While it might be easier to treat yourself to a night out, we start to have second thoughts when we pick up that menu of endless possibilities and zero guidance on what’s good (or not totally horrible) for our bodies. Items with words like “organic,” “fresh” or “homemade” are commonplace in the restaurant business, but that doesn’t mean you can glaze over the nutritional information. Even when you think you’re making a better decision by eating at a sit-down restaurant, their menu options aren’t always that much healthier than their fast food counterparts.
Luckily, the following restaurants allow you to customize most meals to your liking, which means the calorie cutting power is in your hands. To help keep you stay fit and trim, we rifled through the nutrition information at all of your fast casual joints, so all you have to do is sit back, relax, and eat. To make sure we recommended the absolute best dishes and meal combos for your waistline, we kept all orders to a maximum of 500 calories and 1,500 mg of sodium. And to help you lose weight, even when you’re eating at home, check out these 50 Best-Ever Weight-Loss Secrets From Skinny People!
Chicken, Pinto Bean, Tomato Salsa and Fajita Veggie Salad, no dressing
Chipotle is the forerunner when it comes to fast casual dining. Besides removing the GMO ingredients from their menu, they also promised to improve the already high quality of their food by cutting down on the preservatives in their salt-laden tortillas. Because we know you’ll be taking a trip to Chipotle before that happens, try this chicken salad instead. Registered dietitian and personal trainer Jim White says, “when I eat salad, I use it as an opportunity to get some of my carbohydrates from beans.” Besides a protein-packed scoop of pinto beans, he also likes loading up on veggies, which is why we’ve thrown on some nutritionally-dense fajita veggies on top of that fiber-packed romaine lettuce. Huge Chipotle fan? Be sure to check out our exclusive report, Every Dish at Chipotle — Ranked!.
Half Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT and Half Seasonal Greens Salad with Reduced-Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette
One of the best options at Panera is their “You Pick Two” special. It gives you the ability to select a rounded meal while managing your portion control. Pair our number 1 ranked sandwich at Panera, the Turkey & Avocado BLT, with a Seasonal Greens Salad and flavorful Reduced-Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette for a little extra pizazz. The layer of heart-healthy avocado on your sandwich will help you to absorb three to five times more carotenoids, the disease-fighting compounds found in the veggies in the salad, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition.
Lighthouse Rock Lobster Tail with Rice and Broccoli
Fresh from the Atlantic, the namesake of Red Lobster is a nutritionist favorite. Martha Mckittrick, RD, CDE, says, “since lobster takes a long time to eat, it forces you to eat more mindfully and pay attention to your hunger cues.” Even better, this meal is rounded out by sides of fresh vegetables and a small serving of mixed grain rice to up the fiber content. Kristen Carlucci, RDN, says, “The lean protein from the lobster plus the fiber and nutrients from the vegetables make this an extremely satisfying and healthy meal!” To discover more satisfying eats that will help you trim down, check out these 25 Best Carbs for Weight Loss.
Victoria’s 6-ounce Filet Mignon with sides of Asparagus and Blue Cheese Wedge Salad
We know it’s hard to believe, but Outback, home of the 2,000-calorie Bloomin’ Onion appetizer, does have some healthy meal options. One of the best cuts of meat you can get from the popular steakhouse is the 6-ounce Victoria Filet because it is low in fat. Even better, the side of asparagus is rich in potassium, a nutrient that helps the body flush out water and sodium.
And when you’re cooking at home, get your protein fix with these 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss.
Pepper-Crusted Sirloin & Whole Grains
Applebee’s dolls up a red meat staple by searing it with a crust of peppercorn. This low-fat, iron-rich cut of meat is served on a bed of whole grains, along with some sautéed spinach, roasted portobellos and grape tomatoes (a fruit that’s filled with lycopene, an antioxidant that decreases the risk of coronary artery disease and various types of cancers). Then they top it all off with a light broth. Because this dish is high on the sodium levels, nix some of the salt by asking your server to put the broth on the side.
Broccoli Beef and Chicken Potstickers
A Chinese meal that won’t break the calorie or sugar bank? It is possible, and this meal is proof! Along with the 15 grams of hunger-busting protein comes a solid hit of immunity-boosting vitamin A and folic acid (a vitamin that helps the body break down, use and create new proteins) from the broccoli.
Loaded Chicken Wrap
When you go to Popeyes, we know you’re looking for some fried chicken, and this wrap gives it to you—while keeping an eye out for your waistline. This wrap rolls up fried chicken and the chain’s signature Red Beans & Rice in one delicious handheld meal. It’s hard to believe that it contains a mere 310 calories while packing in 14 grams of protein and 3 grams of satiating fiber.
Buddha’s Feast Steamed and a half order of Small Brown Rice
Some dishes at P.F. Chang’s can climb as high as 3,840 mg sodium (Pad Thai Shrimp, we’re looking at you). That’s almost two days worth of sodium in one sitting! Save your heart by ordering the lowest sodium content item on the menu: Buddha’s Feast Steamed. This steamed dish is loaded with baked tofu, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, broccoli and carrots, and tossed in soy sauce.
Herb-Grilled Salmon with Garlic-Herb Butter and Parmesan-Garlic Broccoli
A dish from Olive Garden under 1,000 mg of sodium and with no trans fat? Sign us up! Home of the never-ending breadsticks, Olive Garden’s oversize portions of carbs can put the dietary discipline of any mindful diner to the test. Instead of losing more than a day’s worth of carbs and sodium to their pasta dishes, order this Herb-Grilled Salmon instead. Just make sure to ask for the fatty butter on the side because the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid packed salmon already has enough of it! And speaking of fish, did you know that tilapia is a junk food in disguise? Learn the scary truth about your favorite seafood in our exclusive report, How Tilapia is Worse Than Bacon.
Grilled Market Salad with Zesty Apple Cider Vinaigrette
“If I were to eat at Chick-fil-A, I’d go for the very colorful Chick-Fil-A Grilled Market Salad with the Zesty Apple Cider Vinaigrette on the side,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Michelle Loy. “This salad features dark leafy greens, which are excellent sources of heart-protective folate and immune system-supportive vitamin A. The berries in the salad also contain disease-fighting antioxidants that help ward off chronic conditions, like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.” Plus, each salad is topped off with a healthy serving of grilled chicken to give you a boost of protein to help keep you satisfied.
Eat fast food on the reg? Be sure to check out these 25 Things Fast Food Chains Don’t Want You to Know before you put fry to mouth.
Quarter White, Skinless Rotisserie Chicken with Green Beans and Rotisserie Potatoes
If you didn’t think comfort food could be low in fat, take a look at this entree from Boston Market. This chicken, green bean, and potato plate should be your go-to on your busy weeknights out. It carries just nine percent of the day’s recommended fat, which isn’t too shabby for a fast-food cheat meal! If you’re worried this combo won’t pack big enough flavor, ask your server for a side of their tangy, fat-free Poultry Gravy. Even if you polish off the entire lot, it will only add 10 calories and 85 mg sodium to your order.
Mediterranean Shrimp Naan
T.G. for this Mediterranean Shrimp Naan at T.G.I.Fridays, since it’s one of the few entrees at the chain that’s under 1,000 calories. The grilled shrimp is drizzled with balsamic glaze and served on naan bread with cucumber yogurt sauce, mixed greens and garlic, basil, and tomato bruschetta.
Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad with ⅓ Packet Lite Italian Dressing
Get your fill of 23 grams of muscle-building protein without the trans fats and starchy, chemical-additive-packed bread that comes along with most of the other menu items at Arby’s. Besides being the healthiest and most nutritionally rounded dishes at Arby’s, it’s also one of the most delicious. And with the added bonus of bacon, it can’t get much better than that!
Low Carb It – ⅓ LB. Low Carb Thickburger
When it comes to fast-food burgers, it doesn’t get much healthier—or lighter in carbs—than this. To whip up this mouthwatering creation, Hardee’s takes a Black Angus beef patty and wraps it inside iceberg lettuce leaves, along with cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard and mayo so you can enjoy your burger with none of the guilt. Trying to lean out? Be sure to check out these 20 Weight Loss Tricks You Haven’t Tried.
JACK IN THE BOX
Chicken Fajita Pita with Salsa
Low in calories and packed with protein and fiber, this is one meal that we’d happily scarf down. Even better than the crispy grilled onions and shredded cheddar cheese is the pita bread made with 16 grams of whole grain. We love whole grains because they contain all three parts of the grain, including the ones that are nutrient-rich and full of fiber to keep your hunger at bay. And if you’re in need of a healthy snack to tide you over between meals, consider noshing on one of these 50 Snacks With 50 Calories or Less.
Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Steer clear of those Footlong dogs and over to this classically simple grilled chicken sandwich at Sonic. A ciabatta bun packed with 10 grams of whole grain and tender grilled chicken sync up with a host of veggies and light mayo to create this flavorful diet-friendly order.
Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich
With a leaner protein bacon from the turkey over the traditional pork, this relatively low-carb English muffin and egg sandwich is the perfect start to your day. It packs a powerful nutritional punch of 13 grams of protein for a mere 230 calories. This promising info makes it another all-day breakfast item we’re cool with getting behind.
Wash your meal down with one of these powerful weight loss teas!
AU BON PAIN
Napa Chicken with Avocado Wrap
Au Bon Pain couples an extensive inventory of healthy items into this wrap, including chicken, fresh avocado (one of the 25 Best Foods for a Toned Body), romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon aioli and lemon shallot vinaigrette. Even with all those ingredients, this dish still comes in under our limits and over our expectations.
LONG JOHN SILVER’S
8-Piece Shrimp with Rice and Green Beans
This grilled seafood entree is among the healthiest grab-and-go meals in the country, and one of the smartest choices at Long John’s. Even though the chain has eliminated trans fats from the deep fryer, the breading and oils still pile on a hefty dose of fat, and that’s why we recommend this dish. The shrimp is baked, not breaded and fried, so you don’t have to worry about those extra calories and fat.
Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich
Carl’s Jr. may be known for its racy ads in fast food land, but some of its offerings are surprisingly respectable. If you’re looking for a decent nutritional profile that’s not loaded with greasy fats, pick up a Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich. This delicious meal will save you more than 200 calories and 12 grams of fat compared to some of their larger burgers. And for more waist-saving hacks, check out these 30 Foods That Melt Love Handles.
Petite Sliced Sirloin with Steamed Broccoli and Grilled Zucchini
In the fast food world, it’s hard to find a meal under 500 calories that doesn’t contain the leanest of proteins, chicken. That’s why we’re ecstatic about Ruby Tuesday’s “Fit&Trim” Petite Sirloin. Leaner and with fewer calories than other cuts of beef, this steak is packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and metabolism-boosting iron. The only downside is that the popular restaurant has recently announced that they would be closing 13 percent of their locations. Be sure to stay tune to see if the Ruby Tuesday in your neighborhood is set to close.
Slice of XL New York Cheese Pizza and a Garden Salad Side with ½ packet Lite Italian Dressing
On any given day, one in eight Americans will reach for a slice, and we’re drooling over this one. Rather than getting two smaller slices that would probably fill up the full 500 calories, Sbarro’s extra large slice gives you a little extra than normal but leaves room for a nice, fresh side salad for an added boost of satiating fiber.
MOE’S SOUTHWEST GRILL
Homewrecker Jr. with Chicken, Rice, Beans, Cheese, Pico de Gallo, Lettuce, Guacamole, on a Flour Tortilla
Finally, a burrito under 500 calories! And with all the fixings! Moe’s Southwest Grill manages to fit all your favorite burrito fillings – from guac to cheese to beans – into this Homewrecker Jr. by using a 3-inch smaller tortilla round than Chipotle.
Turkey Tom Unwich
Alongside a sandwich with well over 1,000 calories and over a day’s worth of sodium, this turkey breast sandwich from Jimmy Johns is a sight for sore eyes. It’s the only sub and giant club sandwich under 500 calories; keep in mind that’s with only turkey, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and bread.
Looking for some of the best weight loss tips of all time? Check out these 20 Weight Loss Tricks You Haven’t Tried!
Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast with Sweet Kernel Corn and Green Beans
A Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast is a solid option to turn to when you find yourself at KFC with a flat belly to look out for. Pair a side of green beans and corn with the lean poultry for a light, 340-calorie meal that’ll keep you full and satiated for hours without derailing your weight loss efforts.