Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Category: Chains (page 1 of 2)

Why Chick-fil-A’s new kale-and-broccolini salad isn’t as healthy as you think

You know it’s January when restaurant companies haul out the “lite” menus or even introduce new permanent items aimed at the Weight Watchers crowd. Nothing has exploded more than Chick-fil-A’s Superfood Salad.

And not in a good way. A kale-and-broccolini dish is trendy.  Putting one on Chick-fil-A’s menu is kind of like Nicki Minaj subbing for Hillary Clinton at an Iowa campaign appearance. To add insult, the Superfood Salad swept off the menu that Southern staple, coleslaw.  It seemed like a blue-state raid on the beloved Atlanta-based chain, especially suspicious given Chick-fil-A’s designs on New York City.

Oddly enough, the creation came from a Southern chef, Ford Fry of Atlanta, whose empire includes JCT Kitchen, where there’s a completely credible southern drawl to the menu.

One blogger’s diatribe against the salad has gone hilariously viral.

Despite the marketing focus on healthy vegetables, the salad has a lot of sugar packed in the maple vinaigrette dressing and dried cherries.

The small is 140 calories with 7 grams of fat, a meager 2 of fiber,  11 of sugar and only 3 of protein. The large is 170 calories, 8 grams fat, 2 of fiber, 16 of sugar and 4 of protein. For that reason, it performs poorly on Weight Watchers’ protein-and-vegetable leaning points program — 6 Smart Points for the small and 7 for the large.

For comparison, the large has almost half the sugar you’d find in a 12-ounce can of soda pop. (Admittedly, the new salad has less sugar than the Chick-fil-A coleslaw, which packed 26 grams of sugar into 580 calories.)

Let’s see how long it takes for the coleslaw to return to the menu. Maybe The South will rise again.


8 turkey sandwiches dieters have to avoid

For many Weight Watchers, a turkey sandwich is the gold standard. A basic version counts as two slices of bread (5 Smart Points) and 4 ounces of deli turkey (2 Smart Points). Add in some lettuce, tomato or other vegetables and you have a pretty satisfying meal. Ordering a turkey sandwich at lunch winds up consuming 7 points from my daily allowance of 34. Plenty left over for dinner and breakfast.

But in the hands of some restaurant chefs, the humble turkey sandwich becomes a minefield. Consider these turkey sandwiches:

  • Arby’s: The Roast Turkey Ranch & Bacon sandwich (24 Smart Points)
  • Blimpie: Turkey & Provolone sub (large, 24 Smart Points)
  • Bruegger’s: Turkey Toscana on Hearty White Hot Panini (19 Smart Points)
  • California Pizza Kitchen: Club Turkey Sandwich with Traditional Ciabatta (19 Smart Points)
  • Cosi: Bacon Turkey & Cheddar Melt (20 Smart Points)
  • Denny’s: Club Sandwich (19 Smart Points)
  • Firehouse Subs: Turkey Bacon Ranch Specialty Sub (41 Smart Points large; 26 medium)
  • Subway: Footlong Turkey, Bacon and Avocado (23 Smart Points)



Weight Watchers: What to know about eating at chains

It’s not that chain restaurants are out to get us. Really. It’s just that they’re out to get everyone else (as customers) and leave us to manage on our own. Weight Watchers has done a great job of pulling together information on chain restaurants in its Menu Master Eating Out Guide.

The book is very complete, offering SmartPoints numbers for most chains and some non-chain but common menu items. A 3-by-4-inch piece of eggplant parmesan is 16 points, according to the book. (For non Weight Watchers members, this is the number you need for comparison. The Restaurant Dieter gets 34 points to spend on food daily, with most vegetables and fruits at zero.)

Weight Watchers’ relentlessly upbeat tone even extends to chain restaurants. “You’ll find a restaurant here an enjoy eating out. Menu Master will help make it a pleasure.” Uh-huh. Sure. How about some of these winners:

  • Auntie Annie’s: What carb addict hasn’t strolled past those glistening, nutritionally vapid pretzels and had a craving? But the price is steep. A cinnamon sugar soft pretzel is 19 points even before 3 for the light cream dip or 7 for the caramel dip. Run away!
  • Bruegger’s: Where a jalapeño cheddar bagel can cost you 13 points, nearly half of what you get for the entire day. Or a turkey sandwich — usually a good choice, in this case Harvest Turkey on Ciabatta, for 21 points. (A hamburger at Five Guys, which is a darn good old-fashioned burger, is only 24 SmartPoints.)
  • Chili’s: I guess we have to pass on the Bacon Ranch Steak Quesadilla at 63 points. That is not a typo.
  • Cinnabon: Why even bother to know the SmartPoints, when hardly anything on the menu is below 15 and ranges up to 46.
  • IHOP: If breakfast starts with an order of Cinnamon Swirl Brioche French Toast and Sausage at 47 point, why not just head to bed and start over tomorrow? Or: just see Cinnabon, above.
  • Jamba Juice: Didn’t smoothies start as healthful alternatives? Not here. Something that sounds as innocuous as a Banana Berry Smoothie is 32 points.
  • KFC: Just be aware that the Chicken Pot Pie (at 32 SmartPoints) makes an extra crispy fried chicken breast at 13 look like a bargain.
  • Red Lobster: Which has Cajun Chicken Linguine Alfredo on the children’s menu with half a serving at 25 points.

Get the book here. It’s essential.


Red Lobster: Ignore the menu and assemble your own healthier entree

Red Lobster’s menu is full of bad things. But there is the Lighthouse Menu, which is a bit better.

Still nothing appealed so I made my own lunch entree. Double green salad and a double shrimp cocktail.

For Weight Watchers points, I calculated 10 ounces of boiled shrimp and 3 tablespoons of a vinaigrette dressing, or 10 points overall.

9 million reasons a week to shun Olive Garden

The Restaurant Dieter tends to be hard on the Darden Restaurant Group, and rightly so. The chain’s casual theme dinner houses push out a lot of incredibly unhealthy food, despite a few good efforts such as Season’s 52 and the Lighthouse menu at Red Lobster.

So he was interested in a recent article from Smart Money interviewing Darden CEO Clarence Otis Jr. about the chain’s recent efforts to tinker with the Olive Garden menu. This included a gorgonzola and pear ravioli with shrimp that apparently bombed.

No tears will be shed at The Restaurant Dieter blog. The article notes that Olive Garden serves 9 million of those all-you-can eat, nutritionally vapid, white bread, fat soaked bread sticks a week?

At Golden Corral, dip that fruit in chocolate and…fat. Ugh.

Add some oil to make it flow

Even for a seasoned dieter, it’s hard to pass up a piece of good chocolate. If it’s high quality, sometimes one nice bite is enough to satisfy. It should be easy, however, to pass by the gross stuff spilling over the edge of the chocolate fountain. I don’t care if the dipping items do include fresh fruit.
The fountains are thought by some to be an elegant and showy finish for parties, weddings and bar mitzvah. Now the elegant restaurant chain Golden Corral has decided to latch onto this dubious trend and take it national. Yuck.
I’ve never liked them. Instead of a wonderful dessert that leaves you feeling satisfied, there’s this giant tower of mysterious liquid surrounded by skewers and platters  of fruit, cakes and cookies. After awhile, the whole station is spattered with chocolate. It’s not appetizing in the least.
Plus, I’ve always suspected that it isn’t exactly high-quality chocolate. To get the chocolate to flow so smoothly and not gum up the fountain, it’s clearly been thinned. Water would dilute the taste, so the likely culprit is fat. One recipe found online calls for adding three-quarters of a cup of oil to two bags of chocolate chips. Another website, explains that a higher concentration of cocoa butter makes the chocolate flow easily.
So now are you tempted to visit Golden Corral and dip that fruit into a fat bath? I thought not.

Darden Restaurants: Maybe shaved profits will help cut calories?

The Restaurant Dieter was harsh on Darden Restaurant Group and Michelle Obama recently. The chain announced some pretty modest efforts to make its menus healthier, but from the purple prose, you’d have thought Darden conquered obesity.

Now comes the news that the chain — which operates Olive Garden, Red Lobster and others — is suffering financially. One of the reasons cited is commodity costs. Here’s hoping it gives the chain incentive to rein in some of the enormous and calorie-laden portions it serves.

Please Applebees’s: Stop the Madness

In the restaurant biz — particularly chains — it’s the Holy Trinity: Fat, salt and sugar. Creating new dishes that hits all three of those compass points means satisfied customers.

It also means fat ones. Former FDA commissioner David Kessler has written about how the industry test kitchens are all about maximizing flavor via those three ingredients.

One chain where this seems near-gospel is Applebee’s. On a restaurant industry website, the chain was touting a new dessert.

It’s a cinnamon apple turnover that is “a miniature apple pie with cinnamon flavored apple slices hidden inside a flaky pastry crust.The dessert is topped with a honey cream cheese sauce and is served with a slice of vanilla ice cream.”

Salt, fat, sugar.

I couldn’t find the new dessert listed on Applebee’s own website, but another new menu innovation certainly makes the point:

“Stacked, stuffed and topped: The entrees you love, packed with even more flavor.”

From this, we get the Chicken Parmesan stack, which is

“Country-fried chicken stuffed with Italian cheeses, smothered in our spicy marinara and served atop a bed of fettuccine with roasted garlic Alfredo, onions and peppers. Topped with parsley and shredded Parmesan cheese. Served with toasted garlic bread.”

There’s really nothing I can add.

Better Oatmeal at Chik-fil-A

Chik-fil-A‘s got a new multi-grain oatmeal that provides at least a decent alternative to that bundle of fat and sodium called a chicken biscuit.

Without the toppings, an 8-ounce serving is 120 calories, 3 grams fat, 21 grams carbs and 4 grams protein. With topping, it climbs to 280 calories, 11 g fat, 44 g carbs, and 6 g protein. The toppings are cinnamon brown sugar, nuts and dried fruit.
I wish it had more fiber, though, because that’s what makes a meal filling and satisfying. The plain has 3 grams of fiber; with toppings it increases to 5. For comparison, a Thomas’ Light English Muffin is 100 calories, 1 gram fat and 8 grams of fiber

Restaurant Calorie Counts: Way Off

Are you more likely to get bad nutritional information at a McDonald’s or an Applebees?

The latter, says a Tufts University research study. Fast food restaurants automate the kitchen to the point that portions are more precise. It’s the sit-down restaurant where the cook in the kitchen has more latitude to make the food as it suits him or her.
The researchers tested 269 foods. Nearly 20 percent were off by more than 100 calories, and not in the customer’s favor.
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