Weight Loss & Diet

Best Orders at the Top 10 Casual Dining Restaurants

Casual Dining Restaurants
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

In this article:

  • Most restaurants have healthy choices for weight loss. 
  • You can check nutrition information and menus online before you go. Or check while at the restaurant before ordering.
  • These are our top choices from the most popular casual dining restaurants. They have a reasonable number of calories.
  • Lark can help you lose weight when you log food and use the coaching features.

Restaurant meals tend to be high in calories. They are even linked to weight gain! But eating out may be something you love. Or you may need to eat out to take a break from cooking, to spend time with family or friends, or because of work.

The biggest casual dining chains in the US have healthy choices. And their nutrition information is online so you can check before you go. Here are some orders that can keep you on track for losing weight while eating out. The numbers in parentheses are the calorie counts for the item.

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1. Applebee’s 

Applebee’s makes it super easy to plan a meal or check the nutritional content of what you ate. The restaurant has a full list of menu items and their nutrient content available online. And you can use their nutrition calculator to see what happens to the calories and other nutrients if you order multiple items or customize orders.

These are some of our top picks.

  • Tomato Basil Soup without croutons (200) or Chicken Tortilla Soup without tortilla strips (200) plus a House Salad with Fat-Free Italian Dressing (150).
  • Blackened Salmon with a double order of Steamed Broccoli instead of Mashed Potatoes (450)
  • Southwest Chicken Bowl without Cilantro Rice or Tortilla Strips (420)
  • Tex-Mex Shrimp Bowl without Cilantro Rice or Tortilla Strips (300)
  • Classic Cheeseburger without Fries or a Brioche Bun and with a Chicken Patty, plus a House Salad with Fat-Free Italian dressing

Without modifications, most of their pasta, ribs, burgers, sandwiches, and salads have more than 1,000 calories for a single order.

2. Olive Garden

You may have guessed that unlimited pasta and breadsticks may not be the best for weight loss! But Olive Garden does have some tasty choices that fit into a solid weight loss plan. You can check the nutrition information online, to find good choices. Here are our suggestions.

  • Salad without dressing or croutons (40), with Light Italian Dressing (30) (you will need to ask specifically to get the salad without dressing or croutons) plus Minestrone Soup (110) or Pasta Fagioli Soup (150), a Breadstick (140) and Marinara Sauce (70)
  • Half portion of Herb-Grilled Salmon (230), side of Steamed Broccoli (35), Grapes (40)
  • Side of Spaghetti and Marinara (180), add Shrimp (150) or Grilled Chicken (130), Side Salad without croutons or dressing (40)

You can count on a load of calories, fat, and carbohydrates if you order a pasta entree or most of the other entrees. Soup, salad, and sides are safer items.

3. Chili’s

Chili’s gives you a break with its Guiltless Grill selections. But you will want to be careful with the other menu items. Still, there are plenty of great choices here. You can check the nutrition information here.

  • Grilled Chicken Salad (250) with Honey Lime Vinaigrette (180) or Salsa (10)
  • Shrimp Fajitas without Tortillas or Toppings (320) with Guacamole (50)
  • Guiltless Grill: ½ order of Ancho salmon with black beans instead of rice (300)
  • Cup of Southwest Chicken Soup (120) with sides of Black Beans (120) and Asparagus (35)

Burgers, Quesadillas, Tacos, and Appetizers can set you back pretty far.

4. Texas Roadhouse

It is no surprise that a steakhouse has a lot of bad choices. But there are a lot of good ones, too! Check the interactive nutrition calculator before you go. You can do a lot better than a fatty steak, fries, and unlimited bread and butter.

  • Grilled Shrimp Salad without dressing, croutons, or bacon (300 calories) with Low-Fat Ranch Dressing (240) or Portobello Mushroom Sauce (120)
  • Herb Crusted Chicken (260) or 5-oz Grilled Salmon (410) with Green Beans (100) or Sauteed Mushrooms (120)
  • California Chicken Dinner without Honey Lime Sauce (350) with Green Beans (100)
  • Grilled Shrimp (starter – 300) with Sauteed Mushrooms (120)

Watch out for oversized steak, ribs, and fried appetizers and entrees. And be especially careful about ordering a side of vegetables. Be sure to ask for them without added butter or oil. And desserts – forget about it. Each one is big enough for 8 to 10 people.

5. Outback Steakhouse

You will be doing well if you can get out of here without digging into their famous bread and butter for 300 calories a pop. Light Balsamic Vinaigrette (80) and Tangy Tomato Dressing (70) are your best bets for salad dressings. And there are many good options here. Check the list here before you go, or see the calorie counts right on the menu while in the restaurant.

  • Small Aussie Cobb Salad without bacon or croutons (250) with Grilled Chicken Add-on (160) and Light Balsamic Vinaigrette (80)
  • Small Asian Salad with Ahi Tuna (250) and Tangy Tomato Dressing (70)
  • 6-oz Center Cut Sirloin or Victoria’s Filet Mignon (210) with Side Salad (140) and Light Balsamic Vinaigrette (80)
  • 5-oz. Grilled Chicken on the Barbie (240) with Fresh Seasonal Veggie (150)

The fatty, oversized steaks, fried and loaded potatoes, and most of the appetizers have more calories than you need.

6. Red Lobster

Seafood can be so healthy, but this restaurant manages to make most of its menu items high in calories and fat. You may want to scour the menu and nutrition information before you go! Grilled fish and grilled shrimp are best bets for protein, and broccoli and green beans are good choices for sides.

  • Simply Grilled Shrimp Skewers (320) with Broccoli (40)
  • Half order of Simply Grilled Atlantic Salmon (320) with Broccoli (40) and Green Beans (40)
  • Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail (130) with a Side House Salad (110) and Baked Potato with Sour Cream (25)

Pasta, Coconut Shrimp, Cheddar Bay Biscuits and Feasts are all higher in calories and fat than you may need.

7. The Cheesecake Factory

The menu is big. There are few gems hidden in it. But you will need to search carefully in the nutrition information to find them! Most items are way higher in calories than you may want. These are some good picks.

  • Skinnylicious Salad without Bacon (450)
  • Tossed Green Salad with Skinnylicious Mustard Vinaigrette (200) and Grilled Chicken (220)
  • Little House Salad (230) and Grilled Shrimp (90)
  • Edamame (100) and Cup of Butternut Squash Soup (170)
  • Grilled Salmon (220) with Grilled Asparagus (120)

Be warned that salad dressings add up to 410 calories! But Skinnylicious Mustard Vinaigrette and Sesame Soy Dressing add each only 80. Don’t be fooled by Cauliflower Crust Pizzas – they have as many calories and nearly as many carbohydrates as regular ones! And Skinnylicious Specialities aren’t that skinny as listed, but you can modify them a bit to improve them. Most other items are worthy of 2, 3, or even 4 meals.

8. Longhorn Steakhouse

This menu is pretty simple. You are best off sticking to grilled chicken, shrimp, or salmon for your protein, and steamed vegetables or a side salad without dressing. Just check the nutrition info before you go and feel free to make special orders, such as dressing on the side, no bacon or cheese, and swapping vegetables for fries and other potatoes, rice, and mac & cheese.

  • Half order of LongHorn Salmon 7 oz (150) with with Grilled Mushrooms (150) and Fresh Steamed Asparagus (90)
  • Plain Sweet Potato (240) with Redrock Grilled Shrimp 8-count (160) and Fresh Steamed Broccoli (90)
  • Farm Fresh Field Greens with Salmon (350) and no croutons or cheddar with Raspberry Vinaigrette (120)

You can bet that fatty steaks, burgers and sandwiches, ribs, and chicken tenders are not best bets. Neither are creamy dressings, desserts or appetizers for 2,000 calories apiece, or bread and butter.

9. Red Robin

You can find a lot of high-calorie burgers here, but there are a few gems, too. Check for Veggie Patty and Grilled Chicken. And take advantage of bottomless Side Salads (ask for it without croutons) and Broccoli, especially instead of bottomless Fries. If you want a Bottomless Drink, opt for unsweetened iced tea. It took us a while to find the nutrition info, but don’t be shy about asking someone at the restaurant if you need it.

  • Ensenada Chicken Platter with 1 chicken breast (210 calories) plus a Mixed Greens Salad, no croutons, with Balsamic (190)
  • Keep It Simple Burger with Veggie Patty (380) or Grilled Chicken Patty (370)
  • Turkey Patty with no bun (230) with Fried Egg (90) and Sauteed Mushrooms (140)
  • Grilled Chicken Patty with no bun (120) with Steamed Broccoli (30) and half an order of Sweet Potato Fries (200)

Big burgers, French fries, onion rings and zucchini sticks, and fried chicken and fish are going to break the calorie and fat bank.

10. TFI Friday’s

This menu is similar to the others. You can do just fine if you stick to salad with vinaigrette and without breadsticks or croutons, grilled salmon or chicken, and broccoli or fresh fruit. Double-check the nutrition information before you order to be sure.

  • Grilled Chicken (190) on Side Salad without breadstick (90) with Balsamic Vinaigrette (50)
  • Side Salad without breadstick (90) with Balsamic Vinaigrette (50) and Chicken Noodle Soup (150)
  • Simply Grilled or Dragon-Glazed Salmon (360) with Lemon-Butter Broccoli (90) and Side Fruit Cup (50)

Burgers, crispy shrimp and chicken, pasta dishes, and oversized steaks are high in calories. So are fries, mac and cheese, jasmine rice, and onion rings.

The great news is that nearly all restaurants have items you can eat and still lose weight. Just remember:

  • Look for a lean protein that is not fried, breaded, or in creamy sauce.
  • Find a side salad or vegetables.
  • Keep portions small.

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Weight 160lbs
Height 64

Losing weight can lower your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and that’s not all. When you lose a few extra pounds, energy levels can increase, cholesterol and blood pressure can improve, and clothes fit better. Best of all is that Lark makes weight loss simple!

Lark doesn’t just know which choices can lead to weight loss. Lark coaches you on how to make good choices that can become habits. With small changes that fit right into your lifestyle, you can drop pounds and lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. Your personal coach is available 24/7 through your smartphone so you can get expert tips, track meals, physical activity, and weight loss. 

The entire program may be available at no cost to you if your health insurer covers it. Click here to find out if you may be eligible for Lark! You could be minutes away from taking the first steps to hitting your weight loss goals and improving health.

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