landlords) to a, well, poky-but-recently-spruced-up-kitchen with the type of fridge freezer you’d find in an actual grown up’s residence would trigger some progress.
But by the time all my final boxes were moved from my best friend’s spare room and I’d finally dug out my card reader from amongst the melée, I hadn’t yet been able to find my will to feed myself with anything that qualified as an actual meal.
All this to say that when an email landed in my inbox asking me if I wanted to only eat only Deliveroo for a month – in order to see if I could eat a healthy, varied diet when exclusively consuming takeaway meals – I leapt at it with more enthusiasm than I’d probably mustered for much else in months.
The brief was simple: my account was credited weekly with enough to purchase three prepared meals per day, plus a snack and drinks (no cheating and ordering plush produce from Waitrose via Deliveroo Hop). I wouldn’t eat anything else
Is my job ridiculous? Yes, often. Was this challenge excessive? Sure. Was I going to say no? As a solo dweller who’s feeding, heating and housing herself on one salary over this impending bleak midwinter, absolutely not.
Can you hit your personal health goals while living off takeaways?
Before I got started with possibly the most enjoyable ‘challenge’ of my time at WH, I had an initial consultation with Kim Pearson, a nutritionist who specialises in helping people struggling with obesity and those who have struggled with eating disorders. (Of course, she tells me, there is often a lot of crossover.)
We discuss my goals: namely, to increase my flagging energy levels and diversify my diet with a view to better supporting my health. She also asks about my relationship with food.
I give her the director’s cut (lucky Kim) but here goes the gist…Things went from pretty positive and neutral to disordered between the ages of 18 and 25, when I was pretty intensely fixated. Not only on how more or less of certain kinds would impact the way my body looked, but also the food itself. Restrict; binge; purge; repeat.
The scars remain on my worn tooth enamel and burst capillaries round my eyes. But since then (via a genuinely healing ‘f**k it’ period of lifting all limits and making up for lost time with more chippies and bags of jelly beans than I’d care to acknowledge), the intensity around what I feed myself has largely dissipated.
I found new obsessions and ways to fill my time. Food became a means of fuelling the tank. Choosing and preparing what eat is no source of anguish or struggle – but, I realise, it’s no longer really a source of pleasure, either.
As I hang up the phone with Kim, I wonder (perhaps counterintuitively) if eating my way around the best healthy takeaway options in my area might re-spark a love of making delicious, healthy meals for myself. One strong enough break through my cooking inertia and nudge me into preparing dishes that don’t look like a giant toddler’s snack plate.
So, here’s what I ate – and what I learned.
1 Healthy takeaway options are growing
There are now over 14,000 healthy restaurants on Deliveroo, up from 8,200 in 2021. (Though it’s worth noting that the future of restaurants, bars and other hospitality outlets looks shaky until the new government announce packages of support for the sector.)
I live just south of the river in a part of London that’s close to the city’s two financial centres and plenty of leafy districts. In others words – at least at time of writing – people near me have access to not-insignificant amounts of disposable income.
Speaking of, Deliveroo believe the trend for healthy convenience food will continue, even through an economically tough Autumn.
‘We know that customers are thinking about how they spend their money but they continue to order with Deliveroo: orders are up 10% in the first half of this year,’ a spokesperson told me.
‘When it comes to healthy orders on the app, we aren’t just seeing this upwards trend on restaurant orders but across our grocery category, too.’
Key healthy takeaway restaurants on the app include:
I prefer to order from smaller outlets, and was pretty spoilt for choice. Stand-out meals were the Salmon Sashimi Bento (with a side of miso soup for the gut) from Gourmet Sushi; the Japanese Mushroom and Miso Ramen from Tonkotsu and the Rainbow Tofu Salad Bowl from Fresh Fitness Food.
While not exactly the healthiest, the Hyderabadi Aubergine from Indian restaurant Kricket in Brixton – mopped up with a Malabar Paratha – was a winner, too. (80:20 and all that.)
But ordering brunch while staying with a close friend (in a town with a burgeoning food scene) was, disappointingly, a different story.
The enthusiastically vouched-for café was out of anything I fancied and there weren’t any nationwide healthy chains near enough, so we ordered from an unknown entity; I got an unremarkable cheese toastie with iceberg lettuce and slices of furry tomato and slighty-too-firm cucumber by way of a side salad.
2 You can get excellent, veg-heavy juices and smoothies via the app
You just have to really look for them. And, in my experience, order from dedicated outlets. Often the blends available at breakfast and lunch spots – be they cold-pressed in bottles or just-juiced and in a drinks cup – were overly sweet. And, warned nutritionist Kim, could send me well on my way to an energy spike-then-slump that would reduce my focus and productivity at work and decrease the likelihood of me attending my favourite post-work yoga class.
Koox Juices in Lewisham, however, was a real winner. They had some seriously fresh options and some interesting flavour combinations.
The ginger-heavy, veg and citrus-based ‘Dr Green’ was a perfect caffeine-free energy boost (just remember to drink through a straw – the lemon can be brutal on tooth enamel). While their ‘Keto Greens’ smoothie (avocado, spinach, kale, lime, mint and matcha) was one of the nicest smoothies I’ve ever tried. It was seriously hydrating and made for a delicious breakfast on days I wasn’t super hungry.
What’s more, all their drinks came in study glass bottles with elegantly-designed labels that I’ve stored and now serve as a perfect vessel for shorter cut flowers – honestly, 10/10.
3 I probably won’t order takeaway-for-breakfast again
So, there’s a few reasons for this one. Firstly, let’s face it, eggs – the ultimate breakfast food – just do not travel well. I can eat most things but struggle to manage poachies turned cold or glue-y, which can happen even on the short journey from the kitchen to the brunch table – let alone after the mile-long ride to my front door. Imagining these heading straight for my kitchen bin upon arrival was unappetising, so I swerved.
I ordered an avocado toast that Kim picked out for me, topped with spring onions, sliced radishes and sesame seeds with a squeeze of lime. It was photogenic (of course, I forgot to photo it) and perfectly fine. But takeaway toast? It seemed a bit daft. I can’t do much but I can do toast.
I worked my way through a few ‘meh’ yoghurt pots (both of cow and coconut origin). They were okay – but far sweeter than I’d like. I sent some options to Kim to her expert eyes on the ingredients list and she pointed out the agave syrup present in many of the options that were wellness-y was probably best avoided, because of its high fructose content.
The one little breakfast option I could find that didn’t contain eggs, wasn’t a pastry, didn’t make even me feel like ‘I could have have made this myself’ and wasn’t rammed full of sugar was a chia pot (2015 vibes strike again) from a Bermondsey café, City Brew. One was flavoured with vanilla and cacao and hazelnuts; the other with coconut and matcha. They were tasty but didn’t satiate me like my prepped-in-60-seconds overnight oats with frozen blueberries and plant-based protein powder.
4 Efforts to reduce disposable packing are inconsistent
It was inevitable that my recycling bin was going to be regularly filled and emptied during my month of ordered-in meals. Unfortunately, it was a similar case for my bin.
While some outlets served their dishes in cardboard or ready-to-recycle plastic packaging, many simply didn’t. When I asked about Deliveroo about creating a more sustainable standard across their outlets, a spokesperson told me the following:
Deliveroo is encouraging more sustainable packaging by investing up to £2.5 million from our Community Fund to subsidise the procurement of almost 17 million units of sustainable packaging.
This will start with targeted support of 50% off the cost of sustainable packaging on the Deliveroo packaging store for smaller partners in our European markets (including UK and Ireland).
Alongside this incentive, we are working to develop the best targets to reduce plastic waste generated via our platform.
5 Healthy takeaways supported my mindful drinking goals
I found resisting the urge to mix a G&T of crack a bottle of wine before Friday night (a hard boundary I drew at the beginning of this year) much easier during my month of takeaways. The daily novelty of the experience likely no doubt played a significant role. But I think a big part of it was rediscovering the joy of really treating myself with delicious, healthy food.
Ordering in, prior to this, was always something I’d do the day after the night before or on an aforementioned, tired out Friday eve when I had nothing more in the tank. So, fittingly, I’d generally go for something turbo indulgent – like the aubergine Parmigiana pizza from Bona Sourdough Pizza in Forest Hill, or the spicy, salty, gloriously slippery Drunken Noodles from Tai in Brockley (very much not a healthy option but FYI fellow SE London-based spice fiends, they are not to be missed).
But this experiment showed me just how enjoyable a midweek, healthy takeaway could be. And, surprisingly, how effective they could be in helping me to stick to my ongoing health goal of limiting those incidental, wind-down beverages, which I’ve since understood to be a bit of a waste of my units.
And, let’s face it, that salmon sashimi, edamame salad and salmon avocado rolls would only serve to support and soothe my at-capacity Thursday night brain – something that can’t be said for an ice-cold glass of a crisp, oaky white. (Friday is its time to shine).
6 I found calorie labelling actively helpful
I groaned as much as the next former obsessive calorie counter and food obsessive when mandatory calorie labelling was announced back in Spring. Who really needs their brunch, lunch or dinner – eaten out or ordered in – to come with a load of numbers?
Numbers that could, at best, shave a layer of enjoyment off something that is (not least in this climate) very much a treat. Or, at worst – as the UK’s eating disorder charity BEAT has warned – risk harming the 1.25 million people in the UK currently diagnosed with an eating disorder.
But that was when my eating out – or ordering in – was very much in the ’20’ portion of my 80:20 ‘nutritionally beneficial’ versus ‘eating this for fun’ split. When I relied on someone else to prepare my daily fare, I didn’t want my Tuesday lunchtime grain bowl to be swimming in oil.
Smaller outlets, who aren’t obligated by the legislation to share nutritional info, often didn’t share theirs. In this instance, Kim encouraged me to employ the evergreen, common sense principles of healthy eating.
She explained that asking whether your meal has a decent mix of protein, fats and complex carbs, including plenty of plants, was probably a wiser way to steer my choices than worrying about calories. And if I was ordering something where the sauce or dressing would add a tonne of additional calories and fat I didn’t need or want, just then? Simply ask for it on the side.
7 The food that I most wanted to order was the stuff that I can prepare myself
I only discovered that there was a Farmer J branch near(ish) me towards the end of my month of takeaways, but I made up for lost time eating my way through every conceivable pescetarian Field Tray combo.
The Field Trays are cardboard (yay) and divided into three sections, with space for a main (think: gouchang salmon; tofu and lime leaf curry) on a bed of perfectly-cooked brown rice, mixed grains or spinach leaves and two sides. The perfectly-tangy Caesar salad and kale slaw became go-to’s – along with the roasted-to-perfection sweet potato.
It made me realise that – bar all the raw salmon – much of what I loved to order was stuff that I could prepare myself, in batches, and throw together in a Tupperware.
So, I’ve been roasting my batches of sweet potato and mixed veggies. Prepping my silly little salads and basic-but-tasty four-ingredient vinaigrette. Reader, I’ve even been batch hard-boiling eggs.