15 Healthier Chain Restaurant Meals Under 500 Calories

by Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, LDN
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15 Healthier Chain Restaurant Meals Under 500 Calories

Let’s face it. Eating out is fun. But it’s also notorious for high-calorie, sodium-saturated portions that leave you feeling bloated and guilty about breaking your clean-eating streak. Luckily, there are plenty of wholesome, healthy choices at popular chain restaurants that are all under 500 calories (and we’re talking about more than just salads).

Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or just taking a break from cooking dinner after a long week, you can enjoy eating out in a mindful way. Check out our healthy picks from some of America’s most popular chain restaurants.

Healthiest Pick: Herb-Grilled Salmon

Why it made the cut: Served with a side of Parmesan-garlic broccoli, this fillet of salmon provides a hearty dose of protein and healthy omega-3 fats with a burst of Italian flavors. Located on Olive Garden’s “Lighter Italian Fare” menu, this salmon will satisfy your Italian cravings without all the carbohydrates that usually come in heavy Italian dishes.

Nutritional stats: 460 calories, 28g fat, 8g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 43g protein

Dietitian’s tips: When considering low-calorie, high-protein options, seafood is usually a safe way to go. Choosing a fatty fish, such as salmon or albacore tuna, will give you a boost of omega-3 fatty acids that work as an anti-inflammatory agent and protect your heart health.

Close Contenders:

  • Tilapia Piccata (450 calories, 24g fat, 12g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 49g protein)
  • Shrimp Scampi (500 calories, 19g fat, 56g carbohydrates, 6g fiber, 26g protein)

Healthiest Pick: Asian Chicken Lettuce Wrap Tacos

Why it made the cut: Topped with carrots, bean sprouts and cucumber, these tortillaless tacos are protein-packed and offer a low glycemic alternative to traditional tacos.

Nutritional Stats: 450 calories, 4g saturated fat, 46g carbohydrates

Dietitian’s tips: Although the Cheesecake Factory doesn’t provide full nutritional information, dishes with “SkinnyLicious” in the title are generally 600 calories or less. The Cheesecake Factory is also known for huge serving sizes — if you’re looking for a lighter meal, check out the appetizer and small-plate menu. When you order your dish, ask for a to-go box and portion out half of the meal for the next day.

Close Contenders:

  • SkinnyLicious Herb Crusted Salmon Salad (480 calories, 4g saturated fat, 20g carbohydrates)
  • SkinnyLicious Chicken Soft Tacos (500 calories, 3g saturated fat, 49g carbohydrates)

Healthiest Pick: Simple & Fit Two Egg Breakfast

Why it made the cut: This option gives you all of your breakfast favorites without weighing you down: two eggs your way, turkey bacon, whole-wheat toast and fresh fruit.

Nutritional stats: 350 calories, 8g fat, 48g carbohydrates, 7g fiber, 25g protein.

Dietitian’s tips: Breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day and should be treated that way. Make sure to choose an option that incorporates protein and whole grains — not just sugar (we’re looking at you, pancakes) —  to keep you powered throughout the day. IHOP’s “Simple & Fit” menu offers options under 600 calories that can be modified — hold the butter, choose turkey bacon and, if you need it, be sure to go light on the syrup. Less is more!

Close Contenders:

  • Simple & Fit Spinach, Tomato, and Mushroom Omelette (330 calories, 12g fat, 31g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 29g protein)
  • Simple & Fit Banana & Brown Sugar Oatmeal (260 calories, 5g fat, 49g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 7g protein)

Healthiest Pick: Pepper-Crusted Sirloin & Whole Grains

Why it made the cut: This flavor-packed dish comes complete with spinach, tomatoes and portobello mushrooms, providing a high-protein, whole-grain meal that will leave you feeling satisfied. Steak is rich in iron, the essential nutrient responsible for blood carrying oxygen throughout the body.

Nutritional stats: 430 calories, 14g fat, 48g carbohydrates, 9g fiber, 32 g protein

Dietitian’s tips: Avoiding huge amounts of sodium can be difficult when it comes to eating out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

estimates that 75% of Americans’ daily sodium intake is from processed and restaurant foods — not the salt shaker. This dish comes with a light broth filled with salt. If you need to lower your sodium intake, ask for the broth on the side and for no extra salt on your meat.

Close Contenders:

  • Thai Shrimp Salad (390 calories, 19g fat, 32g carbohydrates, 7g fiber, 23g protein)
  • Cedar Grilled Lemon Chicken (580 calories, 26g fat, 48g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 42g protein)

Healthiest Pick: Apple Cider BBQ Chicken Breast

Why it made the cut: This option is part of the “Wholesome Fixin’s” menu, which offers a variety of health-conscious choices that allow you to enjoy your favorite home-style meal without all the calories — all of these options are 500 calories or less.

Stats: Cracker Barrel doesn’t provide exact nutritional information for its menu. To be safe, choose an option from the Wholesome Fixin’s menu, and substitute fruit and vegetables whenever possible.

Dietitian’s tips: Beyond the heaps of mashed potatoes and biscuits, Southern-style restaurants like Cracker Barrel still offer healthy options! Focus on lean protein, choose a side of steamed vegetables and avoid anything deep-fried. Cracker Barrel also offers a couple of “tasty alternatives” to cut calories — namely, substituting Egg Beaters for two eggs, multigrain toast for biscuits and turkey bacon for regular pork bacon.

Close Contenders:

  • Grilled Chicken N’ Fresh Vegetable Salad (490 calories)
  • Apple N’ Cinnamon Oatmeal (360 calories)


  • Matthew Hall

    I would love a guide like this for restaurants I eat at. I haven’t eaten at any of these places in the last 10 years, and never by choice.

  • Jimmy NoChit

    I tend to only eat steak, veggies, and salad with vinegar and oil, when I eat out. No sauces, marinades, breading or other things that have hidden carbs and/or calories.

  • Wightexile

    Super article for the millions of MFP users who live outside North America

  • Sabrina

    Eating out isn’t that difficult, every restaurant offers chicken or lean meat and vegetables. There’s no excuse to ruin your clean eating plan and you can ask the restaurant to make something that’s not on the menu if you just want plain grilled meat and salad 🙂

    • Tiffany Knox Vanek

      Except that restaurants soak, marinate and inject their meats and even potatoes with butter and other things. They cook their veggies in all kinds of added ingredients that people are unaware of. Even plain grilled chicken has been marinating.

      • Carla

        There are almost no restaurants serving chicken without MSG. Some restaurants even put it in the butter they spread on their toast. You are so right that “plain” isn’t as plain as it looks.

  • OCNYLady

    Where is the sodium count?? The “dietician’s tip” is to avoid excessive sodium but none of the foods you list here includes a sodium count. IME, the two worst offenders in restaurant foods are fat and sodium.

  • Ann Nonymous

    We just left Olive Garden and I’m blown up like a balloon. Had the Pasta E Fagioli and Rosemary Garlic Chicken. I’m sure it was full of sodium.

  • Erin

    Is it just me, or is there only one restaurant listed here? I only see Olive Garden???

    • RoJoyInc

      click next.

    • Hank

      There’s a navigation arrow at the bottom. BUT there are only 5 restaurants listed, not the 15 listed in the headline. Sad

      • Diane C. Kerns

        I see no navigation arrow or “next”

      • Brent Akins

        There are 2 contenders for each of the 5 restaurants. 3 meals x 5 restaurants = 15 meals. The headline says 15 healthier meals. You inferred 15 different restaurants.

    • Kalli Pavon

      I don’t see any navigation either. On a Macbook using Chrome. Nothing. No arrow/next/etc.

      • JeremiahHorrigan

        You’re not missing anything but more grinning models and more ads.

    • Melissa Jean Thomas Burnett

      There is a next arrow underneath “close contenders”.

  • Tina Van Rikxoord

    It said 15, but there are only 5

  • Tina Van Rikxoord

    I guess they are including the close contenders in the 15

  • disqus_8Bu2jLR9uk

    I would never eat at any of these restaurants, by choice.