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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SHOAPIE 5/22/2018
Thank you. Report
TERMITEMOM 5/22/2018
All way too high on carbs! And also no info on sodium as others mentioned. Report
MBPP50 5/22/2018
Thank you Report
KATIE520 5/22/2018
You really need to add the sodium contents for these foods. Some of your suggestions are very high in sodium, which is unhealthy for everyone, not just those of us with heart conditions! Report
REDROBIN47 5/22/2018
Thanks for the good options. These are good to know. Report
JESPAH 5/22/2018
I'm with @LUNA_IS_MY_HERO - where are the listings for sodium?

And, egad, these are carb-filled. I'm not even on low carb and some of these are truly outrageous. Report
SHADOWDRAGON19 5/22/2018
Great information. Report
JVANAM 5/21/2018
Taking the first footstep with a good thought, the second with a good word, and the third with a good deed, I entered paradise. - ZOROASTER ~ 5/21/18 Report
RAPUNZEL53 5/21/2018
I wish there was a diet friendly vegetarian option at Panera bread. Report
STALBOTT48 5/21/2018
Ate at chick fil a because of this Report
MSROZZIE 5/21/2018
Good need-to-know information! Report
OK now I want to head out to each of these places! 2 comments though: Taco Bell has a POWER BOWL grilled chicken or steak,
Reduced fat sour cream,
Fresh Pico de Gallo, black beans & seasoned rice. It’s quite good! I’m eating KETO so I had them omit the black beans & rice. Seriously Yummy! Also you neglected to mention that Subway will gladly make a salad or a wrap out of any menu item. Report
LUNA_IS_MY_HERO 5/21/2018
I wish sodium was listed in the nutrition information. Report
PICKIE98 5/21/2018
I have only heard of three of these places, I would never eat at bob evans, but subway is good. Panera bread is out-of-town, but I would love to try their strawberry salad! Report
TAPESTRIES 5/21/2018
There's more to healthy eating than calories. I would not call a soup (Panera Bread's Lentil Quinoa Broth Bowl with Cage Free Egg) that contains 1220 mg of sodium healthy, no matter what kind of diet a person is on.

That's more than 50% of the RDA for sodium (2300 mg) for a HEALTHY person, and and 81% of the RDA of someone with high blood pressure or other health issues (1500 mg).

Go back and add the sodium for each of those suggested meals and then revise your list so that it shows truly healthy meals.
SPARKFRAN514 5/21/2018
don't eat out much but only five of the 10 are in my location . so i you learn to pick healthy where you go. I just enjoy and not beat my self up . I did not get over weight by eating one meal out . Report
portion control comes from learning to listen to your body and STOPPING when satiated or just before, so as not to become uncomfortably full. Report
97MONTY 5/21/2018
Great information Report
EO4WELLNESS 5/21/2018
Thanks for pulling this together. I was amazed to discover--I've never heard of most of these places. Report
LIS193 5/21/2018
Thanks Report
AMYSUZEQ 5/21/2018
Thank you Report
CECTARR 5/21/2018
You don't list the sodium on these lists. The sodium of some of these foods is way too high to be healthy Report
SHELLLEY2 5/21/2018
I feel you can always find diet friendly options in any restaurant, you may just need to adjust the entre somewhat. I’m vegetarian and I find if you ask... they can help you :) Report
BIKE4HEALTH 5/21/2018
I eat at 5 of these places and thank them every time for their options. I love Paneras salads Report
AZMOMXTWO 5/21/2018
thank you Report
AQUAGIRL08 5/21/2018
Thank you for taking the time to make up this list for us! Report
JANET552 5/21/2018
Thank you Report
NEPTUNE1939 5/21/2018
TY Report
TCANNO 5/21/2018
Pity I don't live in the USA Report
PAMBROWN62 5/21/2018
While some of these calorie counts are great, wow on the sugar content. My lifestyle now is low sodium and sugar and so many of these contain a lot of both. One of the reasons I wont eat out often is because of the sodium content. Now Ive added sugar to that equation. It is amazing how much added sugar there is in food you least expect to contain it at all. Good to know lower calorie choice but still some of these are not great choices either. Report
Excellent article thank you Report
NANCYPAT1 5/20/2018
Great help! Report
NANCYPAT1 5/20/2018
Great help! Report
NELLJONES 5/20/2018
The most diet friendly restaurant is my own kitchen. I don't trust restaurants. Report
STALBOTT48 5/19/2018
I will keep these in mind. Very good info. Report
MNABOY 5/19/2018
Thanks Report
nice to learn of options for eating out. thanks. Report
USMAWIFE 5/19/2018
god information Report
MCJULIEO 5/18/2018
This list is wonderful, but I would also suggest Panda Express for stir-fry vegetables and a filling low calorie meal if you stay away from the batter-fried calorie bombs,,,

if you choose vegetables instead of rice or noodles as your side, you can get a lot of food for less than 400 calories! Report
MAMIEKINS484 5/18/2018
What about Chipotle? Or Elevation Burger? I do really well at both places and their food to cleaner than most restaurants. Used to like Chick-fil-A but they have soy and msg in their food. Report
AJB121299 5/17/2018
nice Report
KHALIA2 5/17/2018
Great info! Thank you! Report
KAIMAGUS22 5/17/2018
So much salt in everything, though. That’s my biggest issue. Report
JANETEMILY 5/17/2018
We rarely eat out at restaurants, but I've found that salad dressings can double the calories at restaurants. The grilled salad at Chick Fil A is only 200 calories without dressing, but they have a good lite Italian that is only 25 calories! I generally only get soup at Panera, but all restaurant soup is high in sodium. I rarely order sandwiches or salads at restaurants - I can make my own at home - cheaper and easier! Report
JANIEWWJD 5/17/2018
Thanks for the tips!!! Report
I agree with @PrettyLilHeffer - I make the "unwhich" sandwiches from my Jimmy John's sandwiches. To be fair, I basically only eat Jimmy John's every 8 weeks - as we can order a lunch delivered by them to the work site where we host the American Red Cross Blood Drive (eight weeks apart).

But - yesterday we ate at a new-to-us local diner after a funeral, and it was all the usual fried stuff and carb-loaded pancakes or waffles etc. I'm doing more of a KETO low-carb thing for now, and so I simply asked the waitress - can I please have this item, hold the ham and bread, wrap it in lettuce, etc. and described what I was doing. She knew what I was talking about and even knew people who were successfully shedding weight with a similar lifestyle. It doesn't hurt to ask. If they want to know, they'll ask. If they don't, you don't have to go back. Or in this case - they understood. So it generally works out with a friendly smile and positive attitude. Report
LEANJEAN6 3/21/2018
I am being treated for a thyroid problem Report
HAWKTHREE 2/24/2018
I think the Cheesecake Factory is the worst offender in the list. I ate what seemed to be a healthy choice of protein plus veggies plus a sauce. It had over 2500 calories. The sauce is the likely culprit. Report
NITEMAN3D 1/21/2018
Some of these have changed since this article was written and not all for the better. Having said that, I think something happened recently that is forcing restaurants to be more forthcoming with their nutrition info. Many are more complete and even including sodium content. Steps in the right direction. Report
A great list of what to eat at restaurants I choose not to patronize Report
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