Restaurants Offer Healthy Options, But Are You Eating Them?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  194 comments   :  24,574 Views

Many restaurants these days are offering healthier menu choices in response to consumer feedback. Restaurant patrons want to enjoy their dining experience, knowing they aren't blowing their calorie budget for the day. Applebee's offers their Weight Watchers menu, Ruby Tuesdays has "Smart Eating Choices" and even Wendy's offers suggestions of how to make your meals more nutritious. But are people taking advantage of these options? A new study says maybe not.

A recent study from Mintel International says the majority of diners make menu selections based on taste and hunger, not based on nutritional value. Here are some highlights from the survey:

• 77% of participants chose foods based on taste
• 44% chose foods based on hunger satisfaction
• 20% chose foods based on nutritional value

In another study by the same group, 77% of respondents said they wanted to see more nutritious options on restaurant menus. It seems like what people say they want, and what they actually end up choosing are two different things. Is that because the healthy menu options don't taste good? Is it because the variety is too limited?

One reason many respondents said they didn't choose based on nutritional value is because eating healthier costs more. When I dine out, I always check the "healthy options" section of the menu first to see what's available. Typically, I don't notice that those foods are more expensive than anything else on the menu. If I don't pick them, it's usually because they don't appeal to me.

I'm sure many people walk through the restaurant door with great intentions. "I'm going to make healthy choices today and not stray from the plan." But then you sit down and the server gives you a copy of the dessert menu. You see a picture of their bowl of ooey- gooey chocolate heaven, and that plan goes right out the window.

Would you like to see restaurants offer more healthy options? When those options are available, do you eat them? If not, why?

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    I like the fact that McDonald's and Chick-a-fil-a, etc., are putting up the nutrition facts and are offering grilled chicken nuggets, etc. I prefer to have the salads when I go to a fast food and take note of the extras. I can completely figure up what I'm eating for a meal. - 1/28/2017   7:31:48 PM
  • 193
    Its been my experience that the so called healthier options either do not exist or really are not (at least not in my city ). - 1/1/2015   12:28:31 AM
    I usually go to a restaurant knowing what I want and sometimes barely look at the menu. A house salad is a great appetizer.... - 10/16/2012   5:44:11 AM
    When I eat out, I eat wa-a-ay out, as in, "What's a calorie?" - 11/14/2011   7:47:00 AM
  • 190
    Yes! I select restaurants based on the availabilty of healthy options. - 3/15/2011   10:27:47 AM
  • 189
    Very often, the so-called "healthy choice" includes foods that aren't kosher or halal - not clean to eat (too much cholesterol etc.)...I'm also allergic to things like shrimp, and knowing what other crustaceans eat as part of their food chain is not something appetizing to me. Other places will offer a fish like Tilapia or Salmon etc, but then their corporate standards require that they cook it too hot and it just tastes nasty. I grew up in Florida and eating a lot of fish and I understand that fish needs to be cooled at a cooler temperature (below 125 degrees, I believe it is?) in order to not release the sulfuric compounds that make the fish taste nasty (same thing going on with eggs). Of course, there is the possibility that the fish is simply not fresh and that's a different kind of nasty tasting!! So it really just depends. Sometimes the best way to make a lighter meal choice is to simply select something you really like and is basically good food, but ask for the box immediately, and just carve up 1/2 or 1/3 portion (depending on how large they are to begin with) and take the larger part of it to eat later. I do that a lot of times with Applebee's salads or pasta dishes. - 7/26/2010   3:39:01 PM
    When we go out during the week it's usually to a sushi bar where I know what to pick to stick to my food plan. When we go to a fancy restaurant, I want to eat something that's different from my usual fare, something I wouldn't cook for myself. The last time we went out, for Fathers' Day, the only "healthy" choices with fewer than 800 calories were a couple of salads, and most of the entrees were over 1,000 calories. I managed to stick with grilled prawns, rice and veggies which was around 850. I would prefer if restaurants cut calorie and fat contents throughout their menu, and make the portions smaller. A serving of steak is 3 oz, but restaurants normally start at 6oz and up. This isn't healthy for anybody. - 7/17/2010   9:08:15 AM
  • 187
    depends. If it's a regular weekday out I will choose the lower calorie "healthier" menu. However, if it's a celebration, I will eat what I what is most attractive to me. Sometimes it's not as healthy, but since it's not a daily event, I consider it part of my "calorie cycling". - 6/1/2010   12:43:34 PM
  • 186
    No, I don't. My husband and I have fairly expensive tastes and only go out to eat a couple times a month. So when I'm at a restaurant, I order whatever I feel like eating regardless of how healthy it is. One 1,500 calorie meal every once in a while is not going to hurt me. I usually end up eating a little less for two to three days after splurging anyway, so it all balances out. Getting regular exercise (40+ miles of running per week) and eating well 90 percent of the time allows me to be "bad" that other 10 percent. - 6/1/2010   2:37:14 AM
  • 185
    I do choose the healthy options, when available. I have gained an "I'm worth it" attitude lately, so I'll overlook a higher price. I "create" a healthier meal when out by ordering extra sides of steamed vegetables or fresh fruit that may not be part of a meal option. If I can be satisfied with a good and proper meal, I'm less tempted by the desserts and less likely to eat more later. And I feel as though restaurants are beginning to see the advantage of catering to a new group of diners. Just look at the new Applebee's comercials. - 5/28/2010   8:52:13 AM
  • 184
    It's really hard to choose healthy options sometimes, especially when I've had a lot of chicken at home. Sometimes I just want steak and potatoes!! Most of the time though I have been doing well with my choices. - 5/27/2010   2:29:21 PM
  • 183
    We hardly ever eat out, live in the boonies where there arn't restaurants, so will indulge in something extra when we actual do go to a restaurant. Just travelled across country though, and every place had healthy choices available, truck stops, whatever had good choices. Sometimes we chose healthy sometimes not, mostly ate healthy meal but had dessert, cause we don't have them at home. - 5/26/2010   8:51:02 PM
    I always scan the menu for the healthier options. 90% of the time I choose them. My downfall is when we go to mexican restaurants. I have no problem with skipping the cheese and sour cream, its the chips and salsa! I used to eat so many that I wouldn't be hungry for dinner-even if dinner was one soft chicken taco or a salad. But, now I just have a few to satisfy that crunch. - 5/25/2010   7:42:19 PM
  • 181
    I do check out the healthy options but then weigh that against cost. Healthy options are almost always more expensive so I choose something not too bad and less expensive and then ask for togo box and before eating put 1/2 in the box and sit in next to me, kinda out of sight. Why do healthy options have to cost more? - 3/11/2010   1:06:44 PM
  • 180
    One of the best ideas I see posted here from another Spark member is for restaurants to have proper portion sizes! If restaurants did this, it would probably make a big difference for America as a whole. Of course, there would be those who would complain they weren't getting enough to eat and, of course, the restaurants would listen because they would lose the customers if they didn't. Until then, I guess it's up to us to take responsibility for our own portion sizes. - 1/17/2010   7:17:13 AM
  • 179
    I personally do take advantage of healthier options. At most restaurants I don't find the price to be that much different. However, healthier fast food locations like Burgerville are significantly more expensive than say a McDonald's. - 1/14/2010   1:06:05 PM
  • 178
    I think that having healthy options is important, I personally have some restaurants that I have certain meals that I enjoy and will choose them knowing they are not the healthiest option, at other restaurants I consistently choose a healthy option. Because I recognise that I do this, I have learned when it is a good idea to allow a splurge meal versus choosing for nutrition and choose my restaurant based on this knowledge. I have the Outback and Olive Garden on my rarely list, and Sweet Tomatoes and Taco Bell (Go fresco meals!) on my sometimes list. I rarely go out more than twice a month anymore so most of my nutrition comes from home cooked meals that I can know exactly what I am eating. - 1/14/2010   11:36:28 AM
  • 177
    I like it when I see healthier options on restaurant menus. However, if I choose healthy or not really depends on the meal I'm eating out. I tend to eat out quite frequently for lunch and because of this I more than often choose a healthier option. I don't eat out at dinner time much at all, therefore it's a treat to be going out for dinner. Then, I might not choose the healthiest meal and I might even eat dessert. I believe it's all moderation. Honestly, I would like restaurants to offer more vegetarian options. Sometimes just not eating meat is healthier. - 1/8/2010   1:33:27 PM
  • 176
    I would love to see restaurants offer more healthy options. It is the first thing I look at but I do not always choose them. The biggest reason is flavor. When I go out to eat I want something that I am knowingly not going to cook and I want it to be full of flavor and leave me feeling full afterwards. There are not that many choices out there and so I do find that at times I do not choose the healthy meals. Right now, I am a big fan of the shrimp taco that is a healthy choice at On the Boarder. :) - 12/5/2009   9:40:55 AM
  • 175
    I look at the healthier options first too, but often they don't look appealing or my experience tells me they won't taste good. I don't like salad, at all, so that really narrows down the healthy options, and I know from experience that a chicken breast and grilled vegetables from Chili's does not taste good. I usually go with kids menu items! - 12/3/2009   12:00:08 PM
  • 174
    My problem is that I usually go out to eat in a social when a group of us get together for a birthday or some other event. It's REALLY hard to order a salad with no dressing when everyone else is eating burgers and chicken wings. So I try to split a meal with my hubby or a friend, so even if I am eating something horrible for me, I'm only eating half. AND no leftovers to tempt me at home!

    But yes, I do like going to places that have their nutritional info online. Like a previous poster said, it's interesting to see that some "salads" have 1200 calories but a grilled chicken sandwich only has 300. It really helps to have the info ahead of time so even if I do eat badly, at least I'm aware of the damage instead of trying to guess. - 12/3/2009   9:00:06 AM
    Uno's has this awesome baked stuffed chicken dish. It is actually really low in calories and very tasty. I get it every time and never feel guilty eating the breadstick b/c the chicken with the breadstick is under 600 calories, which I view as a great achievement when eating out. I love any place that has a menu on-line, then I can plan in advance what I'd "like" to have, without seeming obsessive about calories/nutrition when I'm out with my friends/ family. - 12/2/2009   4:11:33 PM
  • 172
    I havent had whats on the menu at any resturant yet? Always changing things to meet my diatary need. - 11/8/2009   10:11:49 PM
  • 171
    I admit I 'look' at the healthier options, but very rarely choose them. My worst thing is hearing what others are ordering that aren't on a 'watch your weight' plan.... it generally screws up any good intentions I may have had. It's my own fault, but the healthy options aren't always very yummy looking. Perhaps soon I'll have more willpower!! - 11/5/2009   11:22:58 PM
    Yes, I always look for the Healthy options menu, but it usually doesn't have many items on it. So I carefully scan the entire menu to find the better, healthier options. - 11/3/2009   7:11:53 PM
  • 169
    Yes, If a restaurant offers a "Healthy" meal choice....... I will take that..... I am vegetarian so I always watch what I choose when eating out................No Meats for Me ... Thank - 9/11/2009   5:15:39 PM
    Thank you Coach Jen for this article. I now take time to do on-line menu research of whichever restaurant we are going to. It is great to take the time to plan the meal, arrive at the restaurant knowing exactly what we are ordering. - 9/9/2009   5:36:58 PM
  • 167
    I try to have the healthy options, but sometimes that steak is just too tempting!
    I would like to see more healthy options on the menus and PROPER SERVING SIZES! I think that gets us in trouble more than the healthy/not healthy options. - 8/19/2009   3:06:17 PM
  • 166
    Okay, I am guilty of sometimes going out with the I am going to pick a healthy meal off the menu and then ordering the shrimp and parmesan steak dinner lol. The reason being is because most of the healthy menu items do not sound appetizing to me. I will eat healthy if I like the food but if the food is bland and tasteless who wants to pay for that? I sure as heck don't have the money to gamble with trying something that doesn't sound too great and hoping for the best. Everytime that I have tried a healthy menu item it has been a piece of chicken or salmon on a pile of under cooked and under seasoned rice pilaf. I do still choose healthier options (most of the time, sometimes I go for that steak and shrimp lol ) but I never pick it from their weight watchers or guiltless grill ect. I usually have to piece my own meal together by getting grilled shrimp skewers a side of veggies and black beans and rice or a baked potato. I just wish they would put in the effort to have more of a variety of healthy choices and execute in the quality of the food as well. - 8/3/2009   10:02:36 AM
    I love that more restaurants are offering healthy choices. I'm not a fan of fried foods which is what I see a lot of under the appetizers depending where I am. (I rarely eat an appetizer anymore - just something I notice) I many times look online at the menu before we go out to eat. I don't always make the best choice but I can make up for it if I don't. - 7/31/2009   10:06:27 AM
  • 164
    Eating out can destroy my food plan, so I always choose carefully. The truth is I don't even LOOK at the meats or chef's specials. I always stay with fish or chicken. If the fish and chicken menus have nothing to offer, I make up a dinner of a shrimp cocktail and a salad, dressing on the side. The fun of eating out is enjoying the company of friends and family, not filling up on fat and salt.

    So the short answer is I deeply appreciate restaurants that offer nutritionally sound choices and that print out the nutritional value of each selection. - 7/30/2009   10:10:56 AM
  • 163
    Well I guess I am one of those 20% who would rather choose better nutrition. If I don't like what I see on the menu in the healthy options....I make sure I do everything humanly possible to make what I pick healthy...example...Denny's resturant...I love their turkey club sandwiches. I get it with wheat toast (20 cents more) no sauces or condiments added, and I omit either all or part of the bacon. For the side dish of french fries...well they magically become a salad with a request of lemon wedges on the side!!! Our favorites can be healthy too...just depends on you. - 7/29/2009   10:32:11 PM
  • 162
    If I know that I'm going to eat out at a restaurant, I take a minute to see if the menu is online as well as the items' nutritional values. That way I'm making my decision about what I'm going to order before I'm starving at the restaurant. It helps me to choose healthier dishes from the menu and I'm taking the guess work out of the calories, fat, etc. content of eating out. - 7/29/2009   7:50:32 PM
  • 161
    You don't have to eat off the "healthy side" of the menu to eat right. All it takes are asking some questions, and asking for a meal without cheese, or baked instead of fried, or dressing on the side, that kind of thing. And, to eat small portions- like, order an appetizer as a main course, and a side salad or soup.

    I actually avoid the type of restaurants that have "healthy menus." They are usually the chain type restaurants, and I find that food pretty gross overall, usually. Better to go to an independent restaurant, where they are likely to have better service and accommodate special requests. - 7/29/2009   6:33:27 PM
  • 160
    It's sad that only 20% of people are actually choosing the healthier side of the menu and yet will still complain about being over weight. At the same time I understand that a person is going out to enjoy a good meal. You can have taste and nutrition and still enjoy you night out. what better way then enjoying it from a restuaraunt? It can only give you a few ideas that you can try and recreate at home.Every once and a while, sure, please endulge yourself with a chicken alfredo but just remember to keep your health in mind because some of those meals have over a 1,000 calories. - 7/29/2009   6:14:25 PM
    I have chosent to eat healthier items off the menu, (healthier meaning lower in fat and calories). But this is a false sense of 'healthy eating'. The fact is while I am looking at the amount of fat and calories, I also need to pay attention to the sodium. What good is it for me to maintain a healthy weight while I add stress to my heart by intaking a lot of sodium? - 7/29/2009   4:07:33 PM
  • ERICA429
    I am not good at portion control so I started eating of the kids menu.

    Because I can't eat fish or chicken (allergies) and that seams to be
    what is offered on the healthy menu. - 7/29/2009   2:58:27 PM
    i wish that they would make more appealing options for people like me. i would like to open the menu, look at the picture, and think that looks awesome. Healthy food does not have to be tasteless and boring. i think they go about it the wrong way. they make heathy options for what they consider to be a small group of people who are asking for it. Instead, they should strive to make something that anyone would want to eat that is also healthy.
    i can admit that when i first started eating healthier i struggled with it. but i got onto sparkrecipes and tried the recipes. i learned what i liked, and what added flavor without a lot of calories, or fat, or sodium. If they would experiment a little more than they could make some amazaing foods that anyone would love. - 7/29/2009   1:48:27 PM
  • 156
    I always look for healthier options first. I will often choose salmon, or a salad. However, I would like to see more variety, but am happy there are atleast some options. - 7/29/2009   12:05:09 PM
  • 155
    I totally agree with the polls. Knowing that there are healthy items on the menu helps, however, once I sit down and peruse the menu, I am shot. I do make more healthy choices (no mayo, extra condiments (veggies, ketchup, etc)), water to drink, etc however, there are just some days I just throw it all out the window and hit the stuff I know isn't good for me. - 7/29/2009   10:56:01 AM
    I am one that walks into the resturaunt with the best of intentions. It is really hard to choose healthy when your favorite cream sauce topped meal is starring at you from the menu. It is really mind over matter when it comes to choosing the healthy meal. You just have to want it enough and make yourself eat right. Good luck everyone!!!! - 7/28/2009   7:15:26 PM
  • 153
    If there are healthier options available, I will eat them. In fact, I look for them and will not eat at restaurants that do not offer them.

    The trouble is, people don't want to take responsibility for their own health concerns. It's easier to point the finger and blame the food and drink industry. - 7/28/2009   6:46:48 PM
  • 152
    I would love it if restaurants would offer more healthy choices, and cut back on sodium, and fats. There is no reason for restaurant food to be so bad for the general public. I know I have tweeked several recipes to lower calories/fat/sodium and they still taste just as good. - 7/28/2009   2:13:41 PM
  • 151
    I love that at our Ruby Tuesday.Also Our Red Robin has what they call no bun burger it is awesome it come wrapped in lettuce but u do not notice there is no bun it is so good an u get a side salad to go with it. - 7/28/2009   2:02:55 PM
  • 150
    I would love to see more restaurants offer healthy options, but know it is really up to me to have a good "plan" before I get there. In reality, even some of the advertized healthy options are served in much too large a portion. When they are offered, I almost always choose something from that menu. I have discovered thought that sometimes it makes sense to substitute. For example, Applebees has a weight watchers steak, that cost $2 more than a larger steak portion off the regular menu. So, if you have the self-control, save the $2 and take the rest of the steak home! You can substitute the same sides with your larger steak.
    I try to choose lean cuts of meat like turkey, chicken or fish, and make sure it is not fried or baked in butter. I also always choose a vegetable that is not fried for one of my sides. The hardest thing for me to decide is what salad dressing to use. I think I may resort to bringing my own!
    - 7/28/2009   1:29:38 PM
  • 149
    Yes I choose healthier options. I try to be aware of calorie content and only eat half/ 1/4 of the meal and take the rest home to make up 3-4 meals in order to get the calories under control. - 7/28/2009   1:09:48 PM
  • CLAUDINE2000
    I wish more restaurants had more/better selections under their healthy portion of the menu... I really like the 2-3 Weight Watchers entrees I've had at Applebee's. Great flavor and filling. But, other restaurants options leave something to be desired. I went to a Mexican restaurant a while back and ordered their grilled chicken breast with veggies. The chicken breast had absolutely no flavor and was very dry. Not liking salsa, which a friend used to give flavor and moisture to hers, I only made it through about 1/3 of it.
    One thing I try to do when I go out to eat for dinner is to order the lunch portion, which tends to be cheaper and plenty of food, of some meals or bring half of it home.
    One thing I really want to see more often is smaller hamburgers at sit down restaurants. How many people really need a 1/2 pound burger??? - 7/28/2009   1:03:23 PM
    I actually have tried the healthier options at restaurants, and usually find them to be flavorless and not nearly as tasty and well-prepared as the more traditional (high calorie) offerings. You can tell that people aren't ordering these options due to the poor presentation and quality of the healthy food being served. It's especially hard to eat something like that when you know you could do SO MUCH better!

    So I usually opt to order something else, with a few modifications (no butter, no mayo, veggies instead of fries, grilled instead of fried) ... it might not be nearly as healthy as the other options, but at least I'm enjoying what I'm eating as opposed to picking at a bland slab of fish with frozen veggies as a side. - 7/28/2009   11:17:44 AM
    I like restaurants that offer healthy choices and show nutritional information on the menu. I often do chose the healthy options and am frequently surprised to learn that menu options I thought were healthy are not !!! For example, the chicken sandwich that has less calories than the salad. Honestly, Most of the time I prefer eating smaller portions of regular menu choices. There are a few restaurants that my husband and I go that allow us to order 2 appetizers which we share or maybe a salad and an appetizer. The entrees are just too much food. Appetizers sometimes cost almost the same as an entree; but we enjoy them more. (Be careful. This is not a good option at some restaurants that serve only fried appetizers!! ) - 7/28/2009   8:58:36 AM
    We eat out quite a bit; my husband at 93 is quite inactive, but he loves going out. I have learned to manage quite well ordering off the menu. Often it is two appetizers. I wish more restaurants offered a clear broth soup; soup takes the edge of the appetite so that portion control is easier to manage. I avoid anything fried. Often I will ask for double veggies rather than a starch and vegetable. I always get salad dressing on the side, and dip my fork into the dressing and then into the salad. The taste of the dressing is there, but I probably use about a teaspoon of dressing. Baked potatoes taste great with salsa (most restaurants have it) instead of butter and sour cream. My "dessert" is usually a glass of wine with dinner. Applebee's does have mini sundaes (they come in a small glass dish that looks like a double shot glass) for those who must have something sweet. I personally enjoy the WW items; maybe it depends on the individual location. Portion and calorie control is possible. Just avoid the bread basket! - 7/28/2009   8:18:12 AM

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