What to Order at 20 Popular Restaurants
Don’t sweat going out to dinner when you’re following your Curves plan. With this guide to 20 popular chain restaurants, you can quickly pinpoint diet-friendly dishes that are anything but bland. After all, if you wanted to eat plain grilled chicken and steamed broccoli, you would have made it at home.
These more upscale counter-service restaurants are surprisingly flexible, and they’re happy to customize your meal. Take advantage!
1. Baja Fresh®
Stick to Your Diet: Tacos are the healthiest choice at this Mexican chain. Order two shrimp or chicken Baja Tacos; salsa and cilantro are on top (420 calories for the chicken, 400 for the shrimp; 10 g fat; 460 mg sodium for the chicken, 560 for the shrimp). Or try two Wahoo Grilled Tacos; this fish, similar to mackerel, comes with avocado, cabbage, pico de gallo, and salsa (460 calories, 18 g fat, 600 mg sodium).
Salt Saver: Each taco comes in two warm corn tortillas; ask that one only be used. And don’t be tempted to request your taco in a flour tortilla--it has much more sodium than corn.
Splurge on Special Days: End your meal with a churro (230 calories, 10 g fat, 260 mg sodium).
2. Chipotle Mexican Grill
Stick to Your Diet: At this Mexican chain, you tell your server what you want from a buffetlike line of options, and you can state your preference regarding amounts (such as more lettuce or just a little cheese). Build a salad with steak, fajita veggies, black beans, and lettuce (340 calories, 8 g fat, 755 mg sodium).
Salt Saver: Since you’re skipping salsa or just having a smidge because it’s too high in sodium, ask for chopped cilantro. It’s not a usual option on the bar, but they’ll get it for you from the back.
Splurge on Special Days: The chain’s famous limy chips are delish, but a whole bag (about 4 ounces) is 570 calories and 27 grams of fat. Share them with your dining buddies, or have a handful with your meal and take the rest home to munch on throughout the week.
Stick to Your Diet: The portions aren’t huge, so be more cautious about sodium than calories. Order the Hummus & Veggie Sandwich (417 calories, 7 g fat, 553 mg sodium—plus 6 g fiber) with a side of baby carrots, or go for the Signature Salad Lighter Side with mixed greens, gorgonzola, pears, grapes, pistachios, and dried cranberries tossed in a sherry-shallot dressing (410 calories, 18 g fat, 429 mg sodium, including dressing). The salad comes with a piece of multigrain flatbread (118 calories).
Salt Saver: Ask for the dressing on the side (use just half) to save about 80 milligrams of sodium and 50 calories.
Splurge on Special Days: If you’re craving pizza, order traditional cheese flatbread (specify the thin one, because the regular has a lot more calories) and ask for veggies like onion and spinach on top (500 calories, 20 g fat, 792 mg sodium; veggies will add a few more calories).
4. Jason’s Deli®
Stick to Your Diet: The owner of this chain has been on a mission to get the “junk”--like artificial colors and preservatives--out of its dishes since before it was cool to be healthy. Go for the Mighty Wild Salmon Salad (which recently got the thumbs-up from the MD Anderson Cancer Center) and use half of the oil/vinegar packet (540 calories, 23 g fat, 380 mg sodium), or order the salad bar and get greens, any raw veggie, 2.5 ounces grilled chicken, 1 tablespoon of diced almonds, a scoop of Corn & Black Bean Salad, and half of the oil/vinegar pack (440 calories, 28 g fat, 440 mg sodium).
Salt Saver: The roasted turkey breast packs almost twice as much sodium as the all-natural grilled chicken, so avoid the turkey.
Splurge on Special Days: Pick up a treat from the salad bar, like a gingerbread muffin (90 calories) or banana pudding cup (160 calories).
5. McAlister’s Deli®
Stick to Your Diet: It’s easy at this chain, which offers an innovative Lite Choose Two menu, where you pick two items for a total of less than 600 calories. Go for the Justaspud, aka a plain baked potato (270 calories, no fat or sodium), with the Harvest Chicken Salad (380 calories, 27 g fat, 440 mg sodium), a cup of White Chicken Chili (190 calories, 8 g fat, 580 mg sodium), or Pecanberry Salad (150 calories, 6 g fat, 300 mg sodium).
Salt Saver: Avoid the deli meats, which are packed with sodium. Instead, opt for chicken salad or grilled chicken breast.
Splurge on Special Days: Get a cup of the divine Asiago Cheese Bisque (280 calories) instead of the chili.
6. Noodles & Company®
Stick to Your Diet: Pasta on a diet? Yes, it’s possible! Spice things up with a small Bangkok Curry, rice noodles served with cabbage, black sesame seeds, broccoli, carrots, and other veggies in a sweet coconut curry (260 calories, 8 g fat, 440 mg sodium). Or go for a small Whole-Grain Tuscan Linguine, made with broccoli, red peppers, white wine, and a dash of cream and Parmesan (350 calories, 17 g fat, 490 mg sodium). Gluten-free pasta is available, too.
Salt Saver: Many of the pasta dishes are made to order, so you can ask to go easy on the sauce (the source of most of the sodium) and add a few more veggies instead.
Splurge on Special Days: Start with a small order of the chain’s delicious pot stickers (170 calories, 5 g fat, 550 mg sodium).
7. Panera Bread®
Stick to Your Diet: Order a Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad or Power Steak Lettuce Wrap from Panera’s hidden menu. Although these dishes aren’t listed on the board, the staff is trained on how to make them. The salad--a combo of spinach, romaine, all-natural chicken, bacon, and diced eggs--is dressed lightly with fresh lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil (360 calories, 22 g fat, 430 mg sodium). The wrap ingredients--leaf lettuce, sirloin, cukes, tomatoes, red onions, and pesto--come in a bowl for you to assemble (210 calories, 10 g fat, 240 mg sodium).
Salt Saver: You can order any salad on the menu without dressing and ask that it be finished instead with fresh lemon juice and olive oil, potentially saving up to 300 milligrams of sodium.
Splurge on Special Days: Cool off with lemonade. A 20-ounce cup has 160 calories--half the amount of the Wild Berry Smoothie.
Ask your server what can be modified; in some chains, a considerable number of dishes are made in advance and can’t be tweaked.
8. Bonefish Grill®
Stick to Your Diet: Zero in on the grilled fish section of the menu, which has several healthy options, including a regular-size portion of grouper (242 calories, 3 g fat, 231 mg sodium), small portion of Chilean sea bass (345 calories, 26 g fat, 145 mg sodium), and small portion of Atlantic salmon (369 calories, 24 g fat, 168 mg sodium). The warm mango salsa is the healthiest fish topping (65 calories, no fat, 130 mg sodium). Your meal comes with two sides--order the steamed asparagus (44 calories, 2 g fat, 282 mg sodium) and veggie of the day in a box to take home with you.
Salt Saver: Tell your server that you don’t want the bread, pesto, and oil brought to the table--they’re packed with sodium, not to mention calories.
Splurge on Special Occasions: Have garlic whipped potatoes (190 calories) or potatoes au gratin (263 calories) as a side.
9. California Pizza Kitchen
Stick to Your Diet: If you’re craving pizza, consider ordering the Shaved Mushroom & Spinach Flatbread from the appetizer menu (400 calories, 18 g fat, 930 mg sodium). Otherwise, try the delicious Quinoa & Arugula Salad with asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, pine nuts, and feta (590 calories, 36 g fat, 730 mg sodium).
Salt Saver: Skip the feta on your salad or ask for half the cheese on your pizza to save 100 milligrams or more.
Splurge on Special Occasions: Bored with water? Treat yourself to a 50-calorie Cranberry or Strawberry Mango Cooler.
10. Carrabba’s Italian Grill®
Stick to Your Diet: The portions aren’t giant, but many dishes are filled with buttery or creamy sauces. Steer clear of them and opt for the new Grilled Tuscan Sirloin Skewers with red onion and tomato (420 calories, 23 g fat, 674 mg sodium) with a side of steamed spinach (26 calories, 0 fat, 354 mg sodium) and a house salad with light balsamic vinaigrette (93 calories, 4 g fat, 293 mg sodium).
Salt Saver: Ask that your steamed spinach be made without salt, and request salad dressing on the side and just use half.
Splurge on Special Days: Split an order of two mini cannoli--classic Italian pastry (249 calories, 17 g fat, 43 mg sodium per piece). Or simply have an espresso and almond biscotti (28 calories).
11. The Cheesecake Factory®
Stick to Your Diet: Toss aside the regular menu and look only at the page of Skinnylicious items. Every dish listed there is less than 600 calories--a huge contrast to the chain’s typical megaportions. Try the Mexican Chicken Lettuce Wraps, three butter leaves filled with grilled chicken, avocado, tomato, onion, and roasted corn and served with a tangy sauce on the side (260 calories, 7 g fat, 616 mg sodium).
Salt Saver: Use just half of the sauce on the side, because the wraps are so flavorful and moist that they don’t really need it.
Splurge on Special Days: Toast the occasion with a Skinny Red Sangria (150 calories).
Stick to Your Diet: You’ll have think outside the box. For a light lunch, go for a cup of Terlingua Chili (200 calories, 14 g fat, 530 mg sodium) and a side of corn on the cob (190 calories, 7 g fat, 380 mg sodium). Add a house salad (skip the croutons and ask oil and vinegar on the side) for dinner or if you’re extra hungry.
Salt Saver: Interestingly, the sides for kids contain a lot less salt and fat than the ones for adults, even though the portion size is similar. Case in point: The kids’ corn on the cob (140 calories, 1.5 g fat, 20 mg sodium) doesn’t have added butter or salt. Order yours this way, too.
Splurge on Special Occasions: You can get guacamole made at your table to share--they mash avocados and add lime, red onion, diced tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro, and salt to your taste. It’s served with warm tortilla chips. If you’re going this route, just order the cup of chili.
13. Longhorn Steakhouse®
Stick to Your Diet: You’ll have an easier time finding healthy options here than at other steakhouses. If you’re in the mood for steak, opt for the 6-ounce Renegrade Top Sirloin (380 calories, 23 g fat, 520 mg sodium) with steamed asparagus (80 calories, 5 g fat, 55 mg sodium) and a mixed green salad with oil and vinegar on the side. Or go for the Grilled Fresh Rainbow Trout (280 calories, 15 g fat, 460 mg sodium) or 7-ounce LongHorn Salmon (290 calories, 13 g fat, 300 mg sodium).
Salt Saver: Ask for half the amount of the chain’s famous seasoning rub on your steak.
Splurge on Special Occasions: Get a Steakhouse Burger (740 calories, 44 g fat, 840 mg sodium) and substitute a veggie for the fries.
14. Olive Garden™
Stick to Your Diet: If you’re watching your sodium, start with salad instead of soup, and ask for oil and vinegar. (The minestrone is a great fiber-packed option.) For an entrée, go for the Herb-Grilled Salmon with steamed broccoli (520 calories, 32 g fat, 500 mg sodium).
Salt Saver: Go at lunchtime when the portions are smaller, and you can get a satisfying side of Spaghetti with Meat Sauce for just 250 calories and 350 milligrams of sodium.
Splurge on Special Occasions: Order a glass of sparkling wine (130 calories) or a Skinny Strawberry Martini (150 calories).
15. PF Chang’s®
Stick to Your Diet: Many of the entrées are large enough to share, so do just that. Split Phillip’s Better Lemon Chicken with broccoli (900 calories, 35 g fat, 260 mg sodium) with brown rice (310 calories, 2 g fat, 5 mg sodium) so you end up with around 600 calories each. (If no one wants to share, request that half your dish be wrapped to go before it’s brought to the table.) If you’re a vegetarian, get Buddha’s Feast Steamed (260 calories, 4 g fat, 300 mg sodium) with brown rice.
Salt Saver: Avoid dishes (including fried rice!) that contain soy or teriyaki sauce--they’re sodium packed.
Splurge on Special Occasions: Get a mini Sweet Treat Tiramisu (180 calories) or order a plate of six Banana Spring Rolls with coconut-pineapple ice cream and have just one (158 calories).
16. Red Lobster®
Stick to Your Diet: Sodium is the toughest thing to avoid at this chain, with some seafood combos reaching 3,600 milligrams--2 days’ worth! Keep it to below 1,200 milligrams with the Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia (360 calories, 16 g fat, 900 mg sodium) with roasted vegetable medley (35 calories, 1 g fat, 170 mg sodium) and a garden salad (140 calories, 7 g fat, 245 mg sodium, using half of the Blueberry Balsamic vinaigrette)
Salt Saver: The chain offers several “fresh catches” that rotate daily; order one of these and ask that it be “oven broiled” or grilled and only lightly salted.
Splurge on Special Days: Have one of the chain’s famous Cheddar Bay Biscuits (150 calories).
17. Red Robin®
Stick to Your Diet: You can create your own burger or grilled chicken sandwich at this chain, choosing the bun, toppings, and even sides. A smart option: The Keep It Simple Burger on a whole-grain bun (ask for it untoasted, because margarine is used), with lettuce, tomato, onion, and horseradish mushrooms plus the Freckled Fruit Salad as a side (671 calories, 24 g fat, 499 mg sodium). Need something lighter? Order the burger on lettuce and save more than 200 calories.
Salt Saver: Skip the Red Robin Seasoning, which adds more than 150 milligrams of sodium.
Splurge on Special Days: Get steak fries; ask your server to bring you half the usual amount (roughly 220 calories’ worth) or split an order. Surprisingly, the steak fries have fewer calories than the sweet potato ones!
18. Ruby Tuesday
Stick to Your Diet: Thanks to the salad bar and a lot of healthy sides, you can load up on veggies, which will keep you full for fewer calories. Order a Veggie Trio Combo--your choice of any three sides plus the chain’s Garden Bar. If you go for roasted spaghetti squash (it looks like angel hair pasta), grilled zucchini, and a plain baked potato, you’ll be at a reasonable total (354 calories, 7 g fat, 493 mg sodium). From the bar, make yourself a salad with any raw veggies, diced eggs (for protein) and sunflower seeds. If you want to try one of the prepared salads from the bar, get the Ruby’s Waldorf (118 calories per ½ cup) rather than ham-and-pea pasta salad (491 calories per ½ cup). Prefer a chicken dish? Then go for the Honey Bourbon Chicken with a side of spaghetti squash (409 calories, 12 g fat, 829 mg sodium) and the Garden Bar.
Salt Saver: Skip the prepared dressings on the bar--the balsamic vinaigrette has 540 milligrams of sodium per ounce--and reach for the bottle of oil and vinegar instead.
Splurge on Special Occasions: Split one of the divine Red Velvet Cupcakes with cream cheese frosting (143 calories for half).
19. TGI Friday’sâÂ
Stick to Your Diet: It won’t be easy here, especially if you’re watching sodium (some dishes exceed 4,000 milligrams). Your best bet: the Strawberry Fields Salad (610 calories, 47 g fat, 580 mg sodium) with balsamic-marinated berries, goat cheese, and pecans over mixed greens. To lower the fat and sodium, ask for balsamic vinaigrette on the side and use just half.
Salt Saver: You can skip the seasoning or butter on any dish--just ask your server.
Splurge on Special Occasions: Have a Skinnygirl Cosmo Cooler (90 calories) with vodka, cranberry juice, lemon juice, and fresh cucumbers.
20. Uno Pizzeria & Grill®
Stick to Your Diet: Even half of a deep-dish pizza here will deep-six your diet, delivering 800 or more calories. To satisfy that cheese-and-bread craving, order the Roasted Vegetable Goat Cheese Wrap and take half home (210 calories, 10 g fat, 460 mg sodium per half) with a side of farro salad (180 calories, 7 g fat, 160 mg sodium).
Salt Saver: Skip the appetizers (sodium bombs) and grab a free fresh apple at the counter as you enter to take the edge off your hunger.
Splurge on Special Occasions: Order a mini dessert, like a hot apple crumble or hot chocolate brownie sundae; each is 320 calories.
Dining Out, Curves Style
Planning in advance is the key to eating out when you’re following the Curves diet. Thanks to this guide and the nutrition information that restaurants supply online, you can figure out what you’re going to order ahead of time.
In general, aim for a lunch or dinner that contains less than 600 calories, 23 grams of fat, and 800 milligrams of sodium. Most of the dishes suggested here meet those guidelines. But at some restaurants that’s not realistic, so you can give yourself a little wiggle room, especially with the healthy fat that comes from fish or dressings that contain olive oil. “If you know you’re going out to dinner, for instance, you can plan for that at breakfast and lunch and cut back if needed,” Wangsgaard says.
Also, give yourself a break when you’re celebrating a special occasion, because if you feel deprived, you’re not as likely to stick to your diet. That’s why this guide includes mini desserts, light cocktails, and decadent-sounding dishes that you can indulge in once and while.
Sit Far Away
The average person makes three trips to the buffet. How can you prevent yourself from going up for seconds or—gulp--fourths? Snag a table as far away from the buffet as you can. Wansink’s research showed that for every 40 feet away from the buffet that people sit, they make one less trip.
If you have no control over seating--suppose you snagged the last table--make sure that your back is to the food. Not being able to see the spread is almost as effective as not being near it.
Study Your Choices
According to Wansink’s research, thin and overweight people dine at buffet restaurants with the same frequency, but thinner diners are three times more likely to scout the entire buffet before taking anything. If you first survey all your choices, you can make smart decisions from the start rather than, say, scooping up spaghetti carbonara before seeing mahimahi, your favorite fish. With both on your plate, you’ll eat twice as much as you would have if you saw the seafood to begin with.
Summer of Strength