10 Chain Restaurants with Diet-Friendly Options

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When you're trying to lose or maintain weight, it seems like "restaurant" becomes a four-letter word. When taken out of your kitchen (aka meal-prep headquarters)—with no measuring cup, food scale or nutrition chart in sight—it's as if you've been thrust into a food free-for-all, with no control over portion size, calorie count or fat content. But while you might not be able to actually prep your meals at a restaurant, you can do a little research beforehand to find smart menu options that won't undo all of your hard work.
Although these 10 restaurants certainly feature some unhealthy indulgences on their menus, they all offer at least a few sensible choices to keep you on track toward your goals.


Location: Throughout the United States

Toby Amidor, registered dietitian and author of “The Easy 5-Ingredient Healthy Cookbook,” recommends Panera to her clients as a good source of healthy food choices. Between soups, salads, sandwiches and broth bowls, the menu selections are wholesome and the calories are within reason. "I also recently lost about five pounds, and it’s so refreshing to be able to dine out and be able to select a meal that I know won’t sabotage my weight loss efforts," Amidor says.
Diet-Friendly Choices

Jason's Deli

Location: Throughout the United States (28 states)
Jason's Deli got our attention by being one of the first quick-casual restaurants to remove trans fats from their menu. Since then, they’ve continued to impress by also removing MSG, high-fructose corn syrup and all artificial colors and flavors. This ensures that there's plenty of room for the good stuff—like real, whole, clean foods. In addition to their standard deli menu, Jason's also offers a vegetarian menu and one for gluten-sensitive customers. It's easy to see why they've garnered so many awards.
Diet-Friendly Choices

LYFE Kitchen

Locations: 13 U.S. locations (California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas)
Since launching in 2011, LYFE Kitchen has offered "craveable classics with a contemporary twist." All of the items on its American cuisine menu are prepared with sustainable ingredients with plenty of low-calorie options, making LYFE a perfect breakfast, brunch or lunch destination for diet-conscious diners.
Diet-Friendly Choices

Noodles & Company

Locations: 500 locations throughout the United States
Originally founded in Colorado in 1995, this fast-casual restaurant has expanded to more than 500 locations in 39 states throughout the United States. All of the meals in their core menu are made fresh from real ingredients, with no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors or colors. In addition to their namesake noodles, they offer hearty soups and fresh salads, with an abundance of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. They also have a separate menu that contains only foods with 500 calories or less.
Diet-Friendly Choices

First Watch

Locations: Throughout the United States
The first meal of the day is an important choice when you're trying to lose or maintain weight, and First Watch helps to ensure that breakfast or brunch gets you off on a healthy start. Headquartered in Florida, First the original daytime café now has hundreds of franchises around the country. Although some of their menu items creep into high-calorie territory, there are plenty of options that won't endanger your diet.
Diet-Friendly Choices


Locations: Throughout the United States
This quick and convenient deli chain has become synonymous with healthy eating. While not everything on their menu is perfectly healthy, it's true that there are plenty of low-fat, low-calorie options—as long as you don't add extra ingredients that aren't on the nutrition fact sheet. Keep in mind that their calorie counts don't include items like condiments, extra meat or extra cheese.
Diet-Friendly Choices


Locations: Throughout the United States
As a general rule, fast food has no place in a nutritious, calorie-controlled eating plan—but there are a few exceptions that serve up healthy options in a hurry. While it's best to steer clear of their original (aka fried) chicken sandwich and waffle fries, there are plenty of diet-friendly choices on their menu.
Diet-Friendly Choices

Bob Evans

Locations: Throughout the United States

Although much of the items at this homestyle restaurant are a bit heavy on the calories and fat content, they do offer some lighter fare that will keep your goals in check. Plus, the "Savor Size" section features their standard favorites in more sensible portions.
Diet-Friendly Choices


Locations: Throughout the United States

You might assume that a trip to Applebee's means your diet is doomed, but the chain restaurant offers more than just heavy, fattening foods. The key is to avoid supersized portions and to steer clear of anything described as battered, breaded or fried.
Diet-Friendly Choices

Outback Steakhouse

Locations: Throughout the United States

Who says you can't enjoy dinner at a steakhouse without sending your calorie intake skyrocketing? While the Bloomin' Onion and Aussie Cheese Fries should be avoided at all costs, this popular Australian chain also offers some healthier options that won't send your goals down under. They even have a menu dedicated to dishes under 600 calories.
Diet-Friendly Choices
What are your favorite "safe restaurants" where you know you can find plenty of healthy options? Share your smart selections in the comments!

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FISHGUT3 6/21/2021
thanks Report
Thank you! Report
MILPAM3 3/15/2021
A couple of these restaurants are unfamiliar to me. First Watch and Panera are close by and we enjoy their food. Report
THINCPL2004 1/14/2021
I like Subway the best! Report
CECELW 12/31/2020
I don't actually have a favorite restaurant Report
CECTARR 12/31/2020
These don't seem healthy to me. A lot of carbs and sugar and fat in some and none mention the sodium content which you know is way high. Report
XREPHA 12/31/2020
Another nice thing about Subway is you can ask for any of their subs to be made into a salad. Awesomely good! Report
XREPHA 12/31/2020
Another nice thing about Subway is you can ask for any of their subs to be made into a salad. Awesomely good! Report
V72392 12/31/2020
Unless you're pre-diabetic, diabetic, or have found that a low carb diet keeps your inflammation down.... these carb count have more than half of my daily carb in on food item!! Report
RO2BENT 12/31/2020
Gotta do the hard work Report
A recent article in the Washington Post wrote that Ireland had declared that the sugar content in Subway bread meant that it wasn't really bread. Tests showed a content of over 10% sugar.

All the fast food chains load their bread with sugar. It's how they get it to toast and it's how they addict customers to their products.

https:// www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/we

I used to think Panera food was a healthy fast food option, but the quality of their products have decreased the past few years. Their bagels are nothing more than white rolls. Report
Thanks Report
ROSSYFLOSSY 12/31/2020
Great suggestions. Report
CATE195 12/31/2020
Unfortunately, many of these have not survived the pandemic. Report
NEPTUNE1939 12/31/2020
ty Report
AZMOMXTWO 12/31/2020
thank you Report
CATNURSE1 12/31/2020
I live in Alaska. Choices for dining outside the home are limited. Report
MAREE1953 12/31/2020
Indoor dining will be appreciated once it reopens. Report
FERRETLOVER1 12/31/2020
Great information-thanks! Report
LIS193 12/31/2020
Good information Report
JANIEWWJD 12/31/2020
Very good article!!! Report
CD24069739 12/31/2020
Thanks Report
_CYNDY55_ 12/30/2020
Thanks so much Report
JOANNACEE 12/15/2020
How about some Canadian content? Report
LACG169 12/15/2020
I’d love to see the sodium content on these items. So many Americans are or should be on reduced sodium diets but articles such as this rarely mention sodium. Report
RO2BENT 12/15/2020
Most restaurants have something. Typically requires planning ahead Report
BOOKNUT52 12/15/2020
Don't forget Denny's and Bob Evans. On top of all this input, of course we still need to evaluate things for ourselves and tweak the menu as necessary. Most everyone except Applebees will help with substitutions...... Report
NASFKAB 12/15/2020
Great Report
CECELW 11/21/2020
I've never heard of a lot of these restaurants, I have tried Applebee's. It is pretty good, but not very filling. Report
CD2693807 11/2/2020
interesting article and very interesting comments Report
ERIN_POSCH 10/21/2020
thanks for sharing Report
Don’t know where these places are but I only recognize 2 and only have access to one. Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Thank you. Report
One of my staples-mcdonalds southwest grilled chicken salad w balsamic dressing. So yummy, filling and under $6.00! Report
Thank you for this list. Report
Great options. Report
Thanks for sharing Report
None of these exist where I live. lol, but I do enjoy them when we travel back home! Report
I can make the healthier choices but what I wish the would put the sodium levels on the menu. Every article talks of fat, calories etc. Some if these restaurants have 2 days of sodium in one meal! Report
These suggestions may be great for people dieting, but they go through the roof for people trying to control their diabetes. Having a list for diabetics would be fantastic. Report
Great info but the original Chick Fil A sandwich is not fried, or so I have been told Report
Great article Report
Some of these have lots of carbs but I saw a few lower carb options. Like the Aussie Cobb salad with grilled chicken from Outback. Report
We have most of these in our area and have tried them. We don't do chick fil a, applebees or outback because the food isn't any good. We like Jason's Deli and Panera. It would take a hand written note from God to get my husband into a Bob Evans again. Report
Good information to have on hand. Report
I love Subway and usually get the turkey sub on whole wheat bread. Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Panera is one of my favorites. Report