You would like to eat healthier but don’t have the time to shop, prep and cook every day? Here is a quick guide to some of the healthiest options available in your local hawker centre – and some tips on what you should try to avoid.
First things first: the “healthiest” doesn’t mean the “lowest in calories”. This is a misconception many articles on the same topic are pushing – but you do need to pay the same attention to the nutrients your body will get from the meal.
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a “healthy” dish:
- It needs to include some protein (plant or animal-based). Think meat, fish, eggs, tofu. Your body needs protein at every meal, and skipping it to save on calories isn’t healthy at all. A good portion of protein is approx the size of a deck of cards (or a mobile phone).
- If any ingredient is deep-fried or served with a dense, heavy sauce (often packed with oil & sugar), you know it won’t be healthy. Even if it’s soup.
- Pay attention to the portion of carbs – ask for 1/2 rice or noodles, and go for the wholemeal option if available. White carbs don’t keep you full for long, and they are quite calorie-dense. Ask for more vegetables to get some good fibres & vitamins that will last longer in your stomach.
- Even if it has the “healthier option” logo doesn’t mean it is “healthy”. Most of these dishes have been labelled that way because they contain fewer calories – but again, calories are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to adopting healthier food habits.
1. Sliced fish soup
Sliced fish soup is a great option, as it contains quite a lot of protein (from the fish), along with fibres. Make it healthier by asking for 1/2 rice or noodles – but don’t forget that the soup contains quite a lot of salt, so make sure you balance it with a lot of drinking water after your meal.
Side note: this doesn’t apply to fish ball soup, as fishballs are mostly flour and don’t contain enough protein to make your bowl a healthy meal.
2. Thunder tea rice
It includes several types of vegetables & greens, and in most places, you can swap white rice for wild/brown rice. Make sure you get some protein as a topping – tofu or egg – to build a healthy yet filling bowl that will keep you full until dinner.
3. Kaya Toast set with Soft Boiled Eggs
You’ve got your portion of protein with the eggs & some carbs to keep you full all morning. If possible, ask to skip the margarine/butter slice as that doesn’t bring anything interesting nutrition-wise, or maybe have only 1 of the toasts.
As it often comes with a kopi, make sure to go for a simple black coffee and avoid adding 200kcal+ of concentrated milk to a healthy meal.
4. Chicken porridge with extra egg
Most porridges are a decently healthy option, as they contain a lot of water. You can choose the flavour you want, but keep in mind that there’s rarely enough chicken in the porridge to give you enough protein, and you can always ask for a double portion of meat.
5. Oyster Omelette
All oyster omelettes are not equal, as some stalls use a lot more cooking oil than others. However, the initial recipe is quite healthy: protein & good fats brought by the eggs, and even more protein from the oysters. If you can, get a side of veggies to complete your plate.
6. Poke Bowls
Some hawker centres, including Amoy Street, have stalls offering poke bowls – a clean, often palm oil-free option, packed with protein & good fat (with the tuna or salmon), veggies & a layer of rice.
If you can, ask for wild/brown rice to make it even healthier, and swap the rice for some salad if you’re not very hungry, to save up to 300kcal.
7. Salads from Salad Bars
If you get the option to build your own salad, make sure you get enough protein (portions of protein, as ingredients, are more expensive, so tend to be a bit small) and get a small amount of carbs (brown rice or quinoa) to keep you full throughout the day.
8. Japanese Bento Boxes
Some stalls serve well-balanced Bentos – make sure you get one with fish, meat or tofu, and avoid going for the deep-fried options, like tempura. The portions of rice are usually small, making it a great choice if you are watching your calorie intake.
Eating healthy when you’re not able to cook your own food can be a bit tricky. But if you keep the following simple rules in mind, you are sure to avoid calorie bombs:
- Always get some protein on your plate (meat, fish, eggs or plant-based protein)
- Avoid deep-fried food (chicken, noodles, fish)
- Avoid heavy sauces & curries that can add up to 300kcal per plate
- Whenever possible, fill half of your plate with veggies & greens – they’ll keep you full longer
- Swap white rice & noodles for the wholemeal/wholegrain version, if available.