In fact, the average American buys a meal or snack from a restaurant nearly six times a week, according to the United Health Food Food Council, while simultaneously struggling to meet the U.S. government’s exercise guidelines. It’s a deadly combination, and one that’s expanding our nation’s collective waistline rapidly — but it doesn’t have to.
By simply amending your restaurant order, you can save hundreds of calories a week and strip pounds of fat off of your frame in just weeks. Since amending all of your orders can be overwhelming, why not first start with the places you eat at most frequently? According to a new survey of 600,000 people from a consumer perception research firm, YouGov BrandIndex, Americans can’t enough of the food from Red Lobster, Applebee's, Outback, Panera and Olive Garden. In fact, those five eateries have the best perception among diners, according to the poll.
Read ahead to find out which dishes from each of these popular fast-casual restaurants are among the healthiest.
Rounding out the top five is Red Lobster. Though eating at a seafood restaurant seems sounds healthy enough, if prepared without health in mind, low-cal shellfish and fillets easily become nutritional shipwrecks.
Nutritionist Martha Mckittrick, RD, suggests ordering a steamed Live Maine Lobster and pairing it with a side of vegetables and a small Garden Salad with red wine vinaigrette. “Since lobster takes a long time to eat, it forces you to eat more mindfully and pay attention to your hunger cues,” explains Mckittrick. To discover more slimming entrees, appetizers and drinks from the popular chain, check out our exclusive guide to What Diet Experts Eat at Red Lobster.
Applebee's: A restaurant where the Chicken Tenders are a cool 1,100 calories and the Oriental Chicken Salad is a whopping 1,400 — before you add the dressing. If your love of the fast causal chain runs deep (as it clearly does for the poll participants) be sure to stick with our ETNT-approved picks.
We recommend ordering a half-sized Grilled Chicken Caesar salad and a baked potato. The combo is a bit higher in salt than we’d ideally recommend, but it’s far lower in sodium than the chains other low-calorie options. To keep calories and fat to a minimum, steer clear of toppings like sour cream and bacon bits. For more waist-friendly picks from the chain, check out these 5 Healthy Meals from Applebee's.
Though it may be hard to believe, Outback, home to the 2,000-calorie Bloomin' Onion appetizer, does, in fact, have some healthy meal options — you just need to look for them.
One of the best cuts of meat you can get from the popular steakhouse is the 6-ounce Victoria Filet, says registered dietitian nutritionist Rebecca Scritchfield. She suggests pairing the protein with an order of fresh steamed broccoli and a house side salad. For more healthy picks from Outback's menu, be sure to scan our Official Guide to Smart Eating at Outback Steakhouse.
While Panera should be proud of it’s second place ranking and a large selection of clean, low-cal means, there are still some major calorie bombs blowing up their menu. If weight loss is your goal, ordering just anything won’t do.
“If I found myself at Panera on a cold day, a Broth Bowl would be my top pick,” says registered dietician Lisa Moskovitz, R.D. “For only 390 calories, the Lentil Quinoa Bowl with Chicken has everything I need for a filling and nutritious meal. The chicken provides a lean source of protein and the quinoa and vegetables serve up a ton of fiber and protein, too.” Looking for more stay-lean tips? Check out these 6 Ways to Lose Weight at Panera Bread.
Stealing the top spot in casual dining brand perception is Olive Garden. Best known for its unlimited salad and breadsticks, the Italian restaurant is a clear winner when it comes to taste. However, be warned, their carb-laden dishes aren’t always waistline-friendly picks.
To stay on track with your diet, order the Citrus Chicken Sorrento from the Lighter Fare menu. “It’s very flavorful and only has about 400 calories. It’s also high in protein, has a low-carb profile and comes with a healthy serving of antioxidant-rich veggies, says registered dietitian and nutritionist Lauren Minchen MPH, RDN, CDN.