These are the Healthiest Meal Choices at 35 Popular Chain Restaurants
Dining Out on a Diet
Staying healthy while dining out can be a stressful task. Portion sizes are often too large, and many dishes that sound like smart choices are actually loaded with saturated fat and sodium. Yes, figuring out what to order can be challenging, but with a little advance research, you can stick to your diet.
We analyzed nutrition information from over 35 well-known chain restaurants, from fast food to fast casual to pizza joints. After crunching the numbers, we chose the healthiest lunches, dinners, and sides—plus the ones that you should absolutely avoid.
Some restaurants had surprisingly healthy options, while others offered hardly anything we'd want to recommend. We could tell you to avoid these places entirely, but we realize that's not very realistic. Sometimes where you eat is out of your control, especially when you're on the go. So, we've given you the safest bets to order, plus sneaky fat and sodium offenders that falsely appear as healthy.
Want to see even more healthy options at popular restaurants? Get the full dining out guide—and more—when you sign up for the Cooking Light Diet.
Here’s an easy way to keep nutrition in check when dining at Applebee’s—order from the Lunch Combo menu, which lets you mix and match soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrees. You’ll also find some solid options on the kids’ menu, such as grilled chicken tenders and a 4 oz. sirloin steak.
Chicken Tortilla Soup + House Salad
Calories: 370, Fat: 20g, Sat Fat: 6.5g, Sodium: 1100mg
Red Flag: Options on Applebee’s Lighter Fare menu may sound healthier, but every entree is loaded with sodium. One option, the Shrimp Wonton Stir Fry, is lower in fat and calories, but it still packs 2460mg sodium.
The Classic Roast Beef sandwich, Arby’s signature sandwich, is surprisingly low in fat and sodium. Pair it with a chopped side salad or “snack size” curly fries. You’ll also find healthier kids’ sides, such as applesauce.
Classic Roast Beef Sandwich
Calories: 360, Fat: 14g, Sat Fat: 5g, Sodium: 970mg
Chopped Farmhouse Salad with Roast Turkey (no vinaigrette)
Calories: 230, Fat: 13g, Sat Fat: 7g, Sodium: 870mg
Red Flag: When saucing your roast beef sandwich or burger, choose wisely. One small packet of mayo-based Horsey Sauce packs on 60 calories, 5g fat, and 150 mg sodium. Arby’s Sauce—with 15 calories, 0g fat, and 180mg sodium per packet—is a smarter pick, but it’s still relatively high in sodium.
Au Bon Pain
You may have to skip the pastries at Au Bon Pain, but luckily there are plenty of healthier sandwiches, salads, soups, breakfast offerings, and more. You can also find a solid selection of wholesome sides such as fresh grapes, watermelon, fruit cups, and hard-boiled eggs to round out your meal.
Egg Whites and Cheddar on Skinny Bagel
Cal: 210, Fat: 7g, Sat Fat: 4.5g, Sodium: 490mg
Napa Chicken with Avocado Wrap
Calories: 490, Fat: 21g, Sat Fat: 6g, Sodium: 750mg
Red Flag: The Caprese with Chicken Sandwich sounds like a solid choice, but not when you crunch the numbers—with 660 calories, 30g fat, 14g of saturated fat, and 1080mg sodium, it’s one of the unhealthiest sandwiches on the menu.
At Boston Market, keep it simple with entrees and sides such as a plain turkey breast, a quarter white or dark rotisserie chicken, and veggie sides such as sweet corn, green beans, and steamed vegetables. Rotisserie Potatoes are lower in calories and fat than Mashed Potatoes, but they're still a bit high in sodium. When ordering for children, stay basic with kids-sized portions of turkey or white-meat chicken breast and chicken noodle soup.
Regular Turkey Breast
Cal: 200, Fat: 9g, Sat Fat: 0g, Sodium: 710mg
Rotisserie Chicken Lunch Bowl
Calories: 390, Fat: 14g, Sat Fat: 6g, Sodium: 950mg
Calories: 120, Fat: 2.5g, Sat Fat: 0.5g, Sodium: 620mg
Red Flag: At 750 calories per portion, Boston Market’s Rotisserie Chicken Pot Pie looks like a relatively harmless indulgence. However, the rest of the numbers tell a different story—with 102g fat, 41g saturated fat, and 1,780mg sodium, you’re better off splitting one pie between four of your friends.
Burger King surprised us with several passable offerings on their menu. You’ll find oatmeal for breakfast, a veggie burger from MorningStar Farms, and a smaller, “value” size for side items like French fries and onion rings. If you want a burger, go for the Whopper Jr., which contains one patty instead of the standard two.
Whopper Jr. Sandwich
Calories: 310, Fat: 18g, Sat Fat: 5g, Sodium: 390mg
Veggie Burger (No Mayo)
Calories: 320, Fat: 8g, Sat Fat: 1g, Sodium: 840mg
Red Flag: Most of Burger King’s sandwiches come with mayo, which adds a colossal amount of fat—opt for no mayo and cut the fat in your burger by nearly half. To add flavor, stick to condiments lower in calories and fat, such as ketchup or mustard.
California Pizza Kitchen
One CPK personal-sized pizza (which have six slices per pie) strikes out in nearly every category—all are high in calories, fat, and sodium. This is disheartening if you’re craving pizza, but fortunately there is a workaround. Still order a pizza, but limit yourself to two slices, and take the rest home. Round out your meal with a side house salad.
2 Slices California Veggie Pizza
Calories: 360, Fat: 10g, Sat Fat: 5g, Sodium: 820mg
2 Slices Hawaiian Pizza
Calories: 360, Fat: 8g, Sat Fat: 4g, Sodium: 880mg
Red Flag: While CPK offers kid-sized pizzas for children, don’t automatically assume they’re a healthier choice. Like the rest of the restaurant’s pizzas, everyone single one clocks in at over 1000mg of sodium. Your child is much better off ordering the Kid’s Grilled Chicken Breast with Broccoli (270 calories, 11g fat, 1.5g sat fat, 680mg sodium).
Carrabba's Italian Grill
Finding a passable pasta dish at Carrabba’s is tough, due to huge portion sizes, rich sauces, and loads of cheese in the majority of options. If you have no choice but to eat here, order a simple grilled chicken entree or split the Mezzaluna—this ravioli pasta dish with creamy tomato sauce posts the best numbers nutritionally. On the side, choose simple offerings such as Plain Freshly Steamed Broccoli.
Half-Portion Mezzaluna Pasta
Calories: 315, Fat: 14.5g, Sat Fat: 7g, Sodium: 620mg
Tuscan Grilled Chicken
Calories: 287, Fat: 7g, Sat Fat: 2g, Sodium: 788mg
Red Flag: A pasta dish made with whole grain spaghetti isn’t necessarily healthier. The Fettuccine Weesie with Whole Grain Spaghetti has a whopping 1460 calories, 93g fat, 56g saturated fat, and 3610mg sodium, and puts you well over your daily limits for every category.
With plenty of grilled chicken options for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Chick-Fil-A gives you several ways to save on calories, fat, and sodium. For a smart side, skip the signature waffle fries and order the fresh fruit cup—you’ll find high-quality offerings like green apple, strawberries, blueberries, and mandarin oranges.
Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Cal: 320, Fat: 5g, Sat Fat: 2g, Sodium: 800mg
Greek Yogurt Parfait
Calories: 230, Fat: 9g, Sat Fat: 3.5g, Sodium: 85g
Red Flag: Chick-Fil-A’s Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap comes with your choice of salad dressing—plus extra calories, fat, and sodium. With a flaxseed flatbread wrap, grilled chicken, red cabbage, lettuce, and cheese, it’s tasty enough without the dressing.
If you’ve seen the size of Chipotle’s burrito (the flour tortilla alone has 320 calories and 600mg of sodium!), then we don’t need to explain why it’s an unhealthy choice. The tacos are a smaller portion and they also give you the option of using healthier corn tortillas. We also suggest trying the Kid’s Build-Your-Own Tacos, which includes two tacos and a side of chips or fruit.
Chicken Tacos with 3 Crispy Corn Tortillas, Roasted Chili-Corn Salsa, & Lettuce
Cal: 465, Fat: 17.5g, Sat Fat: 4g, Sodium: 640mg
Vegetarian Burrito Bowl with Brown Rice, Black Beans, Fajita Vegetables, Lettuce, & Roasted Chili-Corn Salsa
Calories: 445, Fat: 9g, Sat Fat: 1g, Sodium: 880mg
Red Flag: Flour tortillas may hold your taco toppings a bit better than corn tortillas, but they pack 480mg of sodium. Give yourself more wiggle room with Chipotle’s toppings by choosing corn tortillas instead—they have no sodium and are much more flavorful.
DQ’s signature Blizzard treats pack a ton of sugar (many of the larger sizes have over 100 grams!), so stick with the "mini" size for your sweet cravings. If you aren't attached to a Blizzard, try a slice of Treatzza Pizza, a candy-topped cookie cake that has significantly less sugar.
One Slice DK Treatzza Pizza - Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup
Calories: 200, Fat: 10, Sat Fat: 6g, Sugars: 17g
Red Flag: In addition to frozen treats and sweets, DQ offers a limited food menu with burgers, sandwiches, and sides. Nothing on here is a smart choice—even the grilled chicken sandwich, which is usually a healthier bet, packs over 1000mg sodium. A side salad is a much better option, but it's not exactly substantial.
Like many casual dining restaurants, sodium is the main culprit at Denny’s. There is, however, a good variety of veggies and grains on the menu such as broccoli, sweet corn, steamed squash, and whole grain rice. We also like the FitSlam Breakfast, with scrambled egg whites, spinach, and tomatoes.
Fit Slam Breakfast
Calories: 390, Fat: 11g, Sat Fat: 2.5g, Sodium: 830mg
Red Flag: With a generous pile of fresh vegetables and egg whites, the FitFare Veggie Skillet looks like a lighter option. However, it still racks over 2000mg sodium—but most of that comes from the side salsa. To decrease the sodium, simply leave the salsa off the dish.
When ordering from Domino’s—or any pizza delivery joint—building your own pizza is an easy way to make your pizza healthier. Choose toppings like mushrooms, spinach, green peppers, and onions, and opt for “light cheese” to help slash calories, fat, and sodium.
2 Slices Pacific Veggie (Small with Hand Tossed Crust)
Calories: 420, Fat: 16g, Sat Fat: 7g, Sodium: 860mg
Red Flag: The biggest fat and sodium offenders on Domino’s menu are toppings such as beef, pepperoni, sausage, bacon, and extra cheese. Avoid these, pile on as many veggies as you can, and opt for leaner proteins such as chicken or ham.
Hardee’s offers a “Better for You” section on their menu with low-carb, low-fat, vegetarian, and gluten-sensitive options, but beware of sodium offenders here. To reduce sodium counts on burgers and other sandwiches, ask for mustard instead of ketchup. To decrease calories and fat, simply hold the mayo.
Regular Roast Beef Sandwich
Calories: 310, Fat: 14g, Sat Fat: 4.5g, Sodium: 830mg
Red Flag: The Monster Thickburger has two 1/3-pound beef patties with 4 slices of bacon, mayo, and 3 slices of cheese. At 1330 calories, 95g fat, 35g saturated fat, and 2820mg sodium. That's nearly two days worth of saturated fat on a 1600-calorie diet!
Jack in the Box
There are limited options for healthier burger options on Jack in the Box’s menu, but we did find two surprisingly solid options. First, a solid burger alternative—the Chicken Fajita Pita (make sure to hold the sodium-laden salsa), and second, a sweet, lower-sugar treat from Chiquita.
Chicken Fajita Pita (with whole grain pita bread, no salsa)
Calories: 320, Fat: 11g, Sat Fat: 5g, Sodium: 870mg
Chiquita® Apple Bites with Caramel
Calories: 70, Fat: 0g, Sat Fat: 0g, Sugar: 13g
Red Flag: After 9 p.m., you can order from Jack in the Box’s “Munchie Meals” menu. Curb your cravings if you can, as most of the options on this menu are packed with fat and sodium. The worst offender, the Chick-N-Tater Melt, packs 1760 calories, 109g fat, and 3460mg sodium.
Jason’s Deli’s salad bar, which includes fresh veggies such as broccoli florets, carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, beets, and more, makes building a healthy meal easy. We love the option to drizzle your salad with creamy dressing alternatives such as olive oil, red wine or balsamic vinegar.
Organic Vegetable Soup (bowl)
Calories: 150, Fat: 7g, Sat Fat: 0g, Sodium: 730mg
Half Amy’s Turkey-O Sandwich
Calories: 240, Fat: 8g, Sat Fat: 3g, Sodium: 630mg
Red Flag: The California Club Sandwich at Jason’s Deli might sound tasty, but it’s loaded with fat and sodium. With ingredients such as guacamole, roasted turkey, Swiss cheese, bacon, and mayo, comes 700 calories, 44g fat, 18g saturated fat, and 1340mg sodium.
KFC’s signature offering—fried chicken—isn’t the healthiest option on the menu, but are you really surprised? The Kentucky Grilled Chicken, on the other hand, is lower in calories, fat, and sodium (remove the skin first for even more savings). For sides, choose simple vegetables such as green beans, corn, or a house side salad.
Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast
Calories: 220, Fat: 7g, Sat Fat: 2g, Sodium: 730mg
Red Flag: The KFC Famous Bowl combines crispy chicken tenders, sweet corn, mashed potatoes, and shredded cheese—there’s also 710 calories, 34g fat, and 2310mg sodium. Order the snack size, which contains one third of the sodium, instead.
Simple options, like a single hamburger are not the most exciting, but they tend to look the best in terms of calories, fat, and sodium. Snack Wraps are better choices than the burgers, but their smaller size may leave you hungry afterwards. We’re happy to see a selection of healthier sides, such as apple slices, strawberry yogurt, and a side salad.
Egg White Delight McMuffin
Calories: 260, Fat: 8g, Sat Fat: 4.5g, Sodium: 750mg
Grilled Honey Mustard Chicken Snack Wrap
Calories: 340, Fat: 8g, Sat Fat: 3.5, Sodium: 650mg
Red Flag: McDonald’s offers several healthy breakfast options, but the Big Breakfast with Hotcakes—with 1350 calories, 65g fat, 25g saturated fat, and 2100mg sodium—is not one of them. Go for the Egg White Delight McMuffin instead.
Moe's Southwest Grill
Moe’s expansive menu can be tricky to navigate, but a few simple tricks can help keep nutrition in check. The “Junior” size burrito trades a 12-inch tortilla for a 10-inch tortilla, and saves you about 100 calories in the process.
Chicken Salad with Black Beans, Corn Pico & Guacamole (no dressing, no tortilla shell)
Calories: 390, Fat: 15g, Sat Fat: 3g, Sodium: 980mg
Junior Chicken Burrito with Black Beans, Cheese, Pico de Gallo & Shredded Lettuce
Calories: 405, Fat: 14g, Sat Fat: 6g, Sodium: 682mg
Red Flag: Moe’s includes an order of chips and salsa with every order—and while we love freebies, keep in mind the extra calories, fat, and sodium they’ll add to your meal. One full serving of chips alone has 390 calories, 21g fat, and 198mg sodium.
Glance at the nutrition of Olive Garden’s pasta dishes, and you’ll struggle to find anything healthy. (We definitely did—we could only find one passable pasta dish on the entire menu!) The main culprit, however, is the restaurant's massive portion sizes for just about everything on the menu. Get out alive by splitting a pasta dish with a friend, or by eating half and taking the rest home.
Rotini with Marinara Sauce
Calories: 610, Fat: 15g, Sat Fat: 1.5g, Sodium: 970mg
Famous House Salad with Low-Fat Italian Dressing
Calories: 100, Fat: 4g, Sat Fat: 0g, Sodium: 660mg
Red Flag: Olive Garden may be known for its garlicky breadsticks, but try to limit yourself to just one. Just one breadstick has 140 calories, 2.5g fat, and 460mg sodium—all of which can add up quickly over the course of a meal.
You probably know that the Bloomin’ Onion is a nutritional trainwreck—it has 155g fat and 3840mg sodium! Luckily, there are plenty of ways to build a healthier meal at Outback Steakhouse. Try choosing smaller portions of the restaurant’s simply grilled steaks or chicken, then pairing with a side salad or steamed vegetable side.
Outback Center-Cut Sirloin, 6 oz.
Calories: 210, Fat: 7g, Sat Fat: 3g, Sodium: 520mg
Grilled Chicken on the Barbie, 5 oz. with Seasonal Mixed Vegetables
Calories: 370, Fat: 13g, Sat Fat: 5g, Sodium: 760mg
Red Flag: Outback’s Bloomin’ Burger is as unhealthy as its similarly-named appetizer, packing 1076 calories, 77g fat, and 33g saturated fat (no, thank you). Instead, dress up a 6 oz. sirloin steak with sides such as asparagus and a baked sweet potato.
Look for Panda Express’ “Wok Smart” icon on their menu, which signifies entrees that are 300 calories or less. It’s best to use this as a guideline, however, as several of the selections clock in at over 1000mg sodium per serving.
Calories: 150, Fat: 7g, Sat Fat: 1.5g, Sodium: 520mg
Thai Cashew Chicken Breast
Calories: 220, Fat: 11g, Sat Fat: 2g, Sodium: 600mg
Red Flag: Watch out for sneaky sodium offenders at Panda Express—one extra packet of soy sauce packs 375mg sodium and a single side of Mixed Vegetables has 540mg sodium.
Panera has plenty of healthier sandwiches, salads, several soups, and sides for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A general rule of thumb is to order the half size, whether it’s a sandwich or salad. Keep in mind that the default side is a bag of potato chips—but you can always request a piece of fresh fruit instead.
Half Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT on Sourdough
Calories: 270, Fat: 11g, Sat Fat: 2g, Sodium: 480mg
Ancient Grains & Arugula Salad with Chicken (no dressing)
Calories: 400, Fat: 14g, Sat Fat: 3g, Sodium: 290mg
Red Flag: Panera’s Broth Bowls are low in calories and fat, but you may want to avoid them if you’re watching sodium—the Lentil Quinoa Bowl with Chicken packs nearly 1400mg. If you’re craving something steamy and comforting, you’re probably better off with a cup of hot tea.
Papa John's Pizza
We recommend ordering from Papa John’s “Lighter Choice” menu—all pizzas stay under 300 calories per slice and use contain less cheese than selections on the regular menu. Order a small- or medium-sized pizza from this menu, and you can generally enjoy two slices without worry.
2 Slices Medium Original Crust Chicken & Veggie (Lighter Choice) Pizza
Calories: 400, Fat: 10g, Sat Fat: 3g, Sodium: 860mg
Red Flag: Add one container of Papa John’s Special Garlic Sauce to your order—and you’ll also add 17g fat and 3g saturated fat to your meal. If you’re ordering delivery at home, skip the sauce and drizzle your own balsamic vinegar over top for an extra splash of flavor.
Managing your sodium intake is downright difficult if you’re dining at this popular Asian restaurant, but there are several tricks for a healthier meal. First, choose lunch portions instead of dinner portions, as they’re all lower in calories, fat, and sodium. Second, split appetizers with friends if possible. Even the lettuce wraps, which sound harmless, pack a load of calories and sodium if you consume the entire order yourself.
Buddha’s Feast (steamed)
Calories: 250, Fat: 4g, Sat Fat: 0g, Sodium: 300mg
Egg Drop Soup (cup)
Calories: 40, Fat: 2g, Sat Fat: 0g, Sodium: 440mg
Red Flag: The Crispy Honey Chicken is satisfying and tasty, but the nutrition speaks otherwise—a dinner portion has 1420 calories, 68g fat, 10g saturated fat, and 1060mg sodium. Opt for the smaller lunch portion instead.
When ordering from Pizza Hut, set yourself up for success by selecting the healthiest pizza crust. The Thin ‘N Crispy crust is lowest in calories and fat, while the Hand-Tossed Crust is the lowest in sodium. Pizza Hut also offers a gluten-free crust from Udi’s, which is lower than both options in calories, fat, and sodium.
2 Slices Medium Veggie Lover’s Pizza with Thin ‘N Crispy Crust
Calories: 340, Fat: 12g, Sat Fat: 5g, Sodium: 880mg
Red Flag: Building your own pizza gives your more control over what you’re eating, but make sure to choose your toppings wisely—especially when it comes to meat. A topping of meatballs (4g fat and 1.5g saturated fat) is a better choice than a topping of beef (10g fat and 4.5g saturated fat).
Pret A Manger
This London-based chain offers a selection of grab-and-go sandwiches and wraps, but the breakfast menu is why you’ll want to visit. Start your day with steel-cut oatmeal, muesli, and breakfast “pots” filled with whole grains, greens, eggs, and more. You’ll also find plenty of fresh fruit options to pair with breakfast or lunch.
Breakfast Egg & Quinoa Pot
Calories: 240, Fat: 14g, Sat Fat: 2.5g, Sodium: 210mg
Salmon & Pickled Veggies Power Lunch
Calories: 480, Fat: 22g, Sat Fat: 3.5g, Sodium: 570mg
Red Flag: Pret’s spins on mac and cheese sound tasty, but the majority are high in fat and loaded with sodium. For a hot dish, the Sweet Potato Curry Rice Pot is a healthier option (and it’s vegan!) but the sodium is still on the high side.
The standard size for a Quizno’s sub is 8 inches, but the 4-inch size or flatbread option cuts down on calories, fat, and sodium significantly. Building your own sandwich is also an easy way to improve nutrition—opt for mustard over ranch, mozzarella cheese over cheddar, and pile on as many veggies as you can.
4” Turkey, Ranch, and Swiss with Lettuce, Onions, and Tomato
Calories: 350, Fat: 13g, Sat Fat: 4g, Sodium: 930mg
Small Chili (w/ 2 crackers)
Calories: 185, Fat: 5.5g, Sat Fat: 1.5g, Sodium: 635mg
Red Flag: The Southwest Chicken with Guacamole sub may sound harmless, but an 8" size has 860 calories, 45g fat, 12g saturated fat, and 2000mg sodium. (That's nearly an entire day's worth of fat, saturated fat, and sodium!) The 4” Baja Chicken sub isn’t a perfect substitute, but it’s a much safer bet, especially if you hold the chipotle mayo.
While seafood can often be synonymous with healthier food, Red Lobster’s offerings don’t quite meet this standard. Many of the restaurant’s seafood dishes are deep-fried, baked with cheese, or served in buttery, creamy sauces. A smarter choice is the simply-prepared “Today’s Fresh Fish” option.
Oven-Broiled Wild-Caught Flounder Dinner
Calories: 420, Fat: 11g, Sat Fat: 1g, Sodium: 500mg
Red Flag: The Cheddar Bay Biscuits are delicious, so indulge in one—but consider stopping after that. Each biscuit contains 160 calories, 10g fat, 3g saturated fat, and 380mg sodium, all of which add up when you add a main course dish to the meal.
The Garden Bar is your secret weapon when dining at Ruby Tuesday. With plenty of veggies—from edamame to kale to beets—you can easily construct a healthy salad. There’s also a “Fit and Trim” menu for lighter options lower in calories and fat—but keep in mind that sodium can still run on the high side here.
Plain Grilled Top Sirloin
Calories: 292, Fat: 9g, Sat Fat: 3g, Sodium: 493mg
Plain Grilled Salmon
Calories: 302, Fat: 18g, Sat Fat: 6g, Sodium: 166mg
Red Flag: Ruby Tuesday offers more smart dining choices than most chain restaurants, but its burgers can be pretty scary. The Colossal Burger clocks in at 1697 calories, 96g fat, and 4171mg sodium. To get your meat fix, try the Grilled Top Sirloin.