Let's play a quick word-association game. I say "delivery." How many of you thought "pizza"? Or maybe a certain late-hour burrito joint? Delivered foods can often be too much of a good thing. I still have days when I resign myself to staying in my comfy pants, and I dial up my local pizza parlor for an order of cheese breadsticks with marinara and ranch.
But just because I own pants with an elastic waistband doesn't mean I should use them like a reserve line of credit. I check myself, because something I've learned about pizza (as Cookie Monster has learned about cookies) is that it is a "sometimes" food.
So what about healthier food for delivery?
Healthy eating means different things to different eaters, from ascribing to Ayurveda to ditching gluten. Regardless, look to one simple rule of thumb: Whole foods beat processed foods any day of the week.
Here are some of my favorite places that offer delivery of dishes prepared with a lighter touch.
Asian cuisines are a go-to for me. They're virtually dairy-free, save for ghee and paneer here and there. (Watch for oil, sugar and salt content, though.)
Edo Japanese Restaurant on South Park Street delivers a wide range of Japanese cuisine. Many studies have found that the low obesity rate and longevity of people in Japan is no fluke. A heavy reliance on vegetables, rice, lean proteins and sea vegetables, one of nature's superfoods, is a good start. At Edo, I highly recommend the seaweed salad. Sushi and sashimi options abound (the unagi, broiled eel, is one of my favorites). Drop the spicy "insert protein here" rolls, as they are mayonnaise-based. In general, expect delivery availability within about five miles of the restaurant.
Bandung and Lao Laan-Xang offer a number of delicious curries and entrees with aromatic sauces. The vegetable curry at Bandung is one of my favorites in town. At Lao Laan-Xang, the popular squash curry is a nice way to satisfy a sweet tooth with the natural sweetness of squash. The coconut milk in the broth is a nice compromise for those craving creaminess. While most of the fat in coconut milk is saturated, it is also high in medium-chain fatty acids, which are actually associated with weight loss in some studies. For a simple garden mix of vegetables in a well-played soy sauce, try Lao Laan-Xang's khua phak ruom mit.
Both restaurants limit their deliveries to the near east side, but call to find out exact boundaries.
Curry in the Box was my lunchtime favorite while working in Fitchburg. I needed food that was fast and filling, and nothing so heavy that it would put me into a food coma on the job. Curry in the Box met all three criteria. It does for convenient, mainstream-pleasing Asian food what Noodles and Company does for, well, noodles.
The chana masala is a hearty helping of fragrant chickpeas; or try the chicken tikka masala in a tomato-based sauce for comfort food without much guilt. Curry in the Box's delivery has minimum orders and is free up to six miles from the restaurant, $2 up to 10 miles, and $3 if further away (but not all of these longer-range trips can be accepted).
Suwanasak Thai on the far west side offers delivery through sites like Grub Hub and Eat24Hours. It's a stellar Thai restaurant. The prices are reasonable, and it's hard to make a bad choice. If pork isn't off your healthy radar, try the fragrant moo pha katien pha prid Thai with marinated peppercorns.
Salad dressings in packets are often loaded with preservatives and sugar. That's not a problem at Ian's Pizza on State, where the dressings are made from scratch. You can build custom salads that don't skimp on quality, with a base of mixed greens, romaine or spinach, and with add-ons like asparagus, beets and roasted red peppers. There are also four signature salads: Caesar, Mediterranean, Garden and Spring. Delivery ranges east to the Yahara River and west to the University Hospital area.
Banzo offers Mediterranean flavors in its flexible menu. Choose a main item - say, grilled chicken or falafel. Then design the rest - pita pocket, platter, salad or hummus plate. I love the option of filling up on protein with beans here.
Banzo's delivery covers the whole isthmus. It stretches west to Park Street, south to Monona Bay, east to Cottage Grove Road and north to Anderson Street (MATC) and Warner Park.
El Pastor on South Park is one of my favorite places for Mexican food. If you're within range, the restaurant will deliver directly; if not, S2YD, EatStreet or Eat24Hours can sometimes fill in. Everything, including the notoriously labor-intensive mole sauce, is from scratch. The chicken mole is one way to enjoy it. Or try any number of tacos. With a simple mix of onion and cilantro, or lettuce, onions and tomato, these are a far cry from fast-food tacos laden with sour cream and cheese.