10 Diet-Friendly Restaurants: Stay on Track When You're On-the-Go

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Harris Interactive recently conducted a survey on behalf of Applebee's Neighborhood Bar & Grill to gain information about food-related New Year's resolutions. They surveyed U.S. adults at the end of 2011 and found that 83 percent of those interviewed would like to eat better in the New Year but don't want to feel they are sacrificing to do it. Eighty-one percent of respondents also say that lower-calorie meal options when dining away from home would help them keep their food-related resolutions. Since nine in ten Americans that make food-related resolutions end up breaking them, help with finding lower calorie meal options is needed to point people in the right direction when they dine away from home.
Over the years, we have highlighted many healthier options in our Diet Friendly Dining series. Since many of you made food-related New Year's resolutions or goals for this year, here are 10 restaurants with calorie conscience menus to keep in mind when eating away from home.

  1. Applebee's Neighborhood Bar & Grill  - Applebee's resolves to let patrons have it all this year with their Great Tasting Under 550 Calorie and Weight Watchers endorsed menu items. Caution is necessary especially related to overall sodium content. The Asiago Peppercorn Steak with sides (380 calories/14 g fat/1,520 mg sodium) is your healthiest meal choice. The Weight Watchers Paradise Chicken Salad (340 calories/4 g fat/2,060 mg sodium) is a good entrée salad choice as well.

  2. IHOP Restaurant - The International House of Pancakes has been an American favorite for generations. Their Simple & Fit menu highlights options under 600 calories so it can be enjoyed for more generations to come. If you are visiting with breakfast in mind, the Simple & Fit Spinach, Mushroom & Tomato Omelette with Fresh Fruit (330 calories/12 g fat/690 mg sodium) and the Simple & Fit Veggie Omelette with Fresh Fruit (320 calories/10 g fat/420 mg sodium) make great choices. If you are looking for a sandwich, aim for the Simple & Fit Simply Chicken Sandwich (500 calories/10 g fat/840 mg sodium). If you are out for dinner, the Simple & Fit Grilled Tilapia Dinner with steamed broccoli and a house salad (490 calories/23 g fat/1,270 mg sodium) is a nutrient rich option although it is high in sodium.

  3. Cheesecake Factory – With a high calorie dessert in the name of your restaurant, low calorie options isn't something people expect at this nationwide favorite casual dining chain. Have no fear if this is one of your favorite restaurants AND you want to watch your calories at the same time. Last fall the SkinnyLicious menu was created to offer calorie-conscious guests with nearly 50 choices under 590 calories. Although Cheesecake Factory doesn't publish complete nutrition information for their menu, Eat This, Not That highlights several of the better choices you can select. Good entrée options would be the SkinnyLicious Herb Crusted Salmon (570 calories/35 g fat/687 mg sodium) with assorted fresh vegetables or the 6 oz Petite Grilled Tenderloin of Beef (585 calories/38 g fat/951 mg sodium) with fresh vegetables. The Mexican Tortilla Salad (560 calories/22 g fat/1,853 mg sodium) with SkinnyLicious vinaigrette dressing provides a large, high sodium portion that would be great to share or to take half home.

  4. Denny's – Almost anywhere across the United States, you are bound to find America's diner always open. The Fit Fare menu offers nutritious meals with lower amounts of fat and calories while maintaining a great taste and price. When you visit for breakfast, check out the Fit Slam (390 calories/12 g fat/850 mg sodium) which is a healthier version of a Denny's favorite. If a lighter breakfast is more enticing, the Harvest Oatmeal Breakfast (350 calories/11 g fat/600 mg sodium) is fiber rich and filling.  Good lunch and dinner choices include the Cranberry Apple Chicken Salad (370 calories/12 g fat/610 mg sodium) or the Fit Fare Tilapia Ranchero dinner (450 calories/19 g fat/930 mg sodium).

  5. Red Lobster - Seafood offers heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and a rich protein source. Now with the LightHouse menu options, you can get those great benefits without additional fat and calorie overload when visiting Red Lobster. The best entrée selection would be the Rock Lobster (90 calories/1 g fat/490 mg sodium). Pair that with fresh steamed asparagus (60 calories/3 g fat/270 mg sodium) or broccoli (45 calories/.5 grams fat/200 mg sodium) and you have a nutrient rich, low calorie, low fat, lower sodium lunch or dinner.

  6. Bob Evans - The Fit from the Farm menu helps you find a satisfying meal to fit your nutrition conscious lifestyle. It is important to note that the guidelines for these menu items includes a calorie count of 650 calories or less which is on the high side for one meal for many calorie controlled meal plans below 2000 calories. For breakfast, consider the new BE Fit Breakfast (352 calories/3 g fat/537 mg sodium) with Lite scrambled eggs, cranberry multigrain sidecakes and fresh fruit. The Veggie Omelet (310 calories/6 g fat/581 mg sodium) is also a great choice. For lunch or dinner look for the savor-size Apple Cranberry Spinach Salad (373 calories/14 g fat/436 mg sodium) or the Potato-Crusted Flounder dinner (453 calories/12 g fat/560 mg sodium) with fresh steamed broccoli and a baked potato.

  7. Mimi's Cafe - The Fresh and Fit menu highlights options under 550 calories available any time of the day. The Five-Alarm Santa Fe Egg White Omelette (174 calories/6 g fat/516 mg sodium) turns an ordinary breakfast into an extraordinary any-time meal with spicy chipotle sauce, diced jalapenos, and cilantro to spice things up. If you are looking for low sodium entrée options, Mimi's has options for you! The Citrus Salmon is a tasty grilled salmon with greens, strawberries, and fat-free balsamic vinaigrette with only 320 mg of sodium (539 calories/37 g fat). You might also like the Broiled Chicken and Fruit Plate (425 calories/7 g fat/108 mg sodium) or the Sweet & Sour Chicken (550 calories/20 g fat/253 mg sodium) or the Tilapia with brown rice and steamed vegetables (440 calories/9 g fat/390 mg sodium) as well.

  8. T.G.I. Friday's  - The Right Portion, Right Price options, which are 750 calories or less, are the section of the menu to focus while realizing that the higher calorie level may not fit for many controlled calorie plans. Sodium content even on these calorie conscience highlighted items are high so they may not be right for everyone, especially those for people that have to limit their sodium intake for medical reasons. Although listed as an appetizer, the Spinach Florentine Flatbread (410 calories/23 g fat/1,280 mg sodium) might work as an entrée selection. The Petite Sirloin (370 calories/24 g fat/1,450 mg sodium) or Dragonfire Salmon (590 calories/ 23 g fat/ 2,090 mg sodium) with side selections of Ginger-Lime Slaw (90 calories/5 g fat/ 220 mg sodium) and steamed broccoli (50 calories/ .5 g fat/ 370 mg sodium) are your best meal options.

  9. Subway – When you are on the run and want a healthier fast food option, there is probably a Subway nearby to help. If you've ever searched "healthy restaurants near me" in Yelp, chances are pretty good that a Subway is going to pop up. That's because Subway chains outnumber McDonald's these days, which is a great thing if you're on the go and looking for a place to eat. The Fresh Fit highlighted menu items help you make a wise choice once you are there. You will find eight sub choices with less than 6 grams of fat as well as apple slices, low fat milk, 100% juice or water to round out your healthy meal. You can find three Fresh Fit Breakfast options under 200 calories like the Egg White, Steak, and Cheese English Muffin Melt (180 calories/ 4 g fat/ 620 mg sodium). For a low calorie, low sodium sandwich select a 6" Veggie Delite (230 calories/2.5 g fat/310 mg sodium). If you are looking to increase the fiber while decreasing the complex carbs, go for a salad such as the Grilled Chicken & Baby Spinach (130 calories/3 g fat/330 mg sodium without dressing) or a Subway Club Salad (140 calories/3.5 g fat/640 mg sodium without dressing).

  10. McDonald's – While there may not be a special section for healthier options on a McDonald's menu board, you will find over 20 health conscious choices available. Whether you are looking for a healthier breakfast option, a kid's meal, or a fruit smoothie, you can certainly find a calorie conscious option nearby.  A fiber rich, low sodium breakfast choice is the Fruit & Maple Oatmeal (290 calories/4.5 g fat/160 mg sodium). You might want to pair it with a Fruit 'N Yogurt Parfait with Granola (160 calories/2 g fat/85 mg sodium) or Snack Size Fruit & Walnut Salad (210 calories/8 g fat/60 mg sodium) for even more fiber, flavor, and crunch. Smaller portion sizes for kids and adults can be enjoyed with the new Happy Meal (390 calories/11 g fat/650 mg sodium) with a hamburger, Apple Dippers with Low Fat Caramel Dip and 1% Low Fat White Milk. A good salad option is the Grilled Chicken Southwest Salad (290 calories/8 g fat/650 mg sodium) with Newman's Own Creamy Southwest Dressing (100 calories/6 g fat/340 mg sodium). If a sandwich is more to your liking, consider either a Grilled Chipotle BBQ or Honey Mustard Snack Wrap (250 calories/8 g fat/660 mg sodium) or Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich (350 calories/9 g fat/820 mg sodium).
You can also use these tips to make any menu opportunity a more health conscience choice.
  • Select reduced fat or fat-free dressings when possible.
  • Request that dressings, sauces, and glazes be served on the side whenever possible.
  • Look for healthier substitutions for fried options such as fries, onion rings, or hash browns. Most places offer side salads, fresh fruit or steamed vegetables.
  • Substitute grilled or baked meats like chicken or shrimp in place of fried offerings.
  • Select the smaller portion of entrée salads when available.
  • Select water with lemon or lime or unsweetened tea to drink.
  • Select the smallest size sandwich or fries in place of the "supersized" options.
  • Request that foods be "unsalted" or have "no additional seasoning" if possible to reduce the sodium content.
Eating away from home can limit weight loss success especially if you do it more than a couple of times each week. However, if you limit the number of times you eat away from home AND make nutrient wise choices when you do, you can stay on track with your weight loss goals.   

Did you think there were this many healthy options available? What other calorie conscious suggestions do you have when eating away from home that might help people new to weight loss?

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Applebees commissioned a study that says...eat at Applebees. That's some hard-hitting research right there. Report
I am very disappointed that "Olive Garden" was not found on the list! The "Venitian Apricot Chicken" is GREAT!!!! and only 290 calories, very healthy and filling. How can an appetizer (TGIF) with 450 calories be on the list? Yes the calorie range maybe OK, but really..... Report
I like SUBWAY very much. I always give up the dressing and choose whole wheat bread. Report
My favorite restaurant to get something healthy, tasty and argument-free with the family is Jason's Deli! I order one of their wraps or a salad bar. The soups are really good, too! The nutrition info is readily available, so I know what I'm eating.

At other restaurants, I agree with ARCHIMEDESII, I order something grilled or baked, and only occasionally indulge! Everything in moderation, right? Any sauces that sound sugary or oil-laden, I ask for on the side and lightly dip into.

Hopefully, more restaurants will follow suit and offer plenty of healthy choices as part of a regular menu, and not just a tiny selection in the corner! :) Report
Our TGIFriday's franchise closed 3 years ago, but it was our "go to" place for years. I would always ask that they not season the entree and veggies. It reduced the sodium amounts to an almost manageable level. If you let your server know you are following a low sodium diet, they can help make your meal closer to your guidelines.

We discovered Subway while driving up and down the I-5 corridor five years ago. Now it's one of our favorites. I like the Oven Roasted Chicken on wheat with lots of veggies. It fits right in with my food plan. I'll do the Veggie Delite when I don't feel like meat. You can turn any sub into a salad and really save on calories and fat. Report
I'm not surprized that more and more restaurants are offering healthier options for diners. It's because more people have been demanding healthier choices. In a tight economy, restaurants need to find ways to keep customers and offering healthier meals is one way. And people are much more health conscious. The want meals with less salt, saturated fat and calories. They want to know that what they're eating won't contribute to clogged arteries later.

So, I'm glad more restaurants are giving people more choices.

When I eat out, I generally order foods that are grilled or baked. But yes, occasionally, I will have something fried. I'm just mindful of my portion, that's all. And yes, I do take home a doggie bag. I'm no longer a member of the clean plate club.

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