Calories in Food

When lunchtime hits, it’s easy to just head to the food court or hawker centre and if you are not careful, you can end up with a 745-Calorie fried kway teow complete with cockles and bits of crunchy lard, or a 756-Calorie Nasi Briyani Chicken, or a Nasi Lemak with the full works. Oops!

Singapore is a food paradise and the food courts are filled with all kinds of tasty and calorie-laden meals, but you can still find tasty, healthy 500-Calorie choices.

A survey found that many Singaporeans are eating more calories than needed. If most of your meals are eaten out, most meals are about 700–800 Calories, which would mean that you eat more than you need a day.

Related: 5 Healthier CBD Lunchtime Dining Options

Tasty Doesn’t Have to be Unhealthy

Spaghetti with Basil and Cherry Tomatoes on a Wooden Board 

So which are the healthier choices? You can follow these expert tips to help you survive the food court without busting your 500-Calorie limit; because tasty can also be healthy.

1. Follow My Healthy Plate

A helpful guideline is My Healthy Plate, a friendly visual tool designed for Singaporeans.

My Healthy Plate’s key eating habits are:

Related: Plan Your Meals With My Healthy Plate

2. Swap out the Deep Fried Stuff

Instead, choose steamed, braised, roasted or stir-fried dishes. Order noodle soup instead of dry noodles containing more oil and sauces. Get fresh popiah or Vietnamese spring rolls instead of deep-fried spring rolls. Choose a braised soya sauce chicken instead of ayam goreng. The non-fried versions are still tasty and will be equally satisfying, especially for your waistline.

3. Sneak in More Vegetables and Fruit

Think of vegetables and fruit as your fountain of youth - they are rich in vitamins, antioxidants, nutrients and fibre. Following My Healthy Plate, your vegetables should cover half your plate. If you are having economical rice, choose meat dishes that have some vegetable in them. If having soup dishes, request for more vegetables.

Related: Benefits of Fruits and Veggies

4. Cut Down on Sauces, Gravy and Curry

Sauces, gravy, and curry are generally high in calories, salt and sugar. Avoid adding gravy or curry to your rice, and leave the sauces on the side for dipping. If having salad for lunch, have the dressing on the side, adding only if needed.

5.The Whole Truth about Wholegrain

Wholegrains contain fibre, have more flavour and provide bulk that help you feel full longer. They are also important sources of nutrients like zinc, magnesium and vitamin B.

Opt for brown rice over white rice, or other wholegrain options like chapatti, whole-meal pasta, or brown rice noodles. Look out for food stalls displaying the Healthier Choice Identifiers offering wholegrain options.


Related: A Guide To Carbs

6. Suss Out the Fat

Reduce the fat in your meal by asking for less oil, and avoid dishes with coconut milk and gravy (which are typically made from fat). Choose chicken breast instead of chicken thigh, and remove visible fat and skin from the meat.

Look out for food stalls displaying the Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) that offer healthier oils, and the option to ask for lesser oils.

7. Pack a Lunch From Home

This means you can decide on the ingredients, and save some calories and money as well! Even better, gather a group of like-minded colleagues and aim to bring a packed lunch once a week.

Use dinner leftovers or put together an easy meal in the morning. Try cooking in bulk for dinner or on the weekend, and freeze individual portions that are ready to take to work in a flash.

Some packed lunch ideas are:

  • Cold noodles that can be cooked the night before and paired with a grilled fish or canned tuna.

  • Stew or roast meats ahead of time, and accompany that with a salad, noodle or rice.

  • Convenience foods like frozen meals make quick and easy lunches. Just pack them with a salad or fruit for a healthy meal.

  • Salads are a healthy and easy option. Pack the fresh ingredients from home, and add texture with nuts or dried fruit stored in your office drawer.

  • Sandwiches in a snap. Choose from a variety of wholegrain bread, pitas or wraps, and fill it with tuna fish, cheese, sliced eggs or lean meats. Then jazz up your sandwiches with vegetables like salad leaves, sliced cucumber, onions or tomatoes.

  • Muesli for lunch? Why not? You can keep a pack of muesli at work. Add milk or yoghurt and fruit, and you have a meal that gives you a vitamin and mineral boost to tide you over any hunger pangs.

  • A hearty soup is yummy, nutritious and one of the easiest things to prepare. Freeze a big batch of soup into individual servings. Pack a portion along with multi-grain buns or a salad.

Related: Healthy $20 Meals For The Entire Family

Chinese Food: Tasty and Nutritious

Calories in Food - Chicken Rice 

Chinese food can be notorious for being high on salt, sugar and oil. While some dishes may have fatty meats, deep-fried morsels and salty and oily sauces, there are some Chinese dishes that stay within the 500-Calorie limit.

One tip is to ask for less rice and more vegetables. Choose soup-based noodles over fried or dry noodles, which may have high fat and salt content. Sliced meat would also have a lower fat content then minced meat.

Look out for Healthier Choice Identifiers at hawker centres and food courts. Stalls displaying the Healthier Choice Identifiers offer healthier options, such as healthier oils, and you can ask for wholegrain options, less oil and/or more vegetables.

Some examples of 500-Calorie Chinese fare include:

  • Chicken rice: choose steamed white rice over chicken-flavoured rice

  • Chicken or fish porridge, and say no thanks to the fried crullers

  • Sliced fish bee hoon soup

  • Fish ball noodle soup

  • Claypot rice with mixed vegetable

  • Ipoh hor fun

  • Yong Tau Foo with soup with bee hoon or brown rice

Malay Food: Simply Sedap

Malay food is famous for sumptuous curries, spicy fare and coconut-based dishes. Besides the rich and highly calorific dishes, there are simpler and tasty dishes that are based on fresh vegetables.

Choose to have less sauce, gravy or curry, which tend to have higher fat content. An assam-based dish makes a tasty alternative to curry with coconut milk. Avoid fried food and choose grilled, stewed or boiled dishes instead. Choose leaner meat and remove as much fat as possible, such as removing skin from poultry.

Some examples of 500-Calorie Malay fare include:

  • Beehoon soto

  • Mee Siam

  • Nasi Padang: Have one meat, two vegetable dishes and rice, with the curry or gravy on the side.

Indian Food: Spices and All Things Nice

Calories in Food - Indian Cuisine

Indian cuisine is packed with flavour, and when it is loaded with a variety of spices, vegetables, legumes, yoghurt and grains, it is healthy as well. With less red meat, it can also be a diet low in saturated fat.

However, it is still possible to end up with a high calorie and low nutritional value meal. Choose to have less sauce, gravy or curry. Opt for wholegrains such as chapatti, dosa (thosai) which are lower in saturated fat and higher in wholegrains compared to roti prata and naan.

A sauce like tikka is tasty but also made with a lot of cream and butter. A healthier option is raita, a yoghurt-based sauce that is rich in protein.

Spices in Indian food, like turmeric, cumin and coriander, are flavourful alternatives to salt -- and add a punch to your meal without extra calories.

Some examples of 500-Calorie Indian fare include:

  • Chapatti instead of naan, dosa (thosai) or idli with lentil (dhal) curry

  • Tandoori grilled food is tasty and lower on calories than frying.

  • Plain rice with 2 vegetarian dishes and 1 meat dish.

  • Choose a dhal curry instead of a mutton curry to accompany your thosai or roti jala.

Western Food: Grilled and Baked

Western food can be high in saturated fat with creamy pasta and soups, fried cutlets and French fries.

For a starter, have a salad instead of creamy soup. Choose grilled dishes over the deep fried cuts of meat and choose healthier sides. For example, choose a baked potato over French fries, or a garden salad with an oil-based dressing instead of a mayonnaise dressing.

Some examples of 500-Calorie Western fare include:

  • Porkchop, pan-fried with small baked potato and salad.

  • Tomato-based pasta over cream-based pasta.

  • Sandwich made with wholemeal or multigrain bread, low-fat cheese, tuna or mashed egg, light mayonnaise, lettuce and tomatoes.

Download the HealthHub app on Google Play or Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.

Read these next: