Diet Detective’s Guide to Casual Dining Restaurants 2011 Part 2: Olive Garden, P.F. Chang’s, Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday and T.G.I. Friday’s

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Olive Garden

  • Minestrone Soup, 100 calories (appetizer)  
  • Mussels di Napoli, 180 calories (appetizer)  
  • Garden-Fresh Salad (without dressing), 120 calories (appetizer)  
  • Linguine alla Marinara, 430 calories  
  • Salmon Piccata with vegetables, 440 calories  
  • Venetian Apricot Chicken, 380 calories  
  • Capellini di Mare, 650 calories  
  • Herb-Grilled Salmon, 510 calories  
  • Parmesan Crusted Tilapia, 590 calories  
  • Seafood Brodetto, 480 calories  
  • Pennine Rigate with Marinara, 560 calories  
  • Mixed Grill (chicken), 640 calories  
  • Chicken Parmigiana, 570 calories

Fit Tip: All the dinner entreés come with baked garlic breadsticks, which are 150 calories each, and your choice of homemade soup or garden-fresh salad. The problem with the salad is the dressing. Try to order the Low Fat Italian Dressing (37 calories per serving) or Low Fat Parmesan Peppercorn Dressing (45 calories per serving) with any salad. Also, look for the Garden Fare options designated on the menu with an olive branch; many are still too high in calories, but it’s a start. You should assume that much of the food not designated Garden Fare has more than 1,000 calories, especially the creamy, fried and cheesy dishes. Steak Gorgonzola-Alfredo has 1,310 calories and Pork Milanese 1,510 calories, just as examples. See nutrition info here.

P.F. Chang’s

  • Sichuan from the Sea with Shrimp, 519 calories
  • Shanghai Shrimp with Garlic Sauce, 390 calories
  • Spicy Green Beans (small), 165 calories
  • Seared Ahi Tuna, 320 calories
  • Steamed Shrimp or Vegetable Dumplings, 270 calories (Have them as a meal.)
  • Egg Drop Soup (7-ounce cup), 60 calories
  • Hot and Sour Soup (7-ounce cup), 80 calories
  • Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, 500 calories
  • Buddha’s Feast (steamed), 110 calories
  • Cantonese Scallops, 490 calories
  • Cantonese Shrimp, 430 calories
  • Asian Grilled Salmon with Brown Rice, 690 calories
  • Lemon Pepper Shrimp, 470 calories

    Fit Tip: Make a meal of appetizers and sides. Check out the online menu with all the nutritional information here, but keep in mind when you see the “calories per serving” that most of the dishes are intended to serve more than one person. Steer clear of the Northern Style Spare Ribs (1,372calories), Kung Pao Chicken (1,149 calories), Crispy Honey Chicken (1,431 calories) and Cantonese Chow Fun with Chicken (1,580 calories).


    The Guiltless Grill menu of low-calorie choices is great.

    • Guiltless Grill (GG) Classic Sirloin, with carne asada rub and pico de gallo, steamed veggies, no butter, 370 calories
    • Chicken Fajitas (without tortillas and condiments), 330 calories (For a condiment choose salsa; it’s very low in calories.)
    • Guiltless Grill (GG) Salmon with garlic and herbs, served with steamed veggies and rice, no butter, 520 calories
    • Guiltless Grill (GG) Grilled Chicken Sandwich with steamed veggies, Guiltless Grill honey-mustard dressing, and no bacon or cheese on a wheat bun, 610 calories
    • Guiltless Grill (GG) Santa Fe Chicken Wrap with steamed veggies, low-fat ranch dressing and no Cheddar cheese, 630 calories
    • Caribbean Salad with Grilled Chicken, dressing included, 610 calories
    • Caribbean Salad with Grilled Shrimp, 610 calories
    • Margarita Grilled Chicken, 600 calories
    • Spicy Garlic & Lime Grilled Shrimp (without sides), 150 calories

      Fit Tip: Skip all the appetizers; they’re too expensive calorie-wise. Avoid the fajitas: You may think they’re low-cal, but they’re actually more than 1,000 calories a serving. Also, steer clear of the margaritas. Soups look like the best options for starters; the minestrone has 100 calories and only 1 gram of fat. See nutritional information here.

      Ruby Tuesday

      Fit Tip: Ruby Tuesday’s Smart Eating Choices are a good start, but some are still a bit high in calories, so read the menu carefully. The salads are relatively high in calories, particularly the Carolina Chicken Salad at 707 without the dressing. Most of the burgers and pastas are also high — up to 1,000 calories or more without the sides.

      T.G.I. Friday’s

      No wonder they don’t have their menu on the Web; you would probably be completely shocked. I went to one of their outlets to see it because, in New York City, where I live, menu labeling is mandatory. Wow, was I surprised! There are, however, a few choices that won’t break the calorie bank.

      Fit Tip: Forget the salads — they’re loaded with calories. For instance, the Santa Fe Chopped Salad has 1,830 calories without dressing. Add another 300 to 480 for dressing. Here are a few other examples of high-calorie foods: Captain Morgan Caribbean Rockin’ Reggae Ribs, 2,450 calories; Chicken Fajitas, 1,990; Cajun Shrimp & Chicken Pasta, 1,430 calories; Loaded Potato Skins, 2,070 calories.

        • Garden Salad, 396 calories (Add Lite Ranch Dressing at 50 calories or Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing 40 calories per ounce.)
        • Creole Shrimp Salad Garden salad mix, topped with seasoned, broiled shrimp, sweet peas, grated Parmesan and croutons and served with tomatoes, cucumbers and shredded carrots, 447 calories without dressing (Add Lite Ranch Dressing for 50 calories or Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing 40 calories per ounce.)
        • Grilled Salmon with white cheddar mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli, 509 calories
        • Barbecue Grilled Chicken with white cheddar mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli, 592 calories (Save some calories by asking them to go light on the barbecue sauce.)
        • Vegetarian Pasta Marinara, 487 calories
        • Turkey Burger Wrap, 590 calories
        • Plain grilled chicken, 240 calories (It isn’t on the menu, but you can ask for it.)
        • Fresh Steamed Broccoli, 91 calories (side dish)
        • White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes, 169 calories (side dish)
        • New Fresh Grilled Zucchini, 41 calories (side dish)
        • Creamy Mashed Cauliflower, 136 calories (side dish)
        • Fresh Grilled Green Beans, 45 calories (side dish)
        • Sugar Snap Peas, 113 calories (side dish)
        • Dragonfire Chicken, 420 calories
        • Bruschetta Chicken Pasta, 640 calories
        • Fresh Broccoli, 60 calories
        • Fresh Vegetable Medley, 160 calories
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