The Healthiest Dishes at 30 Major Restaurant Chains
You can eat out and still eat healthy food. Find out from Food Network the best things to order at these popular chain restaurants.
Photo By: David Kadlec
Photo By: Nick Caito
Photo By: Nick Caito
Photo By: Nick Caito
For calorie-appropriate portions, look for Applebee's Lighter Fare, which are all under 700 calories per dish. Among the options are Cedar-Grilled Lemon Chicken and Thai Shrimp Salad. Your best bet is probably the Pepper-Crusted Sirloin & Whole Grains — served with spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes, it seems to be the most well-rounded meal. Almost all of these meals pack a day’s worth of sodium, so if you’re watching that, opt instead for a Fire-Grilled Shrimp Skewer, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Broccoli from the regular menu, which trims the sodium while keeping calories in check.
The classic offerings at this sandwich chain aren’t especially vegetable-heavy, so get them where you can. The Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad tops iceberg and green leaf lettuce with sliced turkey, pepper bacon and shredded cheddar. Choose the balsamic vinaigrette, which brings the calorie total to a light 360. If you’re more in the mood for a sandwich, the Classic Roast Beef is a safe bet, delivering 360 calories and 23 grams of protein and half the sodium (970 mg) of some of the turkey sandwiches. Pair it with a side salad to round out your meal.
Buffalo Wild Wings
We wouldn’t want you to NOT have the wings at Buffalo Wild Wings. And lucky for you, they may just be the healthiest thing on the menu! Just a few tips for ordering: Go for traditional wings, rather than boneless (they’re more whole foods-based) and get the snack size. For the least added sugar and sodium go for the buffalo, chipotle, desert heat, lemon pepper and salt & vinegar flavors. The snack-size buffalo traditional wings deliver 340 calories, 6 grams of saturated fat, 530 mg of sodium and 41 grams of protein. Make sure you eat the carrot and celery sticks, too, for a small dose of vegetables. The fiesta pork tacos are another good choice providing 450 calories, 30 grams of protein, 10 grams of fat, 1100 mg of sodium and 3 grams of fiber.
Finally, a veggie burger on a fast food menu! At Burger King you can get a Morningstar veggie burger, along with the usual toppings of lettuce, tomato and onions. As a standalone item, it has 390 calories, 22 protein, 6 grams of fiber and 1060 mg of sodium. Get bonus points for ordering a side salad, but if you do go for fries, choose the Value size, which is the smallest option available.
California Pizza Kitchen
It’s not all pizza at California Pizza Kitchen. They recently rolled out two new Power Bowls that pair whole grains, veggies and protein. The Banh Mi Bowl tops quinoa and baby kale with grilled chicken, watermelon radishes, avocado, cucumbers, carrots, bean sprouts, scallions, cilantro, mint and sesame seeds. It’s high in fiber (9 grams), rich in protein (30 grams), and lower in sodium than many restaurant dishes (460 mg of sodium). If you’re not feeling the bowl thing, order a half-sized California Cobb salad (still a hefty portion), or check out the cedar-planked salmon.
Go for the Famous Star® burger at Carl’s Jr., but hold the cheese and mayo, order it on a plain bun, and ask for extra lettuce and tomatoes. These swaps will save you on calories and saturated fat, giving you a healthier burger. This option, which falls under their “Trim It®” menu, clocks in at 390 calories, 17 grams of fat, 610 mg of sodium, 3 grams of fiber and 23 grams of protein. If lettuce-wrapped burgers and sandwiches are your thing, you’re in luck! Carl’s Jr. says you can “Low Carb It.® by swapping the bun for a large lettuce leaf in sandwiches such as the Low Carb Charbroiled Chicken Club.
Carraba’s Italian Grill
At Carraba’s Italian Grill most of the dinner-sized pastas pack in a day’s worth of sodium. So either share a pasta to halve the sodium, or opt for one of the seafood or chicken entrees. The Tuscan Strawberry Salad With Chicken, Salmon or Shrimp is a good option, or order off the appetizer menu: the Italian Lettuce Wraps, featuring balsamic-drizzled grilled chicken, veggies and ricotta salata would pair nicely with the Bruschette Siciliani, for a balanced meal.
Chick-Fil-A’s Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap® is a solid choice. The chicken is layered with cheese, lettuce, red cabbage and carrots, and the wrap is a super-high fiber flatbread. The nutrient profile is extraordinarily balanced, giving you 15 grams of fiber, 14 grams of fat and 37 grams of protein for 350 calories. Despite the high-ish amount of sodium (960 mg), it’s still one of the healthiest things on the menu. If you want even more produce in your meal, opt for the Grilled Market Salad, which adds blueberries, strawberries and apples to the lettuce/cabbage mix. Go easy on the dressing, though, which adds quite a bit of sugar to the meal.
Dive into the Guiltless Grill menu at Chili’s to find balanced meals under 600 calories. Options include Mango Chili Chicken, served with Mexican rice and steamed broccoli, and the Margarita Chicken, which is like a burrito bowl. Just know that these two options have about a day’s worth of sodium. So a better bet may be the Grilled Chicken Salad, with 440 calories, 6 grams of saturated fat, 1100 mg of sodium and 38 grams of protein.
Your best bet at Chipotle Mexican Grill is the burrito bowl, since you can tailor it exactly as you want. For the most nutrition, we’d order it with tofu or steak, black or pinto beans, brown rice and fajita veggies, fresh tomato salsa, guacamole and lettuce. You’ll get 16 grams of fiber and 31 grams of protein with this combination, making it a meal with staying power. A quality alternative is the tacos. Surprisingly, the crispy corn tortillas are a healthier option than flour tortillas — they’re lower in calories, higher in fiber and have no sodium — but even better yet are the soft corn tortillas, which aren’t fried at all.
The Wholesome Fixin’s menu is the place to find better-for-you options at this classic comfort food restaurant. Pair the Buttermilk Oven-Fried Chicken or Pecan-Crusted Catfish with lower-sodium, veggie-focused sides, such as mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli, or Brussels sprouts and kale salad with apple slices. If you’re there for breakfast, try out the steel-cut Apple n’ Cinnamon Oatmeal. You’ll get whole grains, fruit and pecans for a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast.
Denny’s Fit Fare® menu is the place to look for some healthier options. If you’re hungry for breakfast, try the Fit Fare® Loaded Veggie Omelette, an egg white omelette that’s stuffed with zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions and served with fruit and an English muffin. For dinner, try the Fit Fare® Tilapia Ranchero topped with pico de gallo and avocado and served with mashed potatoes and broccoli. Both options give you plenty of protein, veggies and fiber.
At Five Guys get the “little” burger, which has a single patty and gives you plenty of protein (16 grams). Load it up with the veggie fixin’s: grilled mushrooms and onions, green peppers, lettuce and tomato. Or you can go totally veggie with the Veggie Sandwich by swapping the burger for a slice of cheese and getting some extra protein via the free peanuts at the counter. Also a side note: The little fries aren’t exactly little in the calorie department, delivering 526 calories in a not-so-little 8-ounce portion.
At the Golden Corral, you can cruise the salad bar for your perfect plate. Get what looks good to you, and try to practice healthy eating by using “My Plate”—fill half your plate with nonstarchy veggies (such as green beans, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes and carrots) and fruit, one quarter of your plate with some sort of protein (meat, chicken, beans), and the other quarter with starchy food (potatoes, bread, mac & cheese). Bonus points for choosing at least some raw or steamed veggies.
Hardee’s is keyed into dietary restrictions, offering options that are low-carb (lettuce-wrapped burgers), vegetarian, low-cal and gluten-free. Their nutrition page also tells consumers the Weight Watchers points for each meal. A smart rule to follow is “less is more”: the small burger has a reasonably low 270 calories and 560 mg of sodium, although for its size, it’s a bit high in saturated fat (11 grams) and low in protein (14 grams).
At KFC, order the Kentucky Grilled Chicken ® Thigh or a couple of drumsticks, along with corn on the cob or mashed potatoes and green beans. These options keep to the normal range for sodium, calories and saturated fat, while still giving you the complete KFC experience. And if you’re debating whether the cornbread or biscuit is healthier, the answer is that it’s a toss-up: the cornbread muffin has less sodium and saturated fat, but the biscuit has fewer calories and sugar.
Jack in the Box
Chicken’s one of the best bets on the Jack in the Box menu, whether you go for one of the three chicken salads (Grilled Chicken, Southwest Chicken or Chicken Club) or the Chicken Fajita Pita. All four options clock in under 400 calories (that’s sans dressing for the salad), and give you a satiating amount of protein (24 for the pita and around 35 for the salads). The salads will give you more servings of vegetables, which is a definite plus, and fill you up with more fiber. Just steer clear of the combo meals, which pack a day’s worth of calories into a single meal.
For the healthiest meal at this popular steak chain, nix the steak in favor of the Longhorn salmon and order the steamed asparagus or chargrilled mixed vegetables and a plain baked potato as sides (yes, you can add some butter). By sticking to these simply prepared whole foods, you’ll get a model meal that’s lower in sodium than many of the other entrees.
McDonald’s has upped its nutrition game by offering more customizable options, as well as fruits and veggies. If you want a burger, try the Pico Guacamole 100% Beef Burger, which gives you a quarter-pound beef burger (an optimal portion), along with guacamole, pico de gallo and lettuce. It clocks in at 580 calories, 41 grams of carbs and 29 grams of protein. If you want to be even more virtuous, ask for no cheese, skip the fries and order a side salad and apple slices or citrus. The healthier-sounding “artisan roll adds an extra 50 calories and 10 grams of carbs without providing any more fiber, so skip that. Another good option is the Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken, which has 290 calories, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 650 mg of sodium and 27 protein. The black beans provide added fiber, and saturated fat and sodium are lower than in other items.
Olive Garden’s latest take on healthy eating can be found under the Tastes of the Mediterranean menu. The six dishes featured on this menu range between 460 and 590 calories and all have at least one serving of vegetables. The Herb-Grilled Salmon, prepared with a garlic-herb butter and served with Parmesan Broccoli is the lowest in sodium, delivering a modest 570 mg. Another option is to order off the kids’ menu, which ensures that you get portions that are actually more ideal for adults than what you’d find on the standard menu. For instance, you can get a 220-calorie portion of whole-wheat linguine topped with 80-calorie tomato sauce, and either a meatball, grilled chicken or shrimp, giving you a balanced meal that’s not oversized. The stats for that meal with grilled chicken are 440 calories, 12 grams of fat, 655 mg of sodium, 40 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber.
Check out the Under 600 Calorie menu to instantly find individual dishes that’ll deliver 600 calories or fewer, including crab-stuffed mushrooms and grilled salmon with vegetables. As an alternative, piece together a meal from the rest of the menu: Outback’s dietitians suggest the wood-fired shrimp with barbecue sauce and a plain sweet potato. We’d also recommend the 6-ounce Outback Center-Cut Sirloin for 210 calories and 3 grams of saturated fat, 520 mg of sodium and 38 protein, paired with sauteed mushrooms and a plain sweet potato.
Choosing half a sandwich and a cup of soup or side salad is a great way to go at Panera. A strong sandwich choice would be the Mediterranean Veggie on Tomato Basil, which is essentially a Greek salad turned into a sandwich. Pair that with either the turkey chili or a half order of the Chinese Cashew Citrus Salad with Chicken for extra protein.
For the healthiest item at P.F. Chang's, turn to Buddha's Feast. This meatless option features vegetables — asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, broccoli and carrots — plus baked tofu. It's low in calories (250) and sodium (300 mg), but delivers 26 protein and 9 grams of fiber, thanks to the tofu and veggies. Make sure to order it steamed and ask for brown rice on the side (that’ll add 190 calories, 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein to your meal).
In lieu of a chicken plate, go for one of two chicken sandwiches at Popeyes: the BBQ Chicken Po’Boy Sandwich or the Loaded Chicken Wrap. Each sandwich delivers sensible amounts of calories and protein, while having lower amounts of sodium than many of the other menu items. Another option is to piece together a meal from sides: the small red beans & rice, green beans and a corn on the cob delivers around 500 calories, and is probably the best vegetarian option.
Red Lobster's Lighthouse menu features their “lighter fare” options, including Snow Crab Legs, Maple-Glazed Chicken and Wood-Grilled Peppercorn Sirloin with Shrimp. However, even outside of this menu, there’s plenty to choose from. Get a half-order of your favorite seafood, broiled, ask for broccoli or asparagus and wild rice on the side and a garden salad with champagne vinaigrette, for a meal that will clock in around 500 calories with a balanced amount of carbs, protein and fat. For instance, a half-serving of broiled wild-caught Flounder with broccoli, wild rice and a garden salad has 530 cals, 14 grams of fat, 1300 mg of sodium, 54 grams carbs, 4 grams of fiber and 42 protein. As an added bonus, this option is even lower in sodium than any of the Lighthouse entrees.
The Avo-Cobb-O Salad is the way to go at Red Robin. You’ll get 8 grams of filling fiber and a whopping 51 grams of protein, thanks to the combination of grilled chicken, hard-boiled egg, bacon and blue cheese topping the lettuce and tomato. But go easy on the dressing — they serve 6 tablespoons with entree salads, so order it on the side and only use what you need.
Order any six-inch sandwich on nine-grain wheat from Subway's Fresh Fit menu and load it up with avocado, lettuce or spinach, tomatoes, onions, shredded carrots, 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, with water or low-fat milk to drink.
Order off of the "Fresco" menu at Taco Bell for choices that are under 350 calories and fewer than 10 grams total fat — with less saturated fat than other menu items as well. These menu items swap out the cheese and sour cream for pico de gallo, which helps you get some more produce and flavor for fewer calories. 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 of fiber) for a complete meal.
Your healthiest bet at TGI Friday’s is likely the Mediterranean Shrimp Naan sandwich, which clocks in at 470 calories, 3.5 grams of saturated fat and 1260 mg of sodium which, while high, is still lower than many other menu items. Or, if you’re craving wings, go for the BBQ wings— bone in wings have far less sodium and fewer calories than boneless—and pair it with a side salad or house salad with green goddess dressing. Of the lunch-size salads, the Million Dollar Cobb Salad with Green Goddess Dressing is the lowest-sodium choice, though the fat is high (480 calories, 32 grams of fat, 1190 mg of sodium). Other great side options are the steamed spinach, the tomato-mozzarella salad and even the coleslaw.
There are a bunch of nutritious options at Wendy’s, and they all almost all include chicken. The Grilled Chicken Sandwich is served on a multigrain roll with tomatoes and spring mix, and is low in saturated fat (1.5 grams) and high in protein (35 grams). Depending on the location, you can also get half- or full-sized portions of salads, such as the Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad or Apple Pecan Chicken. For a veggie option, try the baked potato with broccoli and cheese sauce — you’ll get a whopping 10 grams of fiber and 15 grams of protein.