With many consumers counting calories, we wanted to factor in the healthful menu options available at each chain. A wealth of restaurant nutrition information online makes it easier to eat healthfully when you dine out.
All the restaurants on our list post nutrition facts on their websites. They generally do not include these numbers on their menus except where required by law. (Eventually all chains with 20 or more locations will have to display restaurant nutrition information under the federal health care overhaul adopted in 2010.)
Chili's touts Guiltless Grill options that total fewer than 750 calories, 25 grams of fat, and 8 grams of saturated fat. At Ruby Tuesday, Fit and Trim selections come in under 700 calories. These items are marked with symbols on the restaurants' menus.
Low-calorie menu at Applebee's
Applebee's has teamed with Weight Watchers to design meals for customers who follow that popular diet. The restaurant also devotes a section of its menu to dishes with fewer than 550 calories. In reviews on Viewpoints
, consumers gush over the Weight Watchers menu, which makes it easy for them to follow the diet when they go out to eat. They say there are plenty of delicious choices and the prices are very reasonable.
Outback's menu doesn't point to items that are low in calories or fat, but its website lists eight entrees with fewer than 500 calories. A server informed our researcher that the restaurant accommodates customers watching their waistlines by making meals to order.
Dave Zinczenko, editor of Men's Health magazine and author of the book Eat This, Not That, notes the high calorie counts at TGI Friday's, naming it the second-worst chain in America based on an annual survey of restaurant nutrition information. No other chain on our list landed among the five best or worst. Zinczenko does give TGI Friday's credit for its Right Portion Right Price menu, which consists of smaller servings with fewer than 750 calories. He also singles out the Jack Daniel's chicken our researcher ordered as a diamond in the rough, with 660 calories, 10.5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 1,955 milligrams of sodium.
Outback's side salad
Chili's, Applebee's, and Ruby Tuesday provide detailed allergen information online, listing menu items fit for customers with soy, dairy, egg, peanut, shellfish, tree nut, wheat, fish, MSG, or gluten allergies. Outback has a gluten-free menu online and TGI Friday's unveiled a gluten-free menu in 2010, although we were unable to find it. None of the restaurants include allergy information on their regular menus, but the allergy menus are available upon request. Vegetarian items aren't identified as such on any of the menus, but all the restaurants offer vegetarian dishes or items that can be ordered minus the meat. Chili's provides a list of suggested vegetarian options on its website. The Ruby Tuesday salad bar lends itself to numerous vegetarian combinations, as does the restaurant's list of side dishes. Ask your server to confirm whether a given meal will meet your needs.