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Eating low calorie in restaurants


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Hi, everybody!

Generally, I try to do 5 meals a day to keep my metabolism running. I divide my 1200 daily calories in a 200 calorie breakfast, two 60 calorie snacks and two main meals of around 400/450 calories. 

When I go out with my non-dieting friends to have dinner, I cannot help but feeling like a pariah. I don't seem to find ANYTHING in the menu that will not exceed the 450 calories. I always end up eating a salad. And even then, tons of restaurants don't even have a low calorie dressing alternative, so I end-up eating a taste-like-grass salad because I refuse to eat a 100 calories in greens and 300 calories in dressing.

It's even bothersome to have to ask the waiter/waitress to take of the caramelized pecans, the bacon, the cheese, the croutons, etc. They always look at me as if I were a picky eater, when in fact, the only thing I'm trying to do is to make my salad less caloric than a double-cheese hamburger.

So I wanted to know what are your choices when you eat out? Can you give me a few ideas of meals under 450 calories? Which restaurants have them?

Thanks! Your help is appreciated.

P/d I don't care about drinks. I like my margaritas/daiquiris alright, but I rather eat than drink those calories.

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Order salad dressing on the side and dip your fork into it before you take a bite. You'll end up using very little salad dressing but you'll still get the flavour of it. Even if it is a high cal dressing, you'll only end up using a bit of it.

You'll have a hard time finding anything at a restaurant for under 450 cals. You could try ordering a grilled chicken burger or sandwich and not eating half the bread. Skip all the fatty toppings like cheese & mayo and pair it with a side salad.

Soup is probably the best bet. Just about any restaurant would have a good soup choice. For instance olive garden has the minestrone. With a salad, light on the dressing, you've got a good meal. I looked at the Chili's menu online and every one of their soups except the baked potato soup is 400 calories or less per bowl. Their soup is good. They also have an extensive "guiltless grill" menu and post the stats, look it up. At chinese restaurants order the "house special wonton" soup. It's basically the same everywhere, a tureen filled with shrimp, chicken, ham, wontons, and veggies that will fill you up for very few calories.  

At a lot of restaurants you can order just a grilled chicken breast with a side of veggies (even if it isn't on the official menu). Depending on if they drown the veggies in butter or whatever, that's usually a pretty low-cal meal.

I always order something that'll be good as a leftover (especially easy for any asian cuisine, pasta dish, etc.).  You can ask for an extra plate or a takeout container right away and portion half of your dinner and save it for the next night. 

I also REALLY love dining out.   It's a big treat for me, so I make sure to allow extra calories for it, either by an extra workout or trimming them off another day.

Thank you all for your suggestions!

 

1. Have a healthy snack before you eat - If you get to the restaurant and you're starving, you'll be more likely to order a lot of food, or devour the entire bread basket.

2. Think of one entrée as two - When your dinner arrives, ask for a take-out container so you can pack half away for tomorrow's lunch. If you wait to get the container until after you eat, you'll be more likely to finish off the dish. (When food is in front of you, you're more likely to eat it.)

3. Order with a friend - Sharing an entrée with someone else will cut your calories in half, so you can savor the taste, but not overeat.

4. Order a big salad for your meal - Most restaurants offer humongous salads filled with fresh veggies, delicate field greens, nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and grilled chicken. A big salad will fill you up, and they're filled with healthy stuff. Oh, and be sure to ask for the dressing on the side. Request vinaigrettes rather than creamy dressings.

5. Order a smaller meal - Either order an appetizer or a small entrée. They're usually big enough to fill you up.

6. Add veggies - Whatever you do order, whether it's pizza, a stir fry, or pasta, ask your server if you can have extra veggies added.

7. Drink water - Avoid ordering sodas with free-refills. You don't need all the extra calories or sugar.

 

lettuce wraps at PF Changs-- an appetizer, but I eat them as an entree.  Either tofu or chicken-- the tofu is so good!  Meat eaters will like it.  I dont remember the calories, but I know eating the whole plate of these was 6 points on weight watchers, wich is pretty low for an entire meal.  Most of these chain restaurants have their nutritional info online.

Well, the first thing I do is try to find the restaurant's website before going out for lunch, and look at the nutritional information if it's available.  That obvious doesn't work on surprise lunches.

If I can't look things up, I try to stick with things like a grilled chicken breast or grilled salmon.  Fried is usually a lot of oil, which has a lot of calories, even if the base meat is healthy. 

Cream sauces are high in calories, tomato sauces are better.  No sauce being best of all.

In your case, a side or spinach salad with a grilled chicken breast, with a vinegrette dressing on the side would be my choice.

Clint

Steak and veggies :D A 7-8 oz sirloin is only like 350 calories.

pmorabit,

 

I feel your pain totally. I love to eat out, and every Thursday my husband and I go to a local restaraunt/bar for music trivia and dinner. I get so tired of salad. Luckily, they have a steamed shrimp dinner special on Thursdays. Steamed Shrimp are like 5 calories a pop (although, I think they might be high in cholesterol).

The other trick I use is to ask the waiter to box half of my dinner before they ever bring it out. Out of sight, out of mind (and mouth). You also can't be afraid to ask them to change something they make. For example, at Olive Garden I ask them to make my breadsticks without butter. At our Thursday night restaraunt I substitute a 2nd veggie for a baked potato or fries.

Since my question, I found out that Applebee's offers a WeightWatcher's menu with 6/7 items. They all have between 6 and 7 WW points and are more or less around 450 calories.

The Cheesecake Factory doesn't have ANYTHING we can eat. Even half portions are ridiculously caloric. Don't even eat a piece of cheesecake because that's ALL you'll be eating that day (they are all 980+, there is even one that has 1400, ridiculous!). They have some Weight management salads but they are +500 calories.

Among the fast-food chains, the better to go is Chick-fil-a. You can have a chicken-wrap (no dressing! or their low-calorie one), their Chargrilled Chicken Garden Salad... several options there. Check them out at http://www.chick-fil-a.com/#calculator

If you want to plan ahead, you can check the Calorielab, a website that offers information on several chain restaurants and their menus: http://calorielab.com/index.html

 

Original Post by mlschafer:

lettuce wraps at PF Changs-- an appetizer, but I eat them as an entree.  Either tofu or chicken-- the tofu is so good!  Meat eaters will like it.  I dont remember the calories, but I know eating the whole plate of these was 6 points on weight watchers, wich is pretty low for an entire meal.  Most of these chain restaurants have their nutritional info online.

A word of warning on the lettuce wraps - I used to eat them as an entree as well, thinking it was a healthy dish. When I realized how many calories there are in it, I figured out how wrong I was. The dish has over 1000 calories, and 2000mg of sodium. So basically, half my calories and my entire RDA of sodium were filled by that one dish. Sucks.

A way better alternative is the steamed dumplings. 260 calories for the whole dish, and that way you can have a large order of the tasty spicy green beans (193 calories for the whole thing), coming to a grand total of 453 calories and 738mg of sodium.

 

PF Chang's Nutrition Info

the July 2009 nutritional info (the one you posted is 2008) has tufu lettuce wraps at 135 calories per serving, 4 servings for the whole order.  This comes to 540 calories.  Unfortunately they no longer list fiber, but it is pretty high given that it is all vegetables and tofu.  I think the chicken is slightly higher in calories, but around 600 total.  They do have a lot of sodium though, but that is hard to control with most asian foods.  540 is lower than almost any entree there.  The nutritional info pdf is a bit misleading-- make sure to check the number of portions per dish.  Most entrees contain 2-4 servings-- even the kids menu! 

http://www.pfchangs.com/menu.shtml

Original Post by mlschafer:

the July 2009 nutritional info (the one you posted is 2008) has tufu lettuce wraps at 135 calories per serving, 4 servings for the whole order.  This comes to 540 calories.  Unfortunately they no longer list fiber, but it is pretty high given that it is all vegetables and tofu.  I think the chicken is slightly higher in calories, but around 600 total.  They do have a lot of sodium though, but that is hard to control with most asian foods.  540 is lower than almost any entree there.  The nutritional info pdf is a bit misleading-- make sure to check the number of portions per dish.  Most entrees contain 2-4 servings-- even the kids menu! 

http://www.pfchangs.com/menu.shtml

Kudos to them for lowering some of their calories. The Asian food/sodium thing is a bit a of a myth, though. I mean, Asian food tends to be salty, certainly, but there is no need for 2k mg of sodium in one dish. I've been on an Asian food kick for the past few weeks, making bento box lunches and various Japanese and Chinese dishes, and I still don't go over 2.5k mg of sodium per day. It's unfair to lump an entire category of cuisine in there, especially because I think it's less likely that Asian foods are full of sodium and more likely that restaurant food is full of sodium. Salt is a very cheap way to season foods. Almost all restaurant/frozen meal makers go overboard with it.

On another note, tofu is notoriously low in fiber. This is due to the way it's processed, though a common misconception is that tofu is a high fiber food. There is a thread on that matter here.

#15  
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I second the endorsement of the Olive Garden. The minestrone soup (100 calories per bowl) is fantastic, and they have plenty of menu options that will not blow your calorie budget, particularly if you eat only half to two thirds of what you order. Last time I went there, I found about 7 lunch meals and 5 dinner meals under 600 calories, and many more in the 800-900 range. If you don't eat the whole thing at once, you will definitely come out within your daily limit, and who doesn't love the Olive Garden! Strangely, they don't seem to indicate the lower calorie meals on their menus, but the online nutritional guide is great.

You mentioned "and even then, tons of restaurants don't even have a low calorie dressing alternative, so I end-up eating a taste-like-grass salad because I refuse to eat a 100 calories in greens and 300 calories in dressing."

If you can, bring your own dressing ahead of time.  Especially if you get the low-cal spray kind, it travels well with no mess.  You might get a few weird looks, but who cares!  It also may send a message to the restaurant that they need better choices...just depends on who is paying attention. 

Sushi!!

Do research beforehand so that you will be prepared to make a health choice wherever you go.  For me, I looked at the menus of the common restaurants in my area and then made a little card to carry in my wallet.  For some restaurants, portion sizes are so far out of whack that it may appear that nothing will be within your "budget".  That's when you keep in mind that you can take half home and have a meal ready to eat as leftovers.  Here are a few from my card as an example:

Olive Garden minestrone soup, 1/2 manicotti formaggio 440

Olive Garden minestrone soup, 1/2 chicken parmegian 385

Qdoba  Naked Chicken Burrito w/ Black Beans and Cheese 500

Red Lobster  1lb of snow crab, mashed potatoes, broccoli 385

Ruby Tuesday  petite sirloin, broccoli, mashed potatoes 517

Samurai Sam's Teriyaki Steak and Shrimp bowl w/ brown rice 442

Chick-Fil-A chargrilled chicken sandwich (1 packet of mayo) w/ large fruit cup 400

Chili's  Guiltless Grill Carne Asada Steak plus broccoli 430

KFC  Honey BBQ Sandwich w/ Mashed Potatoes and Gravy 410

For places like Qdoba/Chipotle, the "Naked" option (no wrapper for the burrito) saves you 300+ calories.  So I'll get chicken, cheese, rice, and beans, wrap half in an oat bran pita (60 calories), and then add fruit and veggies to have a good meal for under 500 calories.

 

#19  
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I have learned that if I am on the road and have to stop somewhere for a fast lunch that I can get the Whopper Jr at Burger King. It is around 300 calories without mayo and cheese. Another trick I learned is that when at a restaurant for lunch, to get the grilled chicken sandwich (condiments on side) and to deconstuct it. This way you can get the lean chicken, without the bread, and you don't pay as much as you would for the grilled chicken dinner. You can usually replace the fries for steamed veggies or a side salad. Another trick, if a restaurant does not carry fat free dressing, ask for salsa with it instead. Salsa is usually naturally low in calories and most restaurants carry it. It also tastes pretty good on a salad too.

Jana

My husband thinks I am crazy but I bought tiny tuperwares and bring my dressing from home when I eat out.  This way I know exactly how much dressing I am having and How many calories it is.  I also do this with my truvia instead of artificial sweetner and my low sugar ketchup.  In other words my purse looks like a refrigerator when I go out but it gives me control not the restaurant.

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