3 Ways to Stick to Your Diet at Fast-Casual Restaurants

Eating out at restaurants can be unavoidable at times. Even the healthiest of us find ourselves eating out at fast-casual dining establishments. Whether it’s because of a work lunch or catching up with friends, eating out is not necessarily a bad thing – and it does not have to ruin your diet.

When you go out to eat, you’re faced with numerous tempting options on the menu, from deep fried cheese, to decadent desserts. But if you are on a journey to a healthier lifestyle, you have to maintain your willpower and try not to indulge in those tempting dishes.

So what are your options? Most restaurants have light choices on their menus – even fast food restaurants. And no, they don’t only include salad, because if you’re anything like me, salads are not a very exciting meal choice.

The Healthier Michigan team consulted a dietitian and set out to find healthier choices at a fast-casual restaurant, so we chose to go to one of the Applebee’s in Michigan owned and operated by Livonia, MI based TEAM Schostak Family Restaurants. Here are a few things we found.

Ask for the lighter menu. Most chain restaurants have lighter versions of their menus that are either a part of the regular menu or come as a separate leaflet. Ask your server where the lighter sections of the menu are and start there. Chances are, there are some good lighter options on that menu. Applebee’s happened to have a separate Pub Diet menu for their light selections that included several dishes under 600 calories. There were some great choices that went way beyond salads, including dishes like pepper-crusted sirloin with whole grains and savory cedar salmon.

Check the posted calorie amounts. We shared Applebee’s lighter selections with a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan registered dietitian, Shannon Carney Oleksyk, and she suggested paying attention to the calories.

“Check posted calorie amounts, and choose lower calorie menu options. Many restaurants post calories on menus, pamphlets, or on their websites. Compare food and beverage options and think about how they fit within your daily calorie limit. For example, if your daily calorie limit is 1,600 calories, think twice before ordering a meal with 1,300 calories. Also don’t forget about the calories from drinks, dressings, dips, appetizers and desserts. They all count!”

Ask about the ingredients. If you are perusing a menu that does not highlight lighter choices, ask about the ingredients. Many dishes at restaurants include sauces and dressings that could be high in sodium and calories, so try asking for the sauce on the side. This will allow you to control how much you eat.

Eating healthy at a restaurant sounds all well and good, but how does it taste? So glad you asked. The Healthier Michigan team had the chance to taste a few of Applebee’s Pub Diet menu options, and here’s what we thought:

 IMG_0415Savory Cedar Salmon: only 520 calories and is light but filling. The creamy artichoke spread highlights the flavor of the grilled salmon very well.
 IMG_0423Cedar Grilled Lemon Chicken with Granny Smith apple relish was a great combination of fresh flavors and one of my personal favorites. Coming in at 560 calories, this is definitely one of the better options on the menu.
 IMG_0421Pepper-Crusted Sirloin & Whole Grains contains only 350 calories and is one of the more hearty choices on the light menu.

How do you stay healthy when eating out at restaurants? Share your tips with us in the comment section.

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Disclosure: This post and the content within it was produced on the brand’s and the individual writer’s free will. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan does not receive monetary compensation for this blog post or any referral traffic to any of Applebee’s online properties.

Photo credit: A Healthier Michigan

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