A meal at The Cheesecake Factory is usually one of decadence. After all, it has the word "Cheesecake" right in its name! The dining chain is known for its extensive menu that spans across a booklet of pages, offering everything from breakfast, appetizers, lunch, dinner–and of course, dessert. While you can certainly go all in on indulgent food, The Cheesecake Factory menu also offers a number of healthy nutrition options.
For the next time you're dining out at this delicious chain with family or friends, here are the best and worst menu items at The Cheesecake Factory, according to registered dietitians. Then, for more helpful tips on dining out, check out The Best & Worst Menu Items at Texas Roadhouse.
Small Plates & Snacks
Best: Asian Chicken Lettuce Wrap Tacos
"A salad might be your best beet without the dressing or toppings, but if you prefer to have something a bit more filling, these Asian Chicken Lettuce Wrap Tacos are your next best option," says Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. "If you were to split these with a friend, they aren't too high in calories and are relatively low in saturated, and contain a few grams of fiber to help fill you up, as well as a decent amount of protein. With these, you can typically control how much dressing you pour onto your taco or dip your taco into, since it's served on the side. It also gives you some veggies, since it contains beet sprouts, cucumbers, carrots, and lettuce for the shell."
Worst: Ahi Poke Nachos
"Although you are likely sharing a plate of nachos amongst at least two of you, this small plate is not small when it comes to calories or sodium. The nachos are high in calories, mostly due to crispy wontons it uses for its base," says Ehsani. "It is then topped with ahi tuna, which is a healthy ingredient, but then is also topped with sriracha aioli, which is high in fat and saturated fat, too. The sodium for this plate of nachos is also sky high and over the total daily recommended amount of 2,300 milligrams."
Best: Beet & Avocado Salad
"This salad is low enough in calories to be enjoyed by one person, or shared between two or more people. It contains 9 grams of filling fiber, and 7 grams of protein, making it a great appetizer to help you feel full and satisfied, and prevent you from overeating your main course," says Ehsani. "It also contains beets, arugula, and fresh orange, and is topped with a honey-yogurt sauce."
Worst: Hot Spinach and Cheese Dip
"Although the Factory Nachos with Spicy Chicken are the highest-calorie option on the menu, the Hot Spinach and Cheese Dip is also really high in calories, and may trick people into thinking they are choosing a healthy appetizer because of the spinach in the title. But, this app is very high in calories, fat, and sodium," says Ehsani. "Typically, this dip has a variety of soft and hard cheeses and cream, like sour cream, mayo, and heavy cream. All of these ingredients are high in fat, especially the unhealthy kind: saturated fat. Although you might think you are making a healthier choice by choosing this veggie dip, it's best to skip it."
Salads, Flatbread, Pizza, and Lunch
Best: SkinnyLicious Factory Chopped Salad
"The great thing about The Cheesecake Factory is they have a 'SkinnyLicious' menu with a ton of lower-calorie options ranging from drinks to entrees. This salad is a mix of grilled chicken, avocado, corn, and blue cheese, and provides 500 calories—which is right on the calorie target for a meal," says Ehsani. "It also packs in almost 30 grams of protein, so it will make you feel satisfied along with the 11 grams of fiber that will keep you feeling full longer. It is a bit high in fat, likely from the blue cheese, avocado, and dressing, but you can opt for the blue cheese or the dressing on the side to cut this down a bit."
Worst: Barbeque Ranch Chicken Salad
This salad has more total calories than some of the pizzas or flatbreads on the menu! Although you might think choosing a salad is a healthy option for a meal, this one is far from healthy," says Ehsani. "It contains well over the daily limit for sodium, packing in 2,710 milligrams per salad, and contains 64 grams of sugar—likely from the bbq sauce. It is also very high in fat, packing in 124 grams. It's best to just avoid this one!"
Specialties & Pasta
Best: Shrimp with Angel Hair pasta
"High-protein shrimp are served on top of a bed of pasta with red sauce and some anti-inflammatory foods like lemon, tomato, garlic, and herbs like basil. Though the sodium is quite high in this dish, it's lower in calories than many other pasta options on the menu and provides a good source of protein," says Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist, Ginger Hultin MS, RDN, CSO, owner of Ginger Hultin Nutrition and author of the Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep e-book. "Consider adding in a side salad for more fiber and potassium to boost the nutrition of a pasta dinner."
Worst: Chicken Littles
"Breaded and fried chicken with potatoes and corn can be a comforting, filling meal, but nutritionally, it's out of balance," says Hultin. "Nutritional guidelines advise that half your plate be filled with veggies (think broccoli, carrots, peppers, lettuces, etc.) and this meal doesn't offer that. It's focused on protein and carbohydrates and it provides more than a day's worth of calories, protein, fat, saturated fat, and sodium for most people. I'd suggest that if you get this meal, you consider taking some home for later, splitting the entree, and adding in a side salad or veggie for balance."
Fish, Seafood, & Steak
Best: Fresh Grilled Salmon
"In this dish, protein and omega-3-rich salmon is served with a side of steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes with the skins. While the meal is high in fat, most of it is coming from the salmon, which provides an anti-inflammatory benefit from the omega-3's," says Hultin. "Broccoli provides fiber and essential vitamins and minerals, and the potato skins add even more fiber. Overall, the meal provides better balance than many others on the menu by including a nutritious protein source, a vegetable, and a complex carbohydrate."
Worst: Fried Shrimp Platter
"Fried shrimp and fries can be a tasty treat, but in general, fried foods are not supportive of overall health due to their very high fat content," says Hultin. "Composed of mainly fried foods and a side of coleslaw, this meal does not provide an adequate balance of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean protein to meet nutritional guidelines. If you order this meal, consider requesting that you swap the fries out for a salad to boost the fiber and nutrition."
Glamburgers & Sandwiches
Best: Veggie Burger
"Several sliced vegetables are served atop this veggie burger containing brown rice, farro, mushrooms, black beans, and onions," says Hultin. "This variety of vegetables, legumes, and whole grains provides a nice amount of fiber and a diverse set of vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for health. While high in sodium, it is a lower-sodium option than many other burgers on the menu."
Worst: Bacon-Bacon Cheeseburger
"Everyone loves a good burger, but this meal of primarily high-fat proteins and fries is lacking nutritional balance," says Hultin. "Compared to the nutritional guidelines to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, this dish comes with almost none and contains much more than a day's worth of saturated fat and sodium for most people."
Best: SkinnyLicious Grilled Salmon
"Salmon is my go-to dish in most restaurants, and at The Cheesecake Factory, it's paired with fresh veggies to bring you a mouthful of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, and a range of vitamins and minerals," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of Better Than Dieting and author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table.
Worst: SkinnyLicious Chicken Pasta
"Although 'Skinny' is used in the name, with half its calories coming from fat, this dish may not be your best option if you choose it regularly," says Taub-Dix. "It's still better than many other items on the menu, but it does, however, provide 1,760 milligrams of sodium, which is about half of the daily amount we try to shoot for."
Breakfast & Brunch
Best: Farm Fresh Eggs
"There aren't too many good choices on The Cheesecake Factory menu for breakfast aside from this option. Farm Fresh Eggs come with 2 eggs—which you can choose how you'd like prepared—and is served with your choice of potatoes or tomatoes and a choice of toast, bagel, or English muffin," says Ehsani. "If you pair the eggs with tomatoes and a slice of wheat toast, you've got a well-balanced plate filled with a veggie, a high-quality protein coming from the egg, and a complex carbohydrate from the wheat toast. It's also quite low in sodium and contains no added sugar. You could also add a side of avocado to get a dose of heart-healthy fats or a bowl of fruit to get in some more fiber and vitamins."
Worst: Cinnamon Roll Pancakes
"These pancakes pack an average person's day worth of calories in one meal! Also, if you are eating on average a 2,000-calorie diet, you should be eating less than 65 grams of total fat (or less than 585 calories from fat), and less than 20 grams of saturated fat (or less than 180 calories from saturated fat). But, these pancakes go well above that!" says Ehsani. "They are also loaded with sugar, packing in 137 grams of added sugar, but unfortunately, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation is no more than 50 grams of added sugar per day."
Cheesecakes & Desserts
Best: Bowl of Fresh Strawberries
"I doubt that many people are running to The Cheesecake Factory and ordering a bowl of berries while their friends are having cheesecake, but sharing could bring the best of both worlds!" says Taub-Dix.
Worst: Oreo Dream Extreme Cheesecake
"Although I am a carb lover, 177 grams of carbs and 1,620 calories for dessert (which probably follows a lunch or dinner) is way more than one person needs. So, save this dessert for sharing with several people," says Taub-Dix.