While it might be easier to treat yourself to a night out, we start to have second thoughts when we pick up that menu of endless possibilities and zero guidance on what’s good (or not totally horrible) for our bodies. Items with words like “organic,” “fresh” or “homemade” are commonplace in the restaurant business, but that doesn’t mean you can glaze over the nutritional information. Even when you think you’re making a better decision by eating at a sit-down restaurant, their menu options aren’t always that much healthier than their fast-food counterparts.
Luckily, the following restaurants allow you to customize most meals to your liking, which means the calorie-cutting power is in your hands. To help keep you stay fit and trim, we rifled through the nutrition information at all of your fast casual joints, so all you have to do is sit back, relax, and eat. To make sure we recommended the absolute best dishes and meal combos for your waistline, we kept all orders to a maximum of 500 calories and 1,500 milligrams of sodium.
Chicken, Pinto Bean, Tomato Salsa, and Fajita Veggie Salad, no dressing
360 calories, 9 g fat (3 g saturated), 1,220 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (11 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 41 g protein
Chipotle is the frontrunner when it comes to fast casual dining. Besides removing the GMO ingredients from their menu, they also promised to improve the already high quality of their food by cutting down on the preservatives in their salt-laden tortillas. Because we know you’ll be taking a trip to Chipotle before that happens, try this chicken salad instead. Registered dietitian and personal trainer Jim White says, “when I eat salad, I use it as an opportunity to get some of my carbohydrates from beans.” Besides a protein-packed scoop of pinto beans, he also likes loading up on veggies, which is why we’ve thrown on some nutritionally-dense fajita veggies on top of that fiber-packed romaine lettuce. Huge Chipotle fan? Be sure to check out our exclusive report, Chipotle dishes — ranked!.
Half Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT and Half Seasonal Greens Salad with Reduced-Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette and a French Baguette
430 calories, 23 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat), 745 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (5 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 23 g protein
One of the best options at Panera is their “You Pick Two” special. It gives you the ability to select a rounded meal while managing your portion control. Pair the healthiest ranked sandwich at Panera, the Turkey & Avocado BLT, with a Seasonal Greens Salad and flavorful Reduced-Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette for a little extra pizazz. The layer of heart-healthy avocado on your sandwich will help you to absorb three to five times more carotenoids, the disease-fighting compounds found in the veggies in the salad, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition.
3. Red Lobster
Wild-Caught, Broiled Flounder Dinner with Broccoli (no salad, dressing, or condiments)
460 calories, 11 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 770 mg sodium, 9 g carbs (3 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 73 g protein
Opting for the broiled version versus the “golden-fried” will save you an astounding 750 calories. This low-calorie meal is rounded out by sides of fresh veggies. If you like to pair your fish with a condiment, we recommend opting for cocktail sauce over tartar sauce. The cocktail sauce side will bring your meal to a total of only 510 calories, whereas the tartar sauce brings you up to 630 calories total. To discover more satisfying eats that will help you trim down, check out these best carbs for weight loss.
4. Outback Steakhouse
Victoria’s 6-ounce Filet Mignon with sides of Grilled Asparagus and House Side Salad with Light Balsamic Vinaigrette
490 calories, 24 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 1,270 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (5 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 47 g protein
We know it’s hard to believe, but Outback, home of the 2,000-calorie Bloomin’ Onion appetizer, does have some healthy meal options. One of the best cuts of meat you can get from the popular steakhouse is the 6-ounce Victoria Filet because it is low in fat. Even better, the side of asparagus is rich in potassium, a nutrient that helps the body flush out water and sodium.
And when you’re cooking at home, get your protein fix with these best proteins for weight loss.
Applebee’s Thai Shrimp Salad
380 calories, 19 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 1,510 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (8 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 25 g protein
The only main you can find on Applebee’s menu under 500 calories is this Thai Shrimp Salad. That’s right, we said only one dish. Of course, you can also order a bunless hamburger patty to get under the 500-calorie mark, but at least this option affords you the opportunity to eat some vegetables and a good source of low-fat protein: shrimp.
6. Panda Express
Broccoli, Beef, and Chicken Potstickers
310 calories, 13 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 770 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (3 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 15 g protein
A Chinese meal that won’t break the calorie or sugar bank? It is possible, and this meal is proof! Along with the 15 grams of hunger-busting protein comes a solid hit of immunity-boosting vitamin A and folic acid (a vitamin that helps the body break down, use, and create new proteins) from the broccoli.
Loaded Chicken Wrap
310 calories, 13 g fat (6 saturated), 890 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (3 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 14 g protein
When you go to Popeyes, we know you’re looking for some fried chicken, and this wrap gives it to you—while keeping an eye out for your waistline. This wrap rolls up fried chicken and the chain’s signature Red Beans & Rice in one delicious handheld meal. It’s hard to believe that it contains a mere 310 calories while packing in 14 grams of protein and 3 grams of satiating fiber.
8. P.F. Chang’s
Buddha’s Feast (Steamed)
260 calories, 4 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 310 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (9 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 25 g protein
Some dishes at P.F. Chang’s can climb as high as 3,840 mg sodium (Pad Thai Shrimp, we’re looking at you). That’s almost two days worth of sodium in one sitting! Save your heart by ordering the lowest sodium content item on the menu: Buddha’s Feast Steamed. This steamed dish is loaded with baked tofu, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, broccoli, and carrots, and tossed in soy sauce.
9. Olive Garden
Herb-Grilled Salmon with Garlic-Herb Butter and Parmesan-Garlic Broccoli
460 calories, 29 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 960 mg sodium, 9 g carbs (5 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 45 g protein
A dish from Olive Garden under 1,000 milligrams of sodium and with no trans fat? Sign us up! Home of the never-ending breadsticks, Olive Garden’s oversize portions of carbs can put the dietary discipline of any mindful diner to the test. Instead of losing more than a day’s worth of carbs and sodium to their pasta dishes, order this Herb-Grilled Salmon instead. Just make sure to ask for the fatty butter on the side because the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid-packed salmon already has enough of it!
Grilled Market Salad with Toppings and Light Balsamic Vinaigrette
410 calories, 19 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 1,050 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (6 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 27 g protein
“If I were to eat at Chick-fil-A, I’d go for the very colorful Chick-Fil-A Grilled Market Salad with the Zesty Apple Cider Vinaigrette on the side,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Michelle Loy. “This salad features dark leafy greens, which are excellent sources of heart-protective folate and immune system-supportive vitamin A. The berries in the salad also contain disease-fighting antioxidants that help ward off chronic conditions, like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.” Plus, each salad is topped off with a healthy serving of grilled chicken to give you a boost of protein to help keep you satisfied.
Eat fast food on the reg? Be sure to check out these things fast food chains don’t want you to know before you put fry to mouth.
11. Boston Market
Quarter White, Skinless Rotisserie Chicken with Green Beans and Steamed Vegetables
350 calories, 13 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 650 mg sodium, 15 g carbs (6 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 43 g protein
If you didn’t think comfort food could be low in fat, take a look at this entree from Boston Market. This chicken, green bean, and veggie plate should be your go-to on your busy weeknights out. It carries just nine percent of the day’s recommended fat, which isn’t too shabby for a fast-food cheat meal! If you’re worried this combo won’t pack big enough flavor, ask your server for a side of their tangy, fat-free Poultry Gravy. Even if you polish off the entire lot, it will only add 10 calories and 85 milligrams of sodium to your order. Throw in the cornbread that comes with the meal as well, and you’re only looking at a total of 570 calories.
12. TGI Fridays
Caesar Salad with Breadstick with Caesar Dressing
440 calories, 31 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 720 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (3 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 9 g protein
The closest you’re going to get to an under 500-calorie meal at TGI Fridays is this salad with no options for sides because most entrees at the chain are over 1,000 calories.
Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad with Lite Italian Dressing
260 calories, 14 g fat (7 g saturated fat) 1,660 mg sodium, 11 g carbs (3 g fiber, 7 g sugar) 23 g protein
Get your fill of 23 grams of muscle-building protein without the trans fats and starchy, chemical-additive-packed bread that comes along with most of the other menu items at Arby’s. Besides being the healthiest and most nutritionally rounded dishes at Arby’s, it’s also one of the most delicious. And with the added bonus of bacon, it can’t get much better than that! But it’s important to note the sodium here—you’re going to want to limit the amount of dressing you use, so as long as you don’t use all that’s given to you with your meal, you’ll come in under the limit we set.
Low Carb It: ⅓ LB. Low Carb Thickburger
470 calories, 36 g fat (13 g saturated fat), 1,170 mg sodium, 9 g carbs (1 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 22 g protein
When it comes to fast-food burgers, it doesn’t get much healthier—or lighter in carbs—than this. To whip up this mouthwatering creation, Hardee’s takes a Black Angus beef patty and wraps it inside iceberg lettuce leaves, along with cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, and mayo, so you can enjoy your burger. Trying to lean out? Be sure to check out these weight loss tricks you haven’t tried.
15. Jack in the Box
Chicken Fajita Pita with No Salsa
320 calories, 11 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 870 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (4 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 24 g protein
Low in calories and packed with protein and fiber, this is one meal that we’d happily scarf down. Even better than the crispy grilled onions and shredded cheddar cheese is the pita bread made with 16 grams of whole grain. We love whole grains because they contain all three parts of the grain, including the ones that are nutrient-rich and full of fiber to keep your hunger at bay.
Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich
470 calories, 22 g fat (4 g saturated), 1,340 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (3 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 30 g protein
Steer clear of those Footlong dogs and over to this classically simple grilled chicken sandwich at Sonic. A ciabatta bun packed with 10 grams of whole grain and tender grilled chicken sync up with a host of veggies and light mayo to create this flavorful diet-friendly order.
Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich
230 calories, 6 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 560 mg sodium, 28 g carbs (2 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 16 g protein
With a leaner protein in the form of turkey bacon over the traditional pork, this relatively low-carb English muffin and egg sandwich is the perfect start to your day. It packs a powerful nutritional punch of 13 grams of protein for a mere 230 calories. This promising info makes it another all-day breakfast item we’re cool with getting behind.
18. Au Bon Pain
Tuna Salad Sandwich, Whole Sandwich
460 calories, 11 g fat (2 g saturated), 860 mg sodium, 53 g carbs (6 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 38 g protein
Served on multigrain bread, you’ll take a bite and find ABP’s signature herb blend, and avocado dressing, tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded carrots, and field greens in this tuna salad.
19. Long John Silver’s
3 Pieces of Shrimp with Rice and Green Beans (no hushpuppies or sauce)
271 calories, 2 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 1,319 mg sodium, 51 g carbs (1 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 11 g protein
This grilled seafood entree is among the healthiest grab-and-go meals in the country, and one of the smartest choices at Long John’s. Even though the chain has eliminated trans fats from the deep fryer, the breading and oils still pile on a hefty dose of fat, and that’s why we recommend this dish. The shrimp is baked, not breaded and fried, so you don’t have to worry about those extra calories and fat.
20. Carl’s Jr.
Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich
390 calories, 7 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 990 mg sodium, 50 g carbs (3 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 30 g protein
If you’re looking for a decent nutritional profile that’s not loaded with greasy fats, pick up a Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich. This delicious meal will save you more than 200 calories and 12 grams of fat compared to some of their larger burgers. And for more waist-saving hacks, check out these foods that melt love handles.
21. Ruby Tuesday
Fit & Trim Top Sirloin with Grilled Asparagus and Spaghetti Squash
423 calories, 23 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 1,162 mg sodium, 12 g carbs (3 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 45 g protein
In the fast food world, it’s hard to find a meal under 500 calories that doesn’t contain the leanest of proteins, chicken. That’s why we’re ecstatic about Ruby Tuesday’s “Fit&Trim” Top Sirloin. Leaner and with fewer calories than other cuts of beef, this steak is packed with metabolism-boosting iron.
Slice of XL New York Veggie Pizza
440 calories, 15 g fat (7 g saturated), 1,070 mg sodium, 56 g carbs (5 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 21 g protein
On any given day, one in eight Americans will reach for a slice, and we’re drooling over this one. Rather than getting two smaller slices that would probably fill up the full 500 calories, Sbarro’s extra large slice gives you a little extra than normal but leaves room for a nice, fresh side salad for an added boost of satiating fiber.
23. Moe’s Southwest Grill
Homewrecker Jr. with Chicken, Rice, Beans, Pico de Gallo, Lettuce, Guacamole, on a Flour Tortilla
490 calories, 16 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 862 mg sodium, 74 g carbs (13 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 27 g protein
Finally, a burrito under 500 calories, and with all the fixings! Moe’s Southwest Grill manages to fit all your favorite burrito fillings into this Homewrecker Jr. by using a 3-inch smaller tortilla round than Chipotle.
24. Jimmy Johns
Turkey Tom Unwich
240 calories, 18 g fat (3 g saturated), 680 mg sodium, 4 g carbs (1 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 14 g protein
This turkey breast sandwich from Jimmy Johns is a sight for sore eyes. It’s the only sub and giant club sandwich under 500 calories; keep in mind that’s with only turkey, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.
Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast with Sweet Kernel Corn and Green Beans
320 calories, 8 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 970 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (4 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 44 g protein
A Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast is a solid option to turn to when you find yourself at KFC. Pair a side of green beans and corn with the lean poultry for a light, low-calorie meal that’ll keep you full and satiated for hours without derailing your weight loss efforts.