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Healthier Options While Eating Out

Updated on November 2, 2013

While it's true that eating out can cause weight gain, in recent years fast food places and restaurants have made a concerted effort to offer healthier options and have made nutrition information available to consumers so that we may make better choices. Below I showcase a few national franchises and the healthier eating options available in those establishments.

A McDonald's cheeseburger has 300 calories.
A McDonald's cheeseburger has 300 calories.

McDonald's

According to the McDonald's website, about 80% of their menu items have less than 400 calories. Though this is good news for the calorie counter, the bad news is that those 400 calories (or less) do not include condiments, dressings, sauces, or custom orders. Further, many of these under 400 calorie items are paired together in meals bringing the actual meal to well over 400 calories. For example, a value with a premium grilled chicken sandwich and medium fries will cost you about 730 calories, and that doesn't include the drink or any condiments or sauces for the sandwich. Don't let any of this dissuade you from eating at McDonald's from time to time, but instead of calling it quits on your diet, enjoy a classic cheeseburger (hold the fries) with an unsweetened iced tea or a similar combination.


McDonald's Menu Items Under 400 Calories

(click column header to sort results)
Menu Item  
# of Calories  
Hamburger
250
Cheeseburger
300
Premium Grilled Chicken Classic
350
Grilled Chicken Ranch Snack Wrap
270
Chicken McNuggets (6)
280
Premium Bacon Ranch Salad
140
French fries (medium)
380
Remember, these numbers do not include condiments, sauces, dressings or custom orders. For a full list of menu items under 400 calories, visit the McDonald's website: http://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/food/meal_bundles/favoritesunder400.html
Burger King's tendergrill chicken sandwich without mayonnaise has 400 calories.
Burger King's tendergrill chicken sandwich without mayonnaise has 400 calories.

Burger King

Burger King's caloric numbers look slightly better than McDonald's for the basic items but are definitely higher for most of the menu. Regardless of this, there are still items to enjoy if you find yourself dining at BK, but just like at McDonald's, you'll probably want to hold the fries unless you're pairing a basic sandwich like the hamburger with the new value size Satisfries. These two items come in at 430 calories.

Burger King Menu Items Under 400 Calories

(click column header to sort results)
Menu Item  
# of Calories  
Whopper Jr.
340
Hamburger
240
Cheeseburger
280
Double Cheeseburger
370
Bacon Cheeseburger
310
Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich w/o Mayo
400
Chicken Nuggets (6)
280
Calorie counts include any condiments or sauces included in the sandwich but not custom orders. For additional nutrition information and menu items under 400 calories: http://www.bk.com/cms/en/us/cms_out/digital_assets/files/pages/Nutrition%20OCTOBE
Wendy's large chili has 270 calories.
Wendy's large chili has 270 calories.

Wendy's

Wendy's menu has less items to choose from than either McDonald's or Burger King, and like McDonald's, the calorie counts do not include dressings, sauces, condiments or custom orders. Wendy's does, however, offer a handy app that helps you choose healthier options on the go, a feature most other restaurants do not offer. For the most part, the Jr. sandwiches, half-sized salads, or most items on the Right Price Right Size menu (except the double stack) fit the bill for keeping calories in check.

Wendy's Menu Items Under 400 Calories

(click column header to sort results)
Menu Item  
# of Calories  
Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger
390
Spicy Chicken Go Wrap
330
Crispy Chicken Sandwich
380
Chicken BLT Cobb Salad Half
300
Chili - large
270
Chicken Nuggets (6)
270
French Fries - Small
310
Remember, these numbers do not include condiments, sauces, dressings or custom orders. For a full list of menu items under 400 calories, visit the Wendy's website: http://www.wendys.com/en-us/nutrition-info
All of the Fresco items on Taco Bell's menu come in under 400 items.
All of the Fresco items on Taco Bell's menu come in under 400 items.

Taco Bell

Let's move away from burger joints for a minute and see what Taco Bell has to offer. Perhaps not surprising, the Bell's menu offers numerous items under 400 calories. More surprising is that none of the salads on the menu are under 400. In fact, only one is under 600 calories and the other three are between 750 and 780! So what kinds of items are good choices? Anything of the Fresco items, any of the chalupas, any of the Gordita supremes, all of the sides, and all of the tacos. That's a lot to choose from!

Taco Bell Menu Items Under 400 Calories

(click column header to sort results)
Menu Item  
# of Calories  
Bean Burrito
380
Chalupa Supreme
340-370
Fresco Soft Taco
160
Gordita Supreme
270-300
Nachos
320
Double Decker Taco
320
Doritos Locos Tacos
170
For complete nutrition information, see Taco Bell's website: http://www.tacobell.com/nutrition/information
A 12-piece order of chicken nuggets has 400 calories.
A 12-piece order of chicken nuggets has 400 calories.

Chick-Fil-A

Continuing with non-burger joints, let's take a look at the place that encourages us to "eat mor chikin", Chick-Fil-A. Unsurprisingly, there are not a lot menu items here that come in under 400 calories. After all, the majority of the company's food items are breaded and fried...and delicious. But all that deliciousness will cost you precious calories. There are, however, a few healthier options, such as two of their salads, the chicken nuggets, and small waffle fries.

Chick-Fil-A Menu Items Under 400 Calories

(click column header to sort results)
Menu Item  
# of Calories  
Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich
310
Chicken Nuggets (12)
400
Chicken Strips (3)
360
Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap
330
Grilled Market Salad
180
Asian Salad
280
Small Waffle Fries
310
Like many other restaurants, calorie counts do not include dressings or sauces. For more nutrition information, visit Chick-Fil-A's website: http://www.tacobell.com/nutrition/information
The Venetian Apricot Dinner is a good choice at 400 calories.
The Venetian Apricot Dinner is a good choice at 400 calories.

Olive Garden

Think pasta will be high in calories? You'd be right. In fact, when looking at Olive Garden's menu, it's far easier to pick out the items under 400 calories than at many other places. Think a grilled chicken or shrimp dish is the way to go? Think again. Though these are less calorie-dense, usually around 500 to 600 calories, add the breadsticks, salad, and a glass of wine and you'll probably consume close to 1,000 calories. I know, I know. We all need to live a little from time to time. I agree. Just keep in mind when you eat at Olive Garden that you're blowing your diet for the day. Then sit back and enjoy your meal.

Olive Garden Menu Items Under 400 Calories

(click column header to sort results)
Menu Item  
# of Calories  
Mussels di Napoli
180
Grilled Chicken Spiedini
230
Garden Fresh Salad
150
Venetian Apricot Chicken (dinner)
400
Linguine alla Marinara (lunch)
310
Spicy Chicken Fritta
300
For more information, check Olive Garden's website: http://www.olivegarden.com/Menu/Nutrition/

Other Restaurants

There are a huge number of restaurants to dine at, too many to include nutrition information here. The important thing to keep in mind is that most menu items will have more than 400 calories. Additionally, in "sit-down" restaurants, many menu items come in under 400 calories but those calories don't include sides. For example, Applebee's 7 oz. sirloin is only 250 calories but that doesn't include sides. On the other hand, their jalapeno garlic shrimp are only 300 calories and that does include sides. Similarly, Outback's grilled chicken on the barbie has only 312 calories but that also doesn't include sides.

Outback's grilled chicken on the barbie with seasonal vegetables.
Outback's grilled chicken on the barbie with seasonal vegetables. | Source

Does this mean you should never eat out again? And if you do, you'll be consumed by guilt all night? No, of course not. We're here to live and enjoy life, aren't we? But don't make the mistake of eating out often and expecting to keep the weight off (unless you're one of THOSE people who never gains weight). Do make healthy choices and enjoy the unhealthy ones you make. Then hit the gym in the morning!

Time for a Poll!

How do you eat out?

See results

Comments

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    • cvanthul profile imageAUTHOR

      Cristina Vanthul 

      10 months ago from Florida

      It's all in the cooking, and of course, the most delicious part of Chick-Fil-A nuggets - the breading and frying! Though I do like their grilled nuggets almost as much.

      Reading menus before I go out to dinner has become a must for me. It's difficult to decide once in the restaurant, and that leads to poor food choices. I have a long way to go though. Like you, I love a good burger and fries!

      Thanks for your comment, Scott.

    • promisem profile image

      Scott S Bateman 

      10 months ago

      Useful and informative article!

      I see you go through their menus as I do. It took me years to get away from the habit of always ordering a burger and fries. I eventually started buying grilled chicken sandwiches and sometimes even the salads. But I still have a weakness for fries.

      I'm surprised you had trouble finding lower calorie items at Chick-Fil-A. You'd think there would be more at a chicken place.

    • cvanthul profile imageAUTHOR

      Cristina Vanthul 

      4 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for reading and your comment, RT and Flourish. I was surprised also at the results, especially of things like salads. I really would have thought salads to be healthier. Just goes to show that the "healthy" foods are not always the best choices.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 years ago from USA

      This was interesting and it was eye opening that so many options are over 400 calories. (I was surprised about Chick-fila.). I figure if I am eating out it's probably not a good health choice if it tastes good. More reason to eat at home I guess.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      4 years ago from the short journey

      Interesting to look this over since it's important to think about how much we are actually consuming when eating out--thanks!

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