Keep it Casual and Healthy

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Keep it Casual and

T.G.I. Friday’s

  • Chargrilled Chicken Fajitas on a bed of onions and peppers: Order the dish dry, without oil. Avoid the cheese, rice, sour cream and tortillas, but keep the guacamole and pico de gallo and you’ll have yourself a pretty good meal. It’s also served with black bean soup — make sure there’s no sour cream on top. 590 calories (estimate).
  • Barbecue Jack Chicken with black beans and corn salsa, herbed rice, grilled vegetables and steamed broccoli: 500 calories, 10g fat.
  • Jack Daniel’s Salmon: This chargrilled salmon fillet is served with vegetables. Skip the mashed potatoes — try a baked potato instead. Also, request no oil or butter on your salmon. 615 calories (estimate).
  • Santa Fe Chicken Salad: Get the Chipotle Ranch dressing on the side. 500 calories, 10g fat.
  • Bruschetta Grouper with steamed herbed rice and broccoli: Ask for the balsamic glaze on the side. 500 calories, 10g fat.
  • Key West Grouper with Vegetables: 300 calories, 15g fat.

Fit Tip: Avoid almost everything else on the menu unless you can ask for it grilled or broiled without oil and served without cheese or sauces. This includes appetizers (often loaded with fat), salads (may have more than 700 calories with dressing), steak and ribs (T.G.I. Friday’s is known for these particularly fattening foods) and everything on the Atkins menu.

Outback Steakhouse

  • Shrimp, Chicken or Steak and Veggie Griller: Request no butter or glaze, and skip the pineapple. Get a baked potato with ketchup or salsa (no butter or sour cream) instead of rice; get a house salad (hold the croutons and cheese) and use a fork to sprinkle with low-fat dressing — such as fat-free Tangy Tomato Dressing, fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar with olive oil. 625, 715, and 775 calories, respectively.
  • Chicken on the Barbie: Again, order a baked or sweet potato and a house salad. 640 calories.
  • Steamed vegetables: Order without butter. 75 calories.
  • Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie: Order with cocktail or barbecue sauce and no butter. 275 calories.
  • Sweet potato: Order without toppings, and split it with someone because they’re large. 240 calories.
  • Salmon: Order it without butter or seasoning, and ask for cocktail sauce or fresh lemon instead of Remoulade Sauce. 415 calories.
  • Victoria’s “Center Cut” Filet: Order the 7-ounce size with steamed vegetables (no butter) and a baked potato. 440 calories.

(All of the above calorie counts have been estimated by a registered dietitian.)

Fit Tip: Almost everything has butter, seasoning or some fattening sauce, so make sure to ask that your dish be prepared without. As far as steak is concerned, your best bet would be sirloin (about 700 calories for 12 ounces), one of the leanest cuts you can order. Or go with filet mignon, which is smaller — typically 9 ounces and about 450 calories, with approximately 9 grams of saturated fat. Avoid the Outback Style Prime Rib or the Rockhampton Rib-Eye if you’re looking to save calories. Whatever you do, don’t order the Aussie cheese fries: They have more than 2,000 calories!

P.F. Chang’s

This is probably the only Chinese restaurant in the country that has the nutrition information for every single dish on its website. Ever wonder how many calories and fat grams you’re eating? It’s worth taking a peek. There are some great dishes here, and there are also many dieting pitfalls.

  • Ginger Chicken with Broccoli: 620 calories, 21g fat, 43g carbs.
  • Seared Ahi Tuna: 220 calories, 5g fat, 18g carbs.
  • Shrimp Dumplings (steamed): 320 calories, 12g fat, 26g carbs.
  • Hot and Sour Soup (1 cup): 56 calories, 4g fat, 2g carbs.
  • Shrimp with Lobster Sauce (dinner portion): 560 calories, 27g fat, 22g carbs.
  • Buddha’s Feast (steamed): 200 calories, 1.5g fat, 44g carbs. The stir-fried version has 170 more calories.
  • Cantonese Scallops: 370 calories, 13g fat, 20g carbs.
  • Cantonese Shrimp: 380 calories, 15g fat, 17g carbs.
  • Wonton Soup (1 cup): 52 calories, 3g fat, 4g carbs.

Fit Tip: Make a meal out of appetizers and sides. Choose Seared Ahi Tuna and Sichuan Asparagus or Shanghai Cucumbers. Avoid most of the salads except for the Alaskan Sockeye Salmon (470 calories). The Oriental Chicken Salad has 940 calories. Steer clear of the spare ribs (1,410 calories, 32 grams saturated fat) and anything Kung Pao, such as Kung Pao Chicken (1,230 calories).


The Guiltless Grill menu of low-calorie choices is great. Chili’s will also make adjustments to any of the other items because they’re all made to order. For instance, if you want a house salad as an appetizer, ask for dressing on the side and choose either the fat-free honey-mustard or the low-fat ranch dressing.

  • Guiltless Grill Pita (with black beans and dressing): 550 calories, 9g fat, 70g carbs. Skip the dressing to save even more!
  • Guiltless Chicken Platter with rice, corn on the cob and steamed vegetables: 580 calories, 9g fat, 85g carbs.
  • Guiltless Chicken Sandwich with black beans, steamed fresh veggies and Parmesan cheese: 490 calories, 8g fat, 63g carbs. Skip the cheese to save even more calories.
  • Guiltless Grill Salmon with steamed fresh veggies and black beans: 480 calories, 14g fat, 31g carbs.
  • Guiltless Tomato Basil Pasta — skip the cheese to lower the calories: 650 calories, 14g fat, 107g carbs.

Fit Tip: Forget the Awesome Blossom. In fact, skip all the appetizers; they’re too expensive calorie-wise. Avoid the fajitas: You may think they’re a low-cal option, but they’re far from it at more than 1,000 calories. The meat and vegetables are cooked with loads of oil, and the toppings can almost double the calorie count. Steer clear of the margaritas, too.


Applebee’s has teamed up with Weight Watchers to create some excellent low-calorie choices. Most portions are the same size as those on their regular menu, which means they’re using better cooking techniques and healthier ingredients — like whole wheat and low-cal cheeses and sauces — not just giving you half the food.

  • Onion Soup au Gratin: 150 calories, 8g fat.
  • Grilled Shrimp Skewer Salad: 210 calories, 2g fat.
  • Teriyaki Shrimp Skewers with rice pilaf and vegetables: 290 calories, 2g fat.
  • Grilled Tilapia with mango salsa and steamed vegetables: 320 calories, 6g fat.
  • Mesquite Chicken Salad: 250 calories, 4g fat.

Fit Tip: Steer clear of the Bleu Cheese Sirloin, which is likely to be well over 1,200 calories. Steaks are high enough in calories without pouring on cheese sauce. Don’t be fooled by the sandwiches and roll-ups: They’re high in calories, too, especially with the fries, cheese and sauces. Avoid all the “Neighborhood Favorites,” which look dangerous. If you really want dessert, and you order dinner from the Weight Watchers menu, you can probably fit in the Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake (230 calories, 3 grams fat).

Red Lobster

Don’t think that just because it’s seafood it’s healthy — there’s plenty of unhealthy, fried, buttery seafood out there. However, LightHouse choices at Red Lobster are low-fat and low-calorie.

  • Live Maine Lobster (1 1/4 pound) with a baked potato (topped with pico de gallo) and a garden salad with red wine vinaigrette: 431 calories, 8g fat, 53g carbs.
  • Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail Dinner with seasoned broccoli and wild rice pilaf: 511 calories, 8g fat, 50g carbs.
  • King Crab Legs: 490 calories, 9g fat, 0g carbs.
  • Grilled Chicken with Rice Pilaf: 528 calories, 14g fat. Replace the rice with broccoli and it drops to 380 calories and 9g fat.

Fit Tip: The nice thing about Red Lobster is that you can get the tilapia, rainbow trout or salmon in full or half orders, so you can save calories on portion size. Make sure to substitute cocktail sauce whenever a dish comes with a side of butter sauce — that saves 115 calories per serving. And pico de gallo on your potato adds only 6 calories, for a total of 185 calories, which definitely beats butter! Avoid the New England Clam Chowder and the Shrimp Lover’s Combo, which is basically taking healthy food, frying it up and making it unhealthy. Watch out for the salads, too; they have high-calorie dressings, cheese and other assorted unhealthy goodies.

Olive Garden

These restaurants are very accommodating and take special requests reasonably well. You can also shave calories by ordering a lunch portion of the Garden Fare meals.

  • Minestrone Soup: 164 calories, 1g fat.
  • Linguine alla Marinara: 551 calories, 8g fat.
  • Capellini Pomodoro: 644 calories, 14g fat.
  • Chicken Giardino (ask for whole-wheat pasta): 560 calories, 15g fat.
  • Pork Filettino with grilled vegetables: 340 calories, 9g fat (estimate, does not include demi-glaze or marinade).
  • Salmon Piccata with vegetables: 440 calories, 21g fat (estimate).

Fit Tip: Stick with the Garden Fare choices, designated on the menu with an olive branch. And order Low Fat Italian Dressing (37 calories per serving) or Low Fat Parmesan Peppercorn Dressing (45 calories per serving) with any salad. You should assume that much of the food not designated Garden Fare has more than 1,000 calories, especially creamy, fried and cheesy dishes. Also, watch out for the bread sticks. At 140 calories apiece, they can make any meal a disaster. Put in a “stop order” with the servers before they even come near your table.

Ruby Tuesday

One amazing thing this chain has done is to offer full nutrition information on their website. Another is that they’ve asked all their suppliers to remove trans fat from their products, and they’ve switched from hydrogenated soybean oil to trans-fat-free canola for cooking. They also have a Smart Eating menu with nutrition information printed right on it.

  • Salad Bar Extravaganza: This is packed with delicious and healthy fruits and vegetables. Avoid high-calorie dressings, nuts and croutons. Go for the light ranch dressing at 55 calories per ounce.
  • Petite Sirloin: 222 calories, 8g fat.
  • Smart Eating Onion Soup — NOT the French Onion: 198 calories, 13g fat.
  • Asian Steamed Dumplings (appetizer): 486 calories, 21g fat. Split this with someone or have it as a meal; there are six dumplings.
  • Turkey Burger Wrap with a side of creamy mashed cauliflower: 574 calories, 28g fat.Fit Tip: Avoid the Buffalo wings at 912 calories. The salads are also high in calories, particularly the Carolina Chicken Salad at 847. Avoid the Cheesy Spinach Dip at more than 1,200 calories. Many of the “low-carb” items are high in calories. Avoid all the Platters.
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