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Navigating Menus: How To Stay Healthy At 5 Chain Restaurants

We all know that cooking at home is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy, well-portioned meal where you are in full control of every ingredient. However, the reality is at-home dining does not always fit into a busy lifestyle. Today we’ll give you some tips for navigating menus of 5 popular chain restaurants in the California area, without sabotaging your weight loss efforts.

Outback Steakhouse

While Outback Steakhouse is famous for its Bloomin’ Onion – a deep fried appetizer clocking in at almost 2000 calories – the chain offers some nice ways to keep your meal from sidetracking your diet efforts. You’ll find a section of Outback’s menu dedicated to lighter options, all under 600 calories. They have everything from appetizers to desserts, including a Chicken on the Barbie dinner with house salad and mixed vegetable side for 570 calories. Or try a salmon dinner including a 7oz piece of fish, grilled asparagus and sautéed mushrooms for 573 calories.

Outback Steakhouse nutrition calculator:

California Pizza Kitchen

California Pizza Kitchen is a good example of a place where our instincts about low calorie dishes may be off. While salads seem like a great choice, at California Pizza Kitchen one of their highest-calorie menu items is the Moroccan-Spiced Chicken salad with 1500 calories. Instead, split a BBQ chicken pizza with someone else at the table, or take half home for tomorrow. Each half of that pizza has 540 calories.  And be careful about choosing the “wheat whole grain crust”. Instead of helping with weight loss, that crust actually adds an extra 140 calories to your pizza. Check out CPK’s Small Plates and Lite Adventures sections of their menu for good options.

CPK Nutritional Information:

Olive Garden

At Olive Garden one of the biggest potential diet dangers is their “never ending” choices like breadsticks, soup, salad and pasta. It’s easy to consume more calories than you realize when you’re continually being offered free refills. The menu has some other high-calorie items, with even an appetizer (the lasagna fritta) coming in at over 1000 calories. A great feature of Olive Garden for those watching their weight is the Lighter Fare section of their menu. Here you can find a shrimp scampi or chicken piccata for around 500 calories each. In addition to the Lighter Fare section, they have a minestrone soup with 110 calories per serving, a low fat dressing that cuts their house salad down to 100 calories per portion, and a garlic rosemary chicken dinner for 540 calories.

Olive Garden Nutritional Info:

Red Robin

Red Robin may be known for traditional burgers and fried food, and while they do not have a special “light” section of their menu, they are particularly good at showing health-conscious customers how to make swaps to their regular menu. For their burgers, they offer calorie-saving options like an “open face” choice where you get ½ the bun, and a “naked” choice where you get no bun. They also highlight which sauces to ask for, to keep calories down. Their recommendations include spicy ketchup, fresh salsa, or mustard. You can also skip the fries and choose a more diet-friendly side dish like their southwest black beans (74 calories), coleslaw (83 calories), or fruit salad (109 calories).

Red Robin tips for cutting calories:


Of the 5 chains featured today, Applebees seems to give the least guidance in terms of light & healthy options or customizations. Many of their items, like wings, are served with sauces that add hundreds of calories to the wings themselves. A good low-calorie choice at Applebees is soup. A cup of tomato basil, chicken tortilla, or southwest steak & black bean soup has 200 calories or fewer. Pair a cup of soup with their house salad (choose non-fat Italian dressing), and you have a meal for about 400 calories. Applebees also has some meat options with relatively low calories. For example, choose a 6oz sirloin that has 230 calories – but watch the sauces. Ask for the sauce on the side and aim for only using half the portion they give you. Requesting hot sauce, mustard, or malt vinegar can boost flavor without boosting calories.

Applebees Nutritional Information:

Be prepared

Before you go to any restaurant, take a few minutes to check out their website. Most chain restaurants have their menu with full nutritional information available online. A few minutes scanning the menu for the best options can save you from making a rushed decision that could cost you 1000 calories in one meal. If you arrive at the restaurant knowing what you’ll order, you’re less likely to be tempted by a special the waiter describes, or others at the table picking their meals.

If you have struggled to lose weight and keep it off, West Medical’s surgical and non-surgical weight loss options may help you find the success you’ve been looking for. If you would like to learn more about how we can help, please call our offices at (855) 690-0565.

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