Healthy Meal Options at Restaurants and Fast Food Joints

How to Eat Better When Eating Out

Healthy fast food choices

Surprisingly, it’s controlled food consumption that has a bigger impact on weight loss than exercise, although both are crucial for losing weight and keeping it off. For most, eating food is much more accessible and pleasant than exercise, so this part is all the more difficult. Of course, there are also the psychological factors associated with overeating, which include boredom, depression and anxiety.

It’s easier to control our eating at home because we can limit our grocery purchases to exclude fattening foods and cook ourselves healthy meals. Dining out, on the other hand, can be like walking into a dark, dangerous forest. The menu can be a merciless taunting of will power. So how do we avoid the danger?

A Stroll Through the Cheesecake Factory
Let’s take a walk into the dark forest called Cheesecake Factory to order a meal. I choose this restaurant because many of its dinner offerings are over 1000 calories with one entrée coming in at 1950 calories.

Look for low calorie menu offerings

The first decision you should make is to order from the SkinnyLicious menu filled with items that are less than 500 calories. If you’re with a group, share an appetizer to start and then order one as your meal. These items are Asian and Latin inspired with fresh vegetables and good seasonings. You want to keep this combo in mind when visiting other unknown forests. Example menu items are Shrimp Summer Roll, Mexican Chicken Lettuce Wrap Tacos and Seared Tuna Tataki Salad.

Cut portions in half

If you must order from the main menu, then your second decision before you even sit down is that you will eat half of anything you order and box the rest. Ask the waiter to bring a box with your order. And your penance for ordering off the main menu is that you are banned from appetizers…Ok, well maybe one Mexican Chicken Lettuce Wrap Taco at only 100 calories.

Drinking in the forest

When it comes to drinks, no-calorie sparkling water is best. Ask for an orange or lime slice to go with it. If you’re drinking alcohol, then one glass of wine will run you about 120 calories while a shot of vodka with sparkling water and lime will run about 100 calories. Stay away from mixed drinks because the other ingredients can bring the calorie count up to 200 calories!


If you know in advance where you’re dining, then by all means check the restaurant’s offerings online and set up your game plan before you leave the house. However, if your meal outing is unexpected, a handy app called MyFitnessPal may save the day. It has caloric information for many menu items at well-known chains including the Cheesecake Factory.

When in doubt, use common sense. Stay away from fried food options like fried fish, chicken and French fries. Not rocket scientist stuff here, but definitely choose baked items, like potatoes, fish, salmon, crab cakes or chicken, perhaps with a side of one of the savory sauces or hot sauce to give it an extra kick. The half portion rule continues to apply here, too. Only eat half and take the rest home for dinner or lunch the next day. If you do go for the burger, remove one half of the bun and eat it open face. If you can’t bear a burger with a baked potato, then immediately remove half the French fries when the plate comes.

Fast Food

I saved the most frequently visited forest of fast food for last because most of us know it well. We all know that feeling. We’ve worked late and don’t have the time or energy to cook dinner. We also don’t want to break the bank. Fast food is convenient and to say that it is forbidden would be setting you up for failure. Below are some great fast food lunch or dinner choices that keep the meal under 500 calories (before a beverage). Check the links for more food choices.

• Kids’ Happy Meal cheeseburger; 440 calories with cheeseburger, kids’ fries and apple slices
• Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken and low-fat balsamic vinaigrette plus Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait; 375 calories
• Grilled Honey Mustard Snack Wrap plus small French fries; 480 calories

Taco Bell
• Fresco Steak Burrito Supreme plus black beans; 430 calories
• Fresco Chicken Soft Taco plus Pintos ‘n’ Cheese; 330 calories

Dunkin’ Donuts
• Egg White Veggie Wake-Up Wrap plus hash browns; 350 calories
• Tuna Salad Sandwich on an English muffin; 390 calories

• 6″ Subway Club on 9-Grain Wheat Bread with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, cucumbers, and Sweet Onion Sauce plus apple slices; 445 calories
• Oven Roasted Chicken Salad with tomatoes, green peppers, onions, olives, and cucumbers with honey-mustard dressing plus Yogurt Parfait; 400 calories

• 3 Barbacoa (braised beef) Tacos on soft corn tortillas with lettuce and tomato salsa; 405 calories, 10g fat (2.5g saturated)
• Vegetarian Burrito Bowl with brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, lettuce, and roasted chili-corn salsa; 385 calories, 7g fat (1g saturated)

• Large Chili plus Garden Side Salad (no croutons) with fat-free French dressing; 375 calories
• Ultimate Chicken Grill Sandwich plus apple slices; 440 calories

• Half Smoked Turkey Breast on Artisan Whole Grain Loaf plus Low-Fat Garden Vegetable with Pesto Soup (from the You Pick Two Menu); 320 calories
• Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad (no bacon) plus Baked Lays Potato Chips; 430 calories

Burger King
• Whopper Jr. (no mayo) plus Value-Sized Onion Rings; 410 calories
• Veggie Burger plus apple slices; 440 calories

• 4 Hot Wings plus Sweet Kernel Corn; 380 calories, 16.5g fat (4g saturated)
• Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast plus mashed potatoes (without gravy); 310 calories

With some fortitude, will-power and planning you can make it through the restaurant forest unscathed. Hope you’re having a great summer!

Benita Perkins

Benita Perkins – is a widely acclaimed health and wellness branding expert focusing on the fitness needs of women and the special demands they must overcome to step into a lifetime of healthy living through fun, interactive lifestyle events. Her company, Bennie Girl Health & Wellness Branding & Events, works with businesses and organizations to associate their brands and products with a healthy lifestyle, by identifying opportune events to participate in and activities that will best define and communicate the organization’s mission.

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