One of the most challenging obstacles of eating right is being out at a restaurant. There’s nothing quite like being presented a menu of all the most delicious things you’ve ever imagined and having the freedom to pick whatever the hell you want. …The only pitfall is that those delicious dishes being served to you sometimes contain a ton of calories (often unnecessarily!), and typically the plate you’re given is much more than just one serving.

Dining out doesn’t have to be forbidden, though! The majority of chain restaurants have the nutritional values for their menu items listed on their website, so if you know where you’re going to be dining, take a quick peek before you leave! I’ve picked out four popular chain restaurants you might be eating at tonight and researched some healthy options that might be low in calories and fat, but not in flavor!

The Cheesecake Factory

Bar none, The Cheesecake Factory is my favorite restaurant (I’m an unconditional cheesecake lover). The only problem with eating here is that they’re notorious for having calorie-packed dishes. What you may not know is they offer a “SkinnyLicious” menu with appetizer, entrée, and cocktail selections. What’s awesome about ordering an entrée from this menu is they’re all guaranteed to be 590 calories or less (with appetizers at 490 calories or less). The menu features dishes such as Grilled Chicken, Shrimp Creole, and a Grilled Turkey Burger. So don’t think it’s all salads! Another thing I love about The Cheesecake Factory is they offer my beloved broccoli and green beans as a side (31 and 56 calories respectively). By sparing some calories on your entrée you could splurge on…oh I don’t know…dessert??? They don’t call it The Cheesecake Factory for nothin’.

What to avoid: The Cheesecake Factory doesn’t offer their nutritional information, but according to calorielab.com, a slice of Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake (my favorite) has 939 calories. Say it ain’t so! …The word avoid seems so harsh now. For this one let’s say, what to eat in moderation.

Olive Garden
Olive Garden is another insanely popular restaurant I sometimes frequent. Whenever Italian-inspired food is involved, you can almost always guarantee there’s going to be a lot of calories and a lot of fat (that’s why it all tastes so damn good). But there are several dishes on Olive Garden’s menu that give you that delicious Italian flavor without all the calories that typically come with it. One of my favorites is the Venetian Apricot Chicken,

which has only 400 calories and 7g of fat for the dinner portion. If you’re looking to have pasta, try out the Whole Wheat Linguine with Marinara Sauce for 450 calories and 7g of fat. Olive Garden has all their nutritional facts listed on their website, so it’s easy to find something both tasty and healthy!

What to avoid: The dinner portion of the Chicken Alfredo you, me, and the entire world loves has 1440 calories and a whopping 82g of fat.

P.F. Chang’s
If you find yourself in the mood for some American Chinese cuisine that doesn’t involve take out, you’re likely to find yourself at P.F. Chang’s. What you may not realize is that a lot of their dishes can be really high in calories. The plus side though is there are low calorie options (which you can review on their website). Some particularly yummy options being the Vegetable Lo Mein that only has 490 calories and 6g of fat, Ginger Chicken with Broccoli with 470 calories and 11g of fat, or the Hot & Sour Soup Bowl with 380 calories and 8g of fat. P.F. Chang’s also has an extensive gluten free menu and several vegetarian options, too.

What to avoid: You definitely want to stay away from P.F. Chang’s fried rice dishes: they all have 1100+ calories! 

Chili’s
CHILIIIIIIII’S BABY BACK RIBS! (I know you remember that commercial.) Chili’s has a really big menu, but the problem is it’s pretty difficult to find not only low calorie but also low fat options. The best way to go is to order from their “Lighter Choices” section, which features a Classic Sirloin for 250 calories and 7g of fat and a Grilled Chicken Sandwich w/ Steamed Broccoli for 470 calories and 10g of fat.

Outside of that part of the menu, you could get the Spicy Garlic & Lime Grilled Shrimp which only has 130 calories and 5g of fat!

What to avoid: The Original Ribs unfortunately have 1160 calories and 63g of fat. That’s only for ½ rack, too!

You should never deprive yourself of eating out at your favorite restaurant, but in taking the time to check out their menu beforehand and choosing healthier variations of your favorite meals is an easy way to indulge without dealing with guilt (or that merciless scale) later on.

3 thoughts on “Eating Right, Restaurant Style

  1. “the plate you’re given is much more than just one serving”

    That’s one of the first things that struck me when I lived in Canada and travelled through the USA. Here in the UK, portions are much more modest in size. I was overwhelmed by the amount of food on my plate when eating out in the US and Canada !

  2. Really? I’ve been to France and Spain, but back in high school when I went I wasn’t paying attention to portion size. I’m not anti-huge-serving–I love having extra food leftover for dinner or lunch the next day. I just think they should give us a heads-up on the menu!

Don't you sass me! ...Actually, please do.

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