Weekly Column_120 / August 16, 2012

Diet Detective’s Guide to Casual Dining Restaurants 2011 Part 1, Outback, Red Lobster and Applebee’s

By Charles Platkin, PhD

I’ve included only calories, not all the other nutritional information, but that doesn’t mean carbohydrates, fiber and sodium are not important. In the old days, this information was not available on company websites — now (except for T.G.I. Friday’s) it is. Before you eat out, look at the website to get a feel for the restaurant’s offerings. When you do that, remember that in many instances the nutrition information is for the entrée only — even if the dish comes with sides, sauces or dressings. Otherwise, you could end up eating a lot more calories than you realize. This guide will point you in the right direction.


Outback Steakhouse

  • Grilled Chicken on the Barbie with fresh seasonal veggies (both ordered without butter), 464 calories
  • Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie (order with cocktail sauce), 315 calories
  • Outback Special 9-ounce sirloin steak with fresh steamed green beans & fresh seasonal veggies (all without butter), 438 calories
  • Outback Special 6-ounce steak (without butter), 230 calories
  • Seared Ahi Tuna — regular, 478 calories
  • Lobster Tails (2 tails without butter), 246 calories
  • Atlantic Salmon with fresh seasonal veggies (both without butter), 411 calories

Fit Tip: Almost everything is made with butter or a fattening sauce, so make sure to ask that your dish be prepared without these. Outback has a program called “Order it Light.” There is a feather next to the menu item, and they will prepare it so that it’s under 500 calories. Stick to those, and when you have a choice of sides, choose either a double order of the steamed veggies (plain/dry) or a single order of the veggies and a salad (no croutons, no cheese, hold the dressing or put the fat-free tangy tomato on the side).

Normally a sweet potato without butter or toppings is a good choice, but the Outback sweet potato has 418 calories, which, along with the entrée itself, can be too many calories. Almost all the sides, including the salads, are very high in calories — unless you’re ordering them as a meal and making sure the dressing is on the side and used sparingly. As you would expect, all the desserts are super-high in calories — many have an entire day’s worth. And if you’re watching your sodium intake, almost every dish is high. Make sure to check out the choices in advance here.


  • Weight Watchers Chipotle Lime Chicken, 490 calories
  • Weight Watchers Paradise Chicken Salad, 340 calories
  • Weight Watchers Steak & Potato Salad, 380 calories
  • Weight Watchers Spicy Pineapple Glazed Shrimp & Spinach, 310 calories
  • Weight Watchers Cajun Lime Tilapia, 350 calories
  • Asiago Peppercorn Steak, 390 calories
  • Grilled Shrimp & Island Rice, 370 calories
  • Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Shrimp, 500 calories
  • Grilled Dijon Chicken & Portobellos, 450 calories
  • Teriyaki Shrimp Pasta, 440 calories
  • Teriyaki Chicken Pasta, 450 calories
  • Veggie Burger, 550 calories (no sides)
  • Seasonal Vegetables, 35-50 calories (side dish)
  • Chicken Noodle Soup (bowl), 160 calories (appetizer or side)
  • Fresh Fruit, 90 calories (side dish)

Fit Tip: Applebee’s is a casual dining chain that is answering the call of its patrons. While they certainly have their fair share of very high-calorie foods, they also have meals that are under 550 calories, and they’ve teamed up with Weight Watchers to create some excellent low-calorie choices. I also really love the fact that the 550 program is promoted on the home page of their website. Avoid the fajitas, which have 1,370 — 1,470 calories, the Appetizer Sampler (2,410 – 2,590), Riblet and Chicken Tenders Platter (1,740 – 1,870), Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad, Regular (1,310), Oriental Chicken Salad, Regular (1,310) and the Three-Cheese Chicken Penne (1,470), New England Fish & Chips (1,930) and Chocolate Chip Cookie Sundae (1,680).

Red Lobster

  • Chilled Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, 120 calories (appetizer)
  • Grilled Lobster, Shrimp and Scallops (without condiments, dipping sauces or optional accompaniments), 500 calories
  • Salmon with fresh broccoli, 270 calories
  • Tilapia with fresh broccoli, 210 calories
  • Rainbow Trout with fresh broccoli, 220 calories
  • Broiled Seafood Platter, 300 calories
  • Garlic-Grilled Jumbo Shrimp, 370 calories
  • Live Maine Lobster, (1 ¼ pounds steamed), 230 calories
  • Fresh Broccoli, 45 calories (side dish)
  • Fresh Asparagus, 60 calories (side dish)
  • Wild Rice Pilaf, 180 calories (side dish)
  • Garden Salad (without dressing), 90 calories (side dish)

Fit Tip: Don’t think that just because it’s seafood it’s healthy; there’s plenty of unhealthy fried, buttery seafood out there. However, the LightHouse choices at Red Lobster are low-fat and low-calorie.

The nice thing about Red Lobster is that you can get the tilapia, rainbow trout or salmon in full or half orders, so you can save calories on portion size. Make sure to ask for cocktail sauce (40 calories) or pico de gallo (10 calories) instead of the melted butter (350 calories), honey mustard dipping sauce (280 calories) or tartar sauce (190 calories). The salads come with high-calorie dressings, cheese and other unhealthy goodies. If you’re having a salad, choose the Balsamic Vinaigrette (1 ounce), which is 80 calories. And watch out for appetizers like the Crispy Calamari and Vegetables at 760 calories.


  • Say no to mayo, tartar sauce, creamy dressings and extra cheese. Ask for dressings, sauces, butter or sour cream on the side.
  • Use mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper or vinegar as low-fat ways to season your food.
  • Watch nuts, croutons and other salad add-ons.
  • Chicken and fish are good choices only if they’re grilled or broiled, NOT breaded or deep-fried.
  • Instead of cheese on your burger, opt for lettuce, tomato and onion. Removing just one slice of cheese can save you about 100 calories.
  • Skip the fries. Instead, go for a salad or a broth-based soup before your main meal.
  • Avoid large portions. According to a survey done by the American Institute of Cancer Research, 69 percent of Americans say they finish their entrées all or most of the time. If the restaurant you’re going to serves huge portions, don’t assume you won’t eat everything you’re served. Before you even start eating, ask the server to wrap up half your portion to go.
  • Read the menu. Look for any of the following cooking techniques that use less fat and are generally lower in calories: baked, grilled, broiled, poached or steamed. Avoid any of the following words: à la mode, au gratin (covered with cheese), battered, bisque, breaded, buttered, cheese sauce, creamy or rich, crispy, deep-fried, deluxe, fried, hollandaise (sauce made with butter and egg yolks), jumbo, nuts, scalloped, sautéed (unless you make a special request for it to be prepared in a small amount of oil) and tempura.
  • Don’t refrain from asking questions or making special requests. If you didn’t like a particular food — say the gorgonzola on a cobb salad — you’d have no problem asking your server to leave it off, so don’t be shy about requesting healthy substitutions as well. Restaurants, especially the larger chains, want you to be satisfied, because your business is important to them. Every one of the chains I spoke with said they’d be happy to prepare food any way a guest wanted. Make sure to ask:

    “How is this prepared?” even if it’s called “light” on the menu. “Is this fried? Can you make it baked, grilled, steamed or broiled without using much oil?”
    “Can you prepare this without the cheese/sauce and/or can you put the sauce on the side?”
    “How many ounces/how large is this dish?”
    “Can you make this without soy sauce or MSG?”

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Diet Detective's Guide to Casual Dining Restaurants 2011 Part 2: Olive Garden, P.F. Chang's, Chili's, Ruby Tuesday and T.G.I. Friday's

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