May I Take Your Order?

Deciding what to order in a restaurant 
can be overwhelming—especially for someone on a restricted diet, or who is determined to follow through with that once-and-for-all resolution to reach a healthy weight. Add to that challenge the easing of the economic downturn, and you’ll likely find yourself perusing more menus than you did last year. Industry forecasts predict restaurant sales to reach $580 billion this year, a 2.5 percent increase in current dollars over 2009 sales. Fortunately, restaurants are responding to the 75 percent of consumers who say they try to eat healthier while dining out, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Joy Bauer, nutrition and diet expert for the TODAY show on NBC, says the food industry is “really starting to feel the pressure to make changes.” In Bauer’s opinion, the biggest menu myth is that it’s impossible to make healthy choices when eating out. “It’s not where you eat, it’s what you eat,” says the nutritionist. The challenge is overcoming the temptation to order high-fat fare. And expanded menu options are there to help, with color-coded dietary selections or a key bank of symbols used to indicate if an item is gluten-free (GF), vegetarian, heart-healthy, low-fat, or low-carb. Many even include a specific section for special diets, such as the Applebee’s “under 550 calories” choices, or Bob Evans’ “Fit from the Farm” menus. Don’t be shy when it comes to customizing your order in the name of health, either. Restaurants such as Cracker Barrel, for example, offer a “Tasty Alternatives” menu, including Egg Beaters, turkey sausage, sugar-free syrup, Promise Spread, and low-sugar fruit spread.

Seniors can also take advantage of the expanded menus at most casual dining restaurants. Denny’s, for instance, has a special 55-plus menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—offering modified portions and special discounts. These conveniences are especially important for diners who may eat out once or twice daily.

While most nutrition experts agree the best way to control your diet is to prepare your own meals, it’s not always a practical option, especially as the summer travel season approaches. If you find yourself feeding your family via drive-thru, take note of Bauer’s healthier suggestions on the menu boards this year:

“Taco Bell started heavily marketing its Fresco line, which features lower-calorie, lower-fat options. Burger King revamped their children’s menu, and KFC launched its grilled chicken line,” says Bauer. But beware: Many chain restaurants still compete for the biggest, most over-the-top burger, warns Bauer. “They’re part of the problem, but by offering healthy, convenient meal options, they can be part of the solution.”

• Order a salad with grilled chicken and low-fat dressing or a basic grilled chicken sandwich (hold the mayo; add mustard, salsa, ketchup, or BBQ sauce instead) with a fruit cup or low-fat yogurt.

• Stick with calorie-free drinks such as water, diet soda, or unsweetened ice tea.

• If you’re bent on ordering a burger or fries, order the smallest size available. (A plain hamburger at Burger King has a modest 260 calories—compared to a BK Steakhouse XT burger, which averages 1,000 calories and more than 60 grams of fat.)

• For pizza, opt for thin crust; veggie toppings are a bonus. (One slice of a large cheese pan-crust pizza from Pizza Hut contains 360 calories; the same slice on thin crust, 260 calories.)

• For subs, order a small turkey sandwich piled high with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, and pickles. (Skipping the cheese at Subway can save 60 calories; hold the mayo to save 110 calories; or choose light mayo, which has 50 calories per tablespoon.)

• And don’t fall for the better “value” items—you may get more food for the money, but you pay the price with your waistline and health.
More healthy selections from some of your favorite restaurants can be found at


Cracker Barrel

Oatmeal with Banana Topping
Calories: 280
Fat (g): 4.5
Saturated Fat (g): 1
Protein (g): 6
Carbohydrate (g): 31
Fiber (g): 4
Cholesterol (mg): 0
Sodium (mg): 180
Egg & Cheese Grilled Breakfast Sandwich
Calories: 380
Fat (g): 14
Saturated Fat (g): 6
Protein (g): 18
Carbohydrate (g): 43
Fiber (g): 2
Cholesterol (mg): 190
Sodium (mg): 620

Bob Evans

Veggie Omelet with Fruit and Toast
Calories: 272
Fat (g): 2
Saturated Fat (g): 0
Sodium (mg): 549
Blueberry-Banana Mini Fruit & Yogurt Parfait
Calories: 177
Fat (g): 1
Saturated Fat (g): 0
Sodium (mg): 61
Lunch & Dinner

Bob Evans

Chicken Spinach & Tomato Pasta
Calories: 526
Fat (g): 16
Saturated Fat (g): 4
Sodium (mg): 533
Potato-Crusted Flounder with Potato and Broccoli
Calories: 415
Fat (g): 8
Saturated Fat (g): 3
Sodium (mg): 527


Guiltless Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Veggies
Calories: 610
Fat (g): 12
Saturated Fat (g): 5
Protein (g): 44
Carbohydrate (g): 78
Fiber (g): 8
Sodium (mg): 1310

Cracker Barrel

Spicy Catfish (Grilled)
Calories: 120
Fat (g): 5
Saturated Fat (g): 1.5
Protein (g): 17
Carbohydrate (g): 1
Fiber (g): 0
Cholesterol (mg): 45
Sodium (mg): 300

Damon’s Grill

Mix & Match: Chicken & Steak Sizzling Platter
Calories: 410
Fat (g): 18
Saturated Fat (g): 7
Protein (g): 47
Carbohydrate (g): 13
Fiber (g): 3
Cholesterol (mg): 115
Sodium (mg): 530

Chevy’s Fresh Mex

A La Carte: Salsa Chicken Enchilada
Calories: 240
Fat (g): 12
Saturated Fat (g): 4.5
Protein (g): 15
Carbohydrate (g): 19
Fiber (g): 3
Cholesterol (mg): 45
Sodium (mg): 510


Grilled Shrimp & Island Rice
Calories: Under 550
Asiago Peppercorn Steak
Calories: Under 550
Grilled Dijon Chicken & Portobellos
Calories: Under 550
Spicy Shrimp Diavolo
Calories: Under 550
Asian Crunch Salad
Calories: Under 550
Grilled Shrimp & Island Rice
Calories: Under 550

Joy Bauer is author of the No. 1 New York Times bestseller Joy Bauer’s Food Cures (2007) and
 Slim & Scrumptious, released in April 2010.