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Calorie Count Blog

Healthy Meals at Popular Chain Restaurants

By +Carolyn Richardson on May 04, 2013 10:00 AM in Healthy Eating

The latest fast food restaurant rankings were just released and Technomic’s report shows continued growth in sales across the board. If CC members are representative of the wider American population, some of us calorie counters have been cooking less and eating out more. As summer approaches, family gatherings, road trips, and celebrations will have us out and about more than usual, which means we may run into more fast food menus than we’d hoped. Here are healthier choices from America’s most popular restaurants that are as good as you can get in my opinion. Many of these options are high in sodium, but we also added a list of the produce available at each establishment so that you can ask for the good stuff as needed.


P.F. Chang’s Nutritional Information

Fresh produce available Green beans, spinach, cucumbers, snow peas, asparagus, edamame, grape tomatoes, mango, avocado, carrots, green papaya, apple, bell peppers, onions, broccoli, potatoes, pineapple, celery, honeydew melons, spinach, bean sprouts, lemon, lime, lettuce cups, mushrooms, leeks

Healthiest Meal Who knew there were so many options at this salty Chinese eatery? Yes the sauces are full of sodium, but if you want a little of that and lots of vegetables, you can if you ask. By scouring all of their dishes, you can find a little bit of everything. Ask for the Ginger Chicken with Broccoli. While adding brown rice will add 300 calories to this dish, asking for the dish(and anything else they offer) steamed with sauce on the side instead of stir-fried should save you some calories. Nutrition Info: 470 calories, 11g fat, 38g carbs, 8g fiber, 59g protein.


Chipotle Nutritional Information and Meal Builder

Fresh produce available limes, green and red bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, corn, romaine lettuce, and guacamole.

Healthiest Meal This falls between a drive-thru and a sitdown restaurant, but here it goes anyway. A Custom-made Chicken Salad. Add brown rice, chicken, fajita vegetables, cheese, and tomatillo-red chili salsa. A squeeze of lime adds a citrus kick. Nutrition Info: 520 calories, 20.5g fat, 46g carbs, 8g fiber, 47g protein.


Chick-fil-A Nutritional Information

Fresh produce available Strawberries, grapes, mandarin oranges from syrup, and apples, blueberries, carrots, red cabbage, grape tomatoes, an onion and bell pepper blend is also available.

Healthiest Meal The just added salads and wrap options are a boon to health-conscious eaters like us so although there’s a drive-thru I thought it too should be added to the list. While their Grilled Market Salad is good at 180 calories without dressing, I choose their most fibrous meal, the Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap as the healthiest. Thanks partially to the flatbread used, this is a well-rounded meal that is more filling. Hold the dressing or you’ll add 150 to 300 more calories. Nutrition Info: 330 calories, 12g fat, 28g carbs, 15g fiber, 38g protein. 


Applebee’s Nutritional Information

Fresh produce available Onions, red potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, celery, lettuce, yellow squash, carrots, pineapple, strawberry, mushrooms, and apples.

Healthiest Meal Interesting that their “Meals under 550 calories” menu doesn’t include the Blackened Tilapia, which comes with a nice mix of broccoli, yellow squash, and carrots – with red potatoes to boot. Nutrition Info: 410 calories, 15g fat, 36g carbs, 6g fiber, 34g protein.


Cheesecake Factory Nutritional Information 

Fresh produce available bell peppers, baked potatoes, broccoli, plantains, strawberries, spinach, carrots, corn, asparagus, green beans, onions, bean sprouts, limes, lemons, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, apples, lettuces including kale, snow peas, avocado, edamame, artichoke, zucchini, celery, mango, cranberries, pears, orange, pineapple. 

Healthiest Meal Nutritional information is available in the restaurant at Cheesecake Factory but according to the General Manager at my local Cheesecake Factory, they are unable to give calorie information over the phone, “for legal reasons”. I went ahead and walked in to see the nutritional information for you guys. The healthiest meal in my opinion is the Grilled Mahi Mahi which comes with green beans (470 calories). Ask for them steamed to save a few more calories. 


Red Lobster Nutritional Information 

Fresh produce available asparagus, broccoli, baked potatoes, lemon, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, lettuces, artichokes

Healthiest Meal Their lighthouse menu is pretty safe calorie-wise, but remember not to go with the Roasted Vegetable skewers unless you’re looking for 800+ calories. The Tropical BBQ Glazed Chicken is low in fat and while the carbs are a bit high thanks to the rice it’s served with, you can always ask for double the veggie instead. If you add steamed broccoli as the “accompaniment” to the main dish, here’s what you get. Nutrition Info: 430 calories, 6g fat, 63g carbs, 30g protein, no fiber information available.


Outback Steakhouse Nutritional Information 

Fresh produce available grape tomatoes, lettuce, shredded carrots, mushrooms, spinach, artichoke hearts, onions, broccoli, yellow squash, green beans, red and green bell peppers, snap peas, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus.

Healthiest Meal There are those who go to Outback specifically for ribs, and while it isn’t a “healthy” choice per-se, it’s worth mentioning that the Ribs and Chicken on the Barbie with fresh seasonal veggies is a reasonable 650 calories. This is of course without added barbecue sauce, or the standard fries. If you’re sticking to your healthy guns, pair a side of grilled asparagus with a bowl of Chicken Tortilla Soup and you’ve got a hearty, filling meal that you can’t find listed on the menu. Nutrition Info: 337 calories, 19g fat, 27g carbs, 16g fiber, 15g protein.


Bottom Line: Owning Your Meal

The takeaway for this list is choosing the best option and adding produce to it where possible. By adding fruits and vegetables to existing meals, and lowering the condiments, sauces, and fattening add-ons, you can own your meal without as many calories as the dish on the menu. 


Your thoughts...

How have you changed meals at sit-down restaurants to suit your healthy eating lifestyle?






I usually ask them to hold the salt in addition to making leaner choices.

If they use American Cheese on anything, leave it out: has more salt and fat than 2 slices of bacon! Other good options are: don't add salt, put all sauces on the side or leave out all together. Ask for vinegar and oil when you order a salad instead of dressing (some will have it). As for leaner, better choices, some (and I emphasize some) of the new flatbread sandwiches at Wendy's are good options. And last, there are several sources that all agree on this one, if you are really craving a hamburger, the healthiest one out there is Five Guys Little Hamburger (no cheese) loaded up with veggies and NO MAYO!

Best advice I can think of:  ALWAYS get a "to go" box at the START of the meal.  I know, you might look a little weird, but if you put half of your food away before you have a chance to overindulge, you will have a better chance of winning this fight.  

I'm at the point where I can eat half (because it's such a habit for me) and then put the other half away, but whenever I have Italian food, I really need to put half of it away, lol!

Good luck everyone!

Jim ~ Learn how to eat half, move more, and hydrate to lose weight without having to think about it! 

If I recall correctly, one of the better meals at Olive Garden, is the mixed Grill.  While it might not seem like it on the surface given its listed 940 calories, this is a fairly large plate of food that splits easily into two meals.  So you get two meals under 500 calories out of the one plate.  For a place that everyone seems to want to go to, and has soo many dishes that are unfathomable, this is my goto.


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Many of the chains have so-called 'healthy' fish options such as salmon, however, I would think (some have confirmed this with me) that most of the fish is 'farm-raised' which brings into question how healthy it really is.

If you eat at Wendy's--try the baked potato and chili.  No butter, no sour cream, no crackers.  If you eat half the potato and half the chili you will  have a filling meal for few calories.  The fiber count is good too.  

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