Navigating the Chain Restaurants
Americans today eat out a whopping average of 4-5 times per week. The proliferation of fast food restaurants and mid-priced chain restaurants, along with more two-income families, made that number possible.
The decline in cooking at home and the rise in eating out correspond to the rise in overweight and obesity in the U.S. Research has shown that eating at restaurants is associated with higher BMI and weight gain. Why is that? Well, a restaurant meal is more likely to be higher in unhealthy fats, sugar, sodium, and calories than a home-cooked meal. Plus, restaurant portions are likely to be significantly larger than home-cooked meals.
Cooking at home is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. People who cook eat a healthier diet and smaller portions without giving it a thought. Think about it – are you really going to eat French fries that often if you cook at home? No! Are you going to eat four cups of pasta on a giant restaurant-size plate? Probably not.
But, of course there will always be days when we treat ourselves to a night out on the town. We’ve designed this restaurant guide to help you to better “Navigate the Chain Restaurants” and hopefully help you to make more health-conscious selections when you are out. We highlight lower-calorie menus, gluten free, allergy free and vegetarian options, and neat tidbits that you may not have known about – like “hidden menus.” Our dietitians and certified wellness coach have also given some personal menu recommendations for each of the restaurants below.
Remember, when looking at nutritional information or lower-calorie menus, to also keep in mind other nutritional information including the serving size, sodium and sugar content, and saturated fat. Calories aren’t everything! Sugars from fruits or low-fat dairy is not as concerning, but excessive sugar from foods with added sugar like cakes, soda, and cookies is unhealthy. Happy Dining!
Some General Guidelines
For a typical 2,000 daily calorie diet, our dietitians recommend that your daily sodium intake be less than 2500 mg per day. Please note that everyone’s needs are different. Depending on your lifestyle and activity level, the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat you should consume daily will vary. The best way to determine your individual needs is to meet with a health provider.
A Tip from Registered Dietitian Nicole Holovach: Arby’s is known for their roast beef sandwiches. They should have stopped there! The classic sandwich is one of the healthiest things on the menu! It has half the calories (360) and fat (14g) of their seemingly healthy on-whole-grain-bread “Market Fresh” sandwiches.
A Tip from Registered Dietitian Nicole Holovach: At Chick-fil-A, it’s pretty much a choice between grilled and regular (crispy) chicken. Grilled has less calories and way less fat!
A Tip from Certified Wellness Coach Sarah Sutton: “Eat This, Not That!” Next time, you order a Chicken Burrito, try holding a few of the ingredients vs. getting it with “the works.” By cutting out the rice, guacamole, sour cream, half of the cheese, and adding fajita veggies, you’ll save almost half of the calories and fat!
Nutrition Info: Chicken Burrito with the Works (Rice, Beans, Cheese, Guacamole, Sour Cream) – 1245 calories, 54 g fat (20 g sat fat), 185 mg cholesterol, 2470 mg sodium, 129 g carbohydrates, 24 g fiber, 64.5 g protein; Chicken Burrito without Rice, Guacamole, Sour Cream, ½ the Cheese and Add Fajita Veggies – 695 calories, 21.5 g fat (7.5 g sat fat), 130 mg cholesterol, 2020 mg sodium, 77 g carbohydrates, 16 g fiber, 52 g protein
A Tip from Registered Dietitian Nicole Holovach: People tend to get the chicken at burger joints if they want to order something healthier. But, the regular hamburger, cheeseburger, or the grilled onion cheddar burger at McDonalds all have fewer calories and similar fat amounts as all their chicken sandwiches, even their grilled chicken sandwiches!
A Tip from Certified Wellness Coach Sarah Sutton: “Eat This, Not That!” Next time, try a Breakfast Power Sandwich with Ham, Egg and Cheddar Cheese on Whole Grain vs. a Cinnamon Chip Scone. You’ll save almost half of the calories and fat, and get a large dose of protein to help you stay full!
Nutrition Info: Cinnamon Chip Scone – 620 calories, 29 g fat (18 g sat fat), 110 mg cholesterol, 350 mg sodium, 78 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 10 g protein (also 33 g sugar); Breakfast Power Sandwich on Whole Grain – 340 calories, 15 g fat (7 g sat fat), 220 mg cholesterol, 820 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 23 g protein
A Tip from Registered Dietitian Nicole Holovach: I love that the ingredient in Starbucks’ Perfect Oatmeal is just….oatmeal. Unlike some other fast food chain’s oatmeal! Add the nut packet and the dried fruit packet for a balanced, filling breakfast.
A Tip from Registered Dietitian Nicole Holovach: Any of Subway’s six-inch cold cut sandwiches are a good choice. Pile high with all of your favorite veggies. Instead of mayo, try their newly added avocado for a much healthier fat!
A Tip from Registered Dietitian Nicole Holovach: I love that Wendy’s has a baked potato on their menu. Besides salads, and apple slices, it’s one of the only times you’ll see real food on a fast food menu! A baked potato with small chili has 340 calories, 8g fiber, and 5g fat, vs. their seemingly healthy Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad, which has 780 calories, 7g fiber, and 51g fat.