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10 Chain Restaurants with Diet-Friendly Options

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When you're trying to lose or maintain weight, it seems like "restaurant" becomes a four-letter word. When taken out of your kitchen (aka meal-prep headquarters)—with no measuring cup, food scale or nutrition chart in sight—it's as if you've been thrust into a food free-for-all, with no control over portion size, calorie count or fat content. But while you might not be able to actually prep your meals at a restaurant, you can do a little research beforehand to find smart menu options that won't undo all of your hard work.
Although these 10 restaurants certainly feature some unhealthy indulgences on their menus, they all offer at least a few sensible choices to keep you on track toward your goals.


Location: Throughout the United States

Toby Amidor, registered dietitian and author of “The Easy 5-Ingredient Healthy Cookbook,” recommends Panera to her clients as a good source of healthy food choices. Between soups, salads, sandwiches and broth bowls, the menu selections are wholesome and the calories are within reason. "I also recently lost about five pounds, and it’s so refreshing to be able to dine out and be able to select a meal that I know won’t sabotage my weight loss efforts," Amidor says.
Diet-Friendly Choices

Jason's Deli

Location: Throughout the United States (28 states)
Jason's Deli got our attention by being one of the first quick-casual restaurants to remove trans fats from their menu. Since then, they’ve continued to impress by also removing MSG, high-fructose corn syrup and all artificial colors and flavors. This ensures that there's plenty of room for the good stuff—like real, whole, clean foods. In addition to their standard deli menu, Jason's also offers a vegetarian menu and one for gluten-sensitive customers. It's easy to see why they've garnered so many awards.
Diet-Friendly Choices

LYFE Kitchen

Locations: 13 U.S. locations (California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas)
Since launching in 2011, LYFE Kitchen has offered "craveable classics with a contemporary twist." All of the items on its American cuisine menu are prepared with sustainable ingredients with plenty of low-calorie options, making LYFE a perfect breakfast, brunch or lunch destination for diet-conscious diners.
Diet-Friendly Choices

Noodles & Company

Locations: 500 locations throughout the United States
Originally founded in Colorado in 1995, this fast-casual restaurant has expanded to more than 500 locations in 39 states throughout the United States. All of the meals in their core menu are made fresh from real ingredients, with no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors or colors. In addition to their namesake noodles, they offer hearty soups and fresh salads, with an abundance of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. They also have a separate menu that contains only foods with 500 calories or less.
Diet-Friendly Choices

First Watch

Locations: Throughout the United States
The first meal of the day is an important choice when you're trying to lose or maintain weight, and First Watch helps to ensure that breakfast or brunch gets you off on a healthy start. Headquartered in Florida, First the original daytime café now has hundreds of franchises around the country. Although some of their menu items creep into high-calorie territory, there are plenty of options that won't endanger your diet.
Diet-Friendly Choices


Locations: Throughout the United States
This quick and convenient deli chain has become synonymous with healthy eating. While not everything on their menu is perfectly healthy, it's true that there are plenty of low-fat, low-calorie options—as long as you don't add extra ingredients that aren't on the nutrition fact sheet. Keep in mind that their calorie counts don't include items like condiments, extra meat or extra cheese.
Diet-Friendly Choices


Locations: Throughout the United States
As a general rule, fast food has no place in a nutritious, calorie-controlled eating plan—but there are a few exceptions that serve up healthy options in a hurry. While it's best to steer clear of their original (aka fried) chicken sandwich and waffle fries, there are plenty of diet-friendly choices on their menu.
Diet-Friendly Choices

Bob Evans

Locations: Throughout the United States

Although much of the items at this homestyle restaurant are a bit heavy on the calories and fat content, they do offer some lighter fare that will keep your goals in check. Plus, the "Savor Size" section features their standard favorites in more sensible portions.
Diet-Friendly Choices


Locations: Throughout the United States

You might assume that a trip to Applebee's means your diet is doomed, but the chain restaurant offers more than just heavy, fattening foods. The key is to avoid supersized portions and to steer clear of anything described as battered, breaded or fried.
Diet-Friendly Choices

Outback Steakhouse

Locations: Throughout the United States

Who says you can't enjoy dinner at a steakhouse without sending your calorie intake skyrocketing? While the Bloomin' Onion and Aussie Cheese Fries should be avoided at all costs, this popular Australian chain also offers some healthier options that won't send your goals down under. They even have a menu dedicated to dishes under 600 calories.
Diet-Friendly Choices
What are your favorite "safe restaurants" where you know you can find plenty of healthy options? Share your smart selections in the comments!

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Don’t know where these places are but I only recognize 2 and only have access to one. Report
ELRIDDICK 1/19/2020
Thanks for sharing Report
HOTPINKCAMARO49 12/30/2019
Thank you. Report
One of my staples-mcdonalds southwest grilled chicken salad w balsamic dressing. So yummy, filling and under $6.00! Report
Thank you for this list. Report
Great options. Report
Thanks for sharing Report
None of these exist where I live. lol, but I do enjoy them when we travel back home! Report
I can make the healthier choices but what I wish the would put the sodium levels on the menu. Every article talks of fat, calories etc. Some if these restaurants have 2 days of sodium in one meal! Report
These suggestions may be great for people dieting, but they go through the roof for people trying to control their diabetes. Having a list for diabetics would be fantastic. Report
Great info but the original Chick Fil A sandwich is not fried, or so I have been told Report
Great article Report
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Some of these have lots of carbs but I saw a few lower carb options. Like the Aussie Cobb salad with grilled chicken from Outback. Report
We have most of these in our area and have tried them. We don't do chick fil a, applebees or outback because the food isn't any good. We like Jason's Deli and Panera. It would take a hand written note from God to get my husband into a Bob Evans again. Report
Good information to have on hand. Report
I love Subway and usually get the turkey sub on whole wheat bread. Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Panera is one of my favorites. Report
Most of theses are available when we travel to our home in TX but we try not to eat out. More healthy making our food at home Report
Great article! Report
I'll into each one. Thanks! Report
WOW....thanks.... Report
salt content would be helpful Report
Low calorie =/= Healthy Report
I am finding that almost every restaurant that I eat in will let you have a sandwich on a small salad instead of a bun and side of veggie instead of french fries. I still have to make sure the veggie isn't soaking in butter though. It seems like restaurants are starting to be more flexible. Report
Makes me realize I need to check on-line for nutritional charts from restaurants BEFORE going! Report
We only have 2 of these restaurants. But many restaurants do post menus on line. I often check the menu and decide before I go out. Report
Thank you for writing this! I especially like the fact that you gave some menu options from each of the restaurants. I will be sure to look at this next time I go to any of these restaurants thank you so much again for sharing. Report
We just recently got a Zoe’s Kitchen and their website shows you which menu items are compatible with various dietary protocols- Paleo, KETO, Whole 30, Mediterranean Diet, etc. Lovely! One of my favorites (although I wish they would offer low carb desserts instead of the junky cakes and cookies.).

Pepperjax is a sandwich type place and they offer a rice bowl with your choice if Proteins, as well as salad bowl, with proteins and choices of veggies. Report
I look at this often because we eat out a lit Report
Great suggestions, thank you Report
Thanks. Report
I don't know if figures are correct or not, but I will say that Bob Evans is the most unhealthy "food" chain there is. Check it out on any health site...it's horrible. With that being said, I would be doubtful in believing the rest of the "facts" of this article. As so many of the comments already made, I would say that the article is flawed. So sorry, but this is my health...and others...that we're talking about. Report
Thank you. Report
All way too high on carbs! And also no info on sodium as others mentioned. Report
Thank you Report
You really need to add the sodium contents for these foods. Some of your suggestions are very high in sodium, which is unhealthy for everyone, not just those of us with heart conditions! Report
Thanks for the good options. These are good to know. Report
I'm with @LUNA_IS_MY_HERO - where are the listings for sodium?

And, egad, these are carb-filled. I'm not even on low carb and some of these are truly outrageous. Report
Great information. Report
Taking the first footstep with a good thought, the second with a good word, and the third with a good deed, I entered paradise. - ZOROASTER ~ 5/21/18 Report
I wish there was a diet friendly vegetarian option at Panera bread. Report
Ate at chick fil a because of this Report
Good need-to-know information! Report
OK now I want to head out to each of these places! 2 comments though: Taco Bell has a POWER BOWL grilled chicken or steak,
Reduced fat sour cream,
Fresh Pico de Gallo, black beans & seasoned rice. It’s quite good! I’m eating KETO so I had them omit the black beans & rice. Seriously Yummy! Also you neglected to mention that Subway will gladly make a salad or a wrap out of any menu item. Report
I wish sodium was listed in the nutrition information. Report
I have only heard of three of these places, I would never eat at bob evans, but subway is good. Panera bread is out-of-town, but I would love to try their strawberry salad! Report
There's more to healthy eating than calories. I would not call a soup (Panera Bread's Lentil Quinoa Broth Bowl with Cage Free Egg) that contains 1220 mg of sodium healthy, no matter what kind of diet a person is on.

That's more than 50% of the RDA for sodium (2300 mg) for a HEALTHY person, and and 81% of the RDA of someone with high blood pressure or other health issues (1500 mg).

Go back and add the sodium for each of those suggested meals and then revise your list so that it shows truly healthy meals.
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