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September 10, 2018 / Emily Polson

Best Things to Order at Chipotle, Cheesecake Factory & More

Restaurant ordering and eating at table

When you’re making your own meals, it’s easy to know exactly what’s going into your body. But when you’re out to eat, where do you start? Even though most restaurants now list calorie counts on their menus, not all calories are created equal: carbohydrate content, sugar, sodium and fat can vary widely from dish to dish, sometimes in surprising ways.

To help guide you when you’re going out, we’ve researched options for four common chain restaurants across America. Here are the best things to order at Chipotle, Panera, Applebee’s, and Cheesecake Factory ... plus the worst offenders to watch out for.

Best and Worst Things to Order at Chipotle

The average order at Chipotle contains over 1000 calories, as well as a full day’s worth of sodium, and 75% of your daily intake of saturated fat. The unlimited add-ins are a big culprit when it comes to unhealthy Chipotle orders, but another big offender is the tortilla itself. Check out the worst and best ways to get your burrito fix.

Worst: Fully-Loaded Carnitas Burrito

Fill your carnitas burrito with white rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, roasted chili-corn salsa, sour cream, romaine lettuce, and guacamole, and you’re in for a whopping 1315 calories, 144 g carbs, 59 g fat, and a full day’s worth of sodium. Not all add-ins are created alike: carnitas are the highest calorie meat on the menu, and the roasted chili-corn salsa packs the most sodium among the salsas.

Best: Chicken and Black Bean Burrito Bowl

The best way to cut the carbs is to ditch the tortilla enjoy a burrito bowl instead. Chicken (and steak) are the healthiest options for meat, and black beans pack in some extra protein. Opt for  brown rice instead of white, then layer on romaine lettuce and fajita vegetables. Top off with the tomatillo-green chili salsa, which has the least sodium and calories per servings among the salsas. All this adds up to just 560 calories, 14.5 g fat, 1120 mg sodium, and a slim 68 g carbs--wrap it all in a tortilla, however, and you’d be up to 118 g carbs.

Best and Worst Things to Order at Applebee’s

If you want to enjoy traditional favorites at your friendly neighborhood bar and grill, you’re better off getting the classic burger than the fish and chips. Here, however, we’re comparing two salads to show that eating healthy is not as simple as ordering greens.

Worst: Oriental Crispy Chicken Salad

This fan-favorite dish may be full of greens, but it’s also full of calories: 1440, to be exact. The combination of breaded chicken tenders, rice noodles, and sweetened vinaigrette also adds up 93 g carbs. That’s more than athat Panera sandwich! Getting the chicken grilled isn’t much better–you save 130 calories and a dozen grams of fat, but the sodium hikes up to 2230 mg. Better to skip this one altogether.

Best: Thai Shrimp Salad

For a healthy salad that doesn’t sacrifice flavor, try this Thai-inspired option. It’s made up of chopped lettuce, shrimp, edamame, almonds, and a dressing that combines peanut sauce with a chili lime vinaigrette. Best of all, the whole meal is only 390 calories, 21 g fat, 31 g carbs, and 1470 mg sodium–while still giving you 25 grams of protein.

Best and Worst Things to Order at the Cheesecake Factory

While the Cheesecake Factory’s pastas are going to be obvious offenders in the quest for healthy dishes, others may take you by surprise. We’re comparing two chicken dishes to show the range of nutritional info you’ll find depending on how the meat’s prepared and what comes with it.

Worst: Crispy Chicken Costoletta

Between the breaded chicken and the mashed potatoes, this dish contains 103 g carbs and 2,630 mg sodium. It gets worse, though--this huge portion size packs in 2,550 calories and only has 42 g protein to show for it. If you don’t feel like maxing out on your daily caloric intake in one sitting, this is definitely a dish to split, or better yet, skip altogether.

Best: Mexican Chicken Lettuce Wrap Tacos

This chicken dish comes from the “Skinnylicious” menu, and it is nothing short of delicious. While they’re considered an appetizer, the nutritional content shows they’re plenty filling to serve as your meal. Get 24 g of protein from these three lettuce tacos for only 260 calories, 616 mg sodium, 12 g fat, and 49 g carbs.

Best and Worst Things to Order at Panera

Some dishes at Panera are obvious red flags (like the Mac & Cheese and New England Clam Chowder), but others may take you by surprise. We’re comparing two sandwich options to show how much of a difference what’s between the bread can make.

Worst: The Italian on a Hoagie Roll

The Italian deli meats in this sandwich drive the sodium content up to a whopping 2530 mg, which knocks out the 2400 mg daily maximum intake recommended by the American Heart Association. It also contains 880 calories, 75 g carbs, and 47 g fat.

Best: Steak and Arugula on Sourdough

You don’t have to cut out bread completely to stick with a healthy diet at Panera. The full steak and arugula sandwich contains 24 g of protein and only 500 calories. Even with the addition of a garlic and herb cream cheese spread, the sandwich only has 18 g of fat, 51 g carbs, and 860 mg of sodium--by comparison, that’s only a third of the daily recommended amount.

If you're following the Whole30 or low FODMAP diets, make sure you check out our guides for eating out during Whole30 and eating out on a low FODMAP diet!

Emily Polson

Emily is a writer, reader, and traveler from Iowa who has visited twenty-one countries and lived in three. Her first publication was an article in Muse magazine about her summer job as a corn detasseler. She’s a Slytherin, an amateur ukulele player, and a Peter Pan enthusiast. You can follow Emily on Twitter @emilycpolson.


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