Healthier Options at Chain Restaurants
Photo By: Leigh Beisch ©2011, Leigh Beisch
For calorie-appropriate portions, look for Applebee's Unbelievably Great Tasting & Under 550 Calories or Weight Watchers®-endorsed dishes. There are several items — including Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Shrimp or Weight Watchers® Grilled Jalapeno Lime Shrimp (pictured) — on this portion of the menu that all clock in at under 550 calories. The steak dishes are high in saturated fat (7 to 8 grams) and all are high in sodium, but that's to be expected. If you're ordering off this menu, go for the Chicken Tortilla Soup or Chicken Noodle Soup and half of a Seasonal Berry and Spinach Salad.
By Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., R.D..
You always have the option of ordering the smallest size, which will help keep calories in check. A hamburger is 3.5 to 4 ounces, which keeps calories at 250 and saturated fat at 3.5 grams. The Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich is also a good bet at 350 calories and 2 grams saturated fat. Probably your best choice, though, is the Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken (pictured; 290 calories, 2.5 grams saturated fat, 650 milligrams sodium and 27 grams protein) and dressing on the side. The black beans provide added fiber, and saturated fat and sodium are lower than in other items.
For entrees that are generally under 500 calories, order anything on Olive Garden's Lighter Italian Fare menu. The Herb-Grilled Salmon (pictured) is a good choice with 480 calories, 5 grams saturated fat, only 360 milligrams sodium and a whopping 56 grams protein. For the healthiest appetizer, choose the Pasta e Fagioli soup, which adds only 130 calories, 1 gram saturated fat and a filling 6 grams fiber to your meal.
For the healthiest item at P.F. Chang's, turn to Buddha's Feast. This dish features veggies — asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, broccoli and carrots — plus baked tofu. It's low in calories (260) and sodium (300 milligrams), but delivers 26 grams protein and 10 grams fiber, thanks to the tofu and veggies. Make sure to order it steamed and ask for brown rice on the side (stick to half a bowl: A full serving is 6 ounces, which adds 310 calories to the meal). If you feel like a splurge, choose the tiramisu for dessert. It sounds indulgent, but is one of the lowest-calorie (250) desserts on the menu.
Red Lobster's Wood-Grilled Fresh Salmon is low in calories (210) and sodium (240 milligrams) and high in protein (32 grams), making it a good starting point for a healthy meal. Round it out with fresh broccoli and wild rice pilaf for the most virtuous combination; your meal total will be 450 calories, 1,090 milligrams sodium (mostly from the rice pilaf), 40 grams protein and 2.5 grams saturated fat. In terms of calories, the Home-Style Mashed Potatoes are an OK choice, too; they're just a bit high in saturated fat (6 grams).
Order the 6-inch Turkey Breast with Avocado and Spinach on 9-Grain Wheat Bread from the Fresh Fit menu. It has 340 calories, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 8 grams fiber and 19 grams protein. Load it up with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers and cucumbers (but skip the pickles and banana peppers, which are brimming with sodium). Fresh Fit items are certified by the American Heart Association to be heart-healthy meals. Choose apple slices on the side, and water or low-fat milk to drink.
Order off of the "fresco" menu for choices that are under 350 calories and under 10 grams total fat (these also happen to have less saturated fat than other menu items). Fresco chicken or steak soft tacos are the best bets in terms of calories, saturated fat and protein. They're only 140 to 160 calories each, so get two and add a side of black beans (which adds only 80 calories and 5 grams fiber) for a complete meal.