A Nutritionist's Top Menu Picks From Popular American Chain Restaurants

That salad probably isn't the best thing on the menu.

One of the healthiest things you can do before going out to eat is to read the menu online. Many national restaurants have nutrition information listed alongside their items on their website, and when you figure out what you want to order beforehand, you have a better chance of choosing something delicious that fits into your healthy eating goals.

We asked Lauren Blake, a dietitian with the The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and healthy lifestyle blogger at wholelivinglauren.com, what she would order at the top sit-down chain restaurants in the U.S. She found that there were a lot of seemingly healthy salad choices that are actually loaded down with calories, saturated fat and sodium. And dishes that may seem more decadent, like steaks and roast chicken, are actually a smarter choice when it comes to portion size, calorie count and nutrition.

Even if you're not eating at any of these restaurants any time soon, Blake's choices show us what to look for -- and what to avoid -- when going out to eat.

Bon appétit!


Lauren’s choice: Pepper Crusted Sirloin and Whole Grains (370 calories, 10g fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 55mg cholesterol, 1,540mg sodium, 43g carb, 6g fiber, 28g protein)

Lauren’s pass: Oriental Grilled Chicken Salad (1,290 calories, 84g fat, 13g saturated fat, 1g trans fat, 115mg cholesterol, 1,950mg sodium, 85g carb, 9g fiber, 51g protein)

Why: "The Pepper Crusted Sirloin & Whole Grains is relatively low in calories and has a good ratio of protein and whole grain carbohydrate which should keep you full and satisfied. The pepper crusted sirloin also has much less fat and saturated fat than the oriental grilled chicken salad, which has a whopping 84 grams of fat and 13 grams of saturated fat." Check out Applebee's nutrition page to learn more.

Olive Garden

Lauren’s choice: Garlic Rosemary Chicken (400 calories, 16g fat, 6g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 115mg cholesterol, 1,400mg sodium, 29g carb, 3g fiber, 38g protein)

Lauren’s pass: Eggplant Parmigiana (1,060 calories, 54g fat, 12g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 45mg cholesterol, 1,990mg sodium, 113g carb, 11g fiber, 30g protein)

Why: "The Garlic Rosemary Chicken is low in calories and saturated fat, and has a good balance of carbohydrates and protein. Even though eggplant is a healthy vegetable by itself, the breading, cheese, and sauce in the Eggplant Parmigiana dish makes it high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates." Check out Oliver Garden's nutrition page to learn more.


Lauren’s choice: 6 oz. Sirloin with Grilled Avocado (420 calories, 20g fat, 5g saturated fat, 0.5g trans fat, 90mg cholesterol, 1,610mg sodium, 23g carb, 6g fiber, 39g protein)

Lauren’s pass: Margarita Fresh Mex Bowl (860 calories, 25g fat, 4.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 130g cholesterol, 3,830mg sodium, 105g carb, 12g fiber, 57g protein)

Why: "At first glance, the Margarita Fresh Mex Bowl sounds like it could be a healthy option (black beans, veggies, avocado, etc.), however it is high in calories and has almost double the amount of sodium that you need in one day! Instead, choose the 6 oz. Sirloin with Grilled Avocado which has almost half the calories and sodium, a fourth of the carbs, and a good dose of healthy fat thanks to the grilled avocado." Check out Chili's nutrition page to learn more.

Red Lobster

Lauren’s choice: Broiled Wild-Caught Flounder Dinner with a side of broccoli (430 calories, 9g fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 205mg cholesterol, 720mg sodium, 8g carb, 73g protein)

Lauren’s pass: Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp Entree (960 calories, 61g fat, 16g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 150mg cholesterol, 1,630mg sodium, 78g carb, 8g fiber, 24g protein)

Why: "Broiling is a healthy cooking method because it doesn’t require oil, butter or other calorie-laden cooking substances. The Wild Caught Flounder dinner is lower in calories, fat, sodium, and carbs and high in protein than the Coconut Shrimp Entrée." Check out Red Lobster's nutrition page to learn more.


Lauren’s choice: Simple & Fit Vegetable Omelette with Mixed Fruit (300 calories, 12g fat, 4.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 20mg cholesterol, 740mg sodium, 26g carb, 5g fiber, 27g protein)

Lauren’s pass: Harvest Grain 'N Nut Pancakes (820 calories, 41g fat, 6g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 100mg cholesterol, 1,850mg sodium, 89g carb, 8g fiber, 24g protein -- without the butter or topping)

Why: "Breakfast is the first opportunity of the day to give your body the fuel and energy it needs. A great breakfast has a combination of complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat. The Harvest Grain 'N Nut Pancakes sound like they could be a good source of whole grain nutrition, but they are actually high in calories, fat, carbs, and loaded with sodium. This vegetable omelette is a much better choice because it is great source of lean protein and healthy fat. Plus, any breakfast that includes fruit and vegetables is a win!" Check out IHOP's nutrition page to learn more.


Lauren’s choice: Fit Fare Veggie Skillet (340 calories, 11g fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 1,360mg sodium, 43g carb, 8g fiber, 19g protein)

Lauren’s pass: Cali Club Sandwich (1,100 calories, 75g fat, 18g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 100g cholesterol, 1,950mg sodium, 70g carb, 19g fiber, 47g protein)

Why: "While the Cali Club Sandwich is high in fiber and protein, it is also high in calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium. The Fit Fare Veggie Skillet is a much better choice because it has significantly less calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and carbohydrate." Check out Denny's nutrition page to learn more.

Cheesecake Factory

Lauren’s choice: Kale and Quinoa Salad or the Seared Ahi Tataki Salad (nutrition information not available)

Lauren’s pass: Grilled Chicken Tostada Salad (1,130 calories, 15g saturated fat, 2,150mg sodium, 93g carb)

Why: "The Kale and Quinoa Salad delivers a balanced meal that provides satisfying nourishment. Protein rich quinoa is paired with kale, red peppers, sweet grapes, and a light lemon dressing which should sustain you through the afternoon or evening. The tuna in the Seared Ahi Tataki Salad is high in protein and paired with heart-healthy avocado with mixed greens and ginger, which is a great anti-inflammatory. This meal is light yet high in fiber and lean protein which makes for a wonderfully satisfying meal. Ask them to go light on the dressing to save more calories and fat." Check out Cheesecake Factory's nutrition page to learn more.

T.G.I. Friday’s

Lauren’s choice: Bourbon Barrel Chicken (270 calories, 14g fat, 5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 870mg sodium, 5g carb, 0g fiber, 30g protein)

Lauren’s pass: Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad (1,080 calories, 71g fat, 16g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 1,650mg sodium, 76g carb, 11g fiber, 39g protein)

Why: "Not all chicken is created equal: the Bourbon Barrel Chicken is a great choice at fewer than 300 calories and not much fat. Completing your meal with side dishes of Tomato Mozzarella Salad plus fresh broccoli will add minimal calories, fats and carbs, while filling you up and contributing fiber." Check out T.G.I. Friday's nutrition page to learn more.

Outback Steakhouse

Lauren's choice: Firecracker Salmon (478 calories, 25 g fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 71mg cholesterol, 867mg sodium, 24.5g carb, 1g fiber, 39g protein)

Lauren’s pass: Aussie Chicken Tacos (1,039 calories, 58g fat, 18g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 193mg cholesterol, 1,781mg sodium, 55g carb, 9g fiber, 73g protein)

Why: "Salmon is a favorite healthy choice for a reason. Its 25 grams of fat provide “healthy” Omega-3s, and its flavor complements a variety of fruits, vegetables and spices. Paired with fresh mango salsa and mixed vegetables, this dish is a nourishing and satisfying meal." Check out Outback Steakhouse's nutrition page to learn more.

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