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Restaurant Eating: How to Choose Healthier Options.

Restaurant Eating: How to Choose Healthier Options

Do you feel like you are making a healthy choice when you go out to eat?

If you answered “no” chances are you are not alone. Maybe you want to make a healthy selection, but you are uncertain where to start.

As of May 7, 2018, new menu labeling requirements, enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will now make it easier for you to make an informed decision when you go out to eat at a chain restaurant:

“Consumers will have access to calorie and nutrition information in certain chain establishments covered by the rule. The menu labeling requirements apply to restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations.”1

This is great news, considering that on average Americans go out to eat 4 to 5 times each week. 2

In this article, I will share healthier selections from restaurants that made it on the list of Best Chain Restaurants in America 3 and share my own personal tips for success when eating out.

Red Robin

Dishes to try:

  • Ensenada Chicken Platter (480 calories, 27 g carb)
  • Sear-ious Salmon (480 calories, 9 g carb)
  • Simply Grilled Chicken Salad (320 calories, 29 g carb)

Nutrition fact information

Outback Steakhouse:

Dishes to try:

  • Tilapia with Pure Lump Crab Meat (520 calories, 8 g carb)
  • Grilled Chicken on the Barbie, 8 oz., with Fresh Mixed Veggies (520 calories, 34 g carb)
  • Perfectly Grilled Salmon, 7 oz., with Fresh Mixed Veggies (540 calories, 18 g carb)

Nutrition fact information

Buffalo Wild Wings

Dishes to try:

  • Grilled Chicken Buffalitos (500 calories, 37 g carb)
  • Snack Size Traditional Wings with Buffalo Dry Seasoning (365 calories, 1 g carb)
  • Garden Salad, with Lemon Vinaigrette with Grilled Chicken Breast (800 calories, 57 g carb*)
  • *Hold the croutons to reduce the carb amount

    Nutrition fact information

    Olive Garden

    Dishes to try:

    • Herb-Grilled Salmon (460 calories, 8 g carb)
    • Chicken Piccata-dinner portion (500 calories, 11 g carb)
    • Salmon Piccata (590 calories, 12 g carb)

    Nutrition fact information

    Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

    Dishes to try:

    • Good Morning Breakfast: two egg whites, turkey sausage, grits, tomatoes and seasonal fruit (310 calories, 32 g carb)
    • Southern Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad with Caesar Salad Dressing (640 calories, 29 g carb)
    • Apple Cider BBQ Chicken Breast (290 calories, 21 g carb)

    Nutrition fact information

    My personal tips for success:

    • Plan ahead. Check the menu a head of time.
    • Choose 2 to 3 dishes (just in case your first or second choice is not available)
    • If you’re going to a chain restaurant, check out the nutrition facts.
    • Beverages. Have a plan.
      • Water is best
      • Avoid unlimited/bottomless soda beverages, sweet teas, and lemonades
      • If you choose to consume alcohol, know your limit. Alcohol ingestion may lower your inhibitions, making you less likely to choose healthier menu options.
      • A 5oz. glass of red wine or a 12oz. bottle of light beer are both lower in calories and carbs than many mixed drinks.
    • Pass on bottomless chip baskets and bread baskets
    • Share a dish with someone at your table
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for a menu item to be modified
    • Request salad dressing on the side
    • If you’re ordering salad, skip the croutons
    • Steer clear of breaded and fried foods
    • Ask for a side salad, steamed vegetables, or a fruit salad in place of fries or chips
    • Limit red meat consumption by choosing a poultry, fish, or vegetarian menu option
    • Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you feel bad about what you chose to eat, forgive yourself and start fresh at your next meal.

    This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

    1. Menu Labeling Requirements. FDA U.S. Food & Drug Administration Website. Published May 8, 2018. Accessed May 19, 2018.
    2. The State of American Dining in 2016. Zagat Website. Published January 26, 2016. Accessed May 19, 2018.
    3. The 20 best chain restaurants in America. Business Insider Website. Published July 5, 2016. Accessed May 19, 2018.


  • Meryl Krochmal, RD, CSP, CDE, CNSC moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi Ridder,
    In regards to your question about chicken legs and thighs, the calorie content for each will be approximately 180 calories. Dark meat tends to be higher in calories than white meat (i.e. chicken breast).
    Buffets can be really tough! I have a soft spot for coconut shrimp too!
    It sounds like this buffet is a place that you and your wife may be going to on a regular basis so it’s good to come up with a plan of action now 🙂
    The next time you go to the buffet plan on doing a walk through before you put anything on your plate. This will allow you see all of your options and come up with a plan of what you are going to eat and what you are going to pass on. Keep up the great efforts! Take care, Meryl Krochmal, RD CDE Community Moderator.

  • Thomas A McAtee Jr. moderator
    1 year ago

    Great article Meryl. Really enjoy it. I’ve noticed that one of the buffets I go to also lists calories on certain foods. Will tell how many calories per 1/2 or full ‘spoodle’. Rest is a toss in the air for me to guess at for the time being. The one I’m talking about is the Old Country Buffet that is part of two or three others that’s located through out various states. They also have a FB page. Food is good and I’m glad to see the calories being shown in a buffet type setting. It really does help with someone like me who ‘loves’ food. 😉

    Admin, if I’m wrong in posting that name please remove it but thought I’d add due to showing a buffet actually having calories listed.

    It really makes me think and even cut their listed serving down by half on certain items. Especially if I might want another shot at it.

    One thing I’m having issues is with the meat. This place has Lavender Roasted chicken. It’s a thigh/leg connected but soooo delicious. As to calories I couldn’t tell you but I really cut down on other items to be on safe side.

  • Meryl Krochmal, RD, CSP, CDE, CNSC moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi Riddler, Thanks for commenting! I’m glad you liked this article. That’s great that one of the buffets you go to is able to provide some information. Seeing the nutrition information right next to the food, in my opinion, really helps keep a person on track! The good news about meat, is that is typically carb free, unless it has a breading or is coated in a sweet sauce. Please let me know if there is anything else I can help answer. Take care, Meryl Krochmal, RD CDE Community Moderator.

  • Thomas A McAtee Jr. moderator
    1 year ago

    Thanks Meryl. With that being basically carb free and counts as protein how would it fit in on the calorie scale? As I mentioned it’s a thigh and leg connected together.

    I think I fell out of the car Saturday though. Went to this new Chinese Buffet and I was actually doing well. Had very little portions but lost it on the coconut shrimp which I hadn’t had in years. Also had some ice cream and two coconut macaroons. Saw some desert I didn’t know what it was at first and gave it a shot as well. Turned out to be some sort of a banana pudding, not bad. Figured my BG would be screwed. But turned out to be only 120.

    But probably blew on calories. Sure the dietitian/nutritious will tell me when she sees the stuff in a month or two.
    I’m going to be watching better next time when going there. Wife likes the place and will more than likely be the new date day place for Saturdays.

    Today for instance I only had two thin small width sl of deli ham smoked with applewood, a roasted chicken thigh, a half cup of potato salad and one slice of Oroweat multi-grain bread. That was the lunch. Dinner will probably consist of a few grapes and maybe a cube or two of Colby-Jack.

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