Healthy Choices at Three Popular Chain Restaurants

If you’ve been trying to reduce calories, you know that eating in restaurants can be tricky. You can easily save a lot of calories by cooking and eating at home, but eating in restaurants is not always avoidable, nor would we always want it to be. There are occasions like road trips, birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions and get-togethers with friends. We don’t completely want to give up the fun of eating out, but when you see that some menu choices have 1200 to over 1300 calories, it can be discouraging.

If you plan ahead, you can do pretty well without spoiling your diet, and you can plan your other meals and their calorie count around what you plan to order out.

Here are a few lighter, healthy choices at Applebee’s, Olive Garden and Ruby Tuesday.

Healthy Choices At Applebee’s

One of your better choices is the cedar salmon with maple mustard glaze, which is 350 calories without sides. Add the garlic mashed potatoes for 250 calories, your best choice for a carbohydrate side, and steamed broccoli at 100 calories. Another option is to skip the potatoes and add another veggie side, such as the garlicky green beans at 180 calories.

Image of cedar salmon with maple mustard glaze, a healthy choice at Applebee's

Another one of the better choices is the shrimp wonton stir fry at 680 calories.

Shrimp wonton stir fry

One of my favorite choices at Applebee’s is the Bourbon Street chicken and shrimp, which is Cajun spiced and served on a sizzling iron skillet along with roasted potatoes, mushrooms and onions. Unlike the shrimp wonton stir fry, it is not promoted as lighter fare, but it is actually a little bit lower in calories than the stir fry, at 600 calories and equal in calories to their cedar grilled lemon chicken, which is promoted as lighter fare. I’m not sure why it’s not officially included in their lighter menu, although it lacks a nutrition-packed veggie like the broccoli in the stir fry and comes with potatoes which might seem not as low-carb friendly. Still, calorie-wise, it’s in the range of these other dishes and even a little bit lower than some.

Bourbon Street chicken and shrimp

Healthy Choices At Olive Garden

Olive Garden or any Italian restaurant may seem particularly difficult to navigate if you are on a low-carb diet such as Atkins, South Beach or Keto. You’ll find several lighter fare choices under their “Tastes of the Mediterranean” section of the menu. A few of these are pasta-free.

One of these is the fairly new salmon piccata, accompanied by parmesan-crusted zucchini, at 570 calories. The grilled salmon is drizzled with a lemon garlic sauce and sprinkled with tangy capers and flavorful sun-dried tomatoes. Honestly, I have not been much of a fan of zucchini for most of my life, but this parmesan-crusted zucchini is one of the dishes that helped turn me around.

Image of Olive Garden's salmon piccata, a healthy choice.

Olive Garden also has a sauce-less herb-grilled salmon served with steamed broccoli at 470 calories.

The chicken margherita is another high protein, pasta-less dish, served with that same parmesan-crusted zucchini. It is topped with basil pesto — one of my favorite tastes — mozzarella, grape tomatoes and a lemon garlic sauce. This dish has 550 calories for a dinner portion and 380 calories for a lunch portion.

Olive Garden chicken margherita

I’m of the philosophy that cutting calories is more important than cutting carbs or any particular food. Olive Garden also offers some healthy choices in their pasta dishes.

For instance, you can order the chicken giardino at 530 calories. The ruffled pappardelle pasta noodles are mixed with a light, lemon herb sauce and a variety of healthy vegetables such as carrot, red bell pepper, broccoli and zucchini.

Olive Garden chicken giardino

Healthy Choices at Ruby Tuesday

One of my favorite things to order at Ruby Tuesday is the New Orleans seafood. This dish is Cajun-seasoned tilapia with small shrimp and a parmesan cream sauce. Although it’s not included in the official Fit&Trim menu, at 336 calories, it can certainly be light if you choose your sides carefully.

Image of New Orleans seafood, a healthy choice dish at Ruby Tuesday.

This meal comes with two sides. The lightest of the side dishes are fresh steamed zucchini at 22 calories, fresh steamed broccoli at 45 calories or the green beans at 51 calories. In the past, Ruby Tuesday has also offered roasted Brussels sprouts which were delicious. The lightest of the starchy sides is the rice pilaf at 190 calories. The garden salad bar is also a choice for one of your sides.

Another good choice, not necessarily included in the Fit&Trim menu, is to get a small steak with healthy, lighter sides. Try the 6 oz. asiago peppercorn steak at 297 calories. The tasty steak comes with a parmesan cream sauce and shaved asiago cheese.

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Christmas Wreath Fruit Party Tray with Spiced Honey Yogurt Dip

On My Plate (1)


Just the other night, I performed in a Christmas cantata for my church. After the concert, we had refreshments. I had signed up to bring a fruit tray and decided to be creative with it.

Here’s a tip if you are trying to eat healthy and lighter around the holidays. It can be a tricky business during a time with lots of parties and food temptations. If you are asked to bring a tray to a party and you’re given some options, bring a fruit or veggie tray, and you will know that there will at least be some lighter fare available. I’m not saying you can’t indulge a little bit, but you can have some fruits and veggies and a few of the more indulgent choices.

Christmas Wreath Fruit Tray with Dip

I thought I could form my wreath on a round platter around a central dip bowl. I used a white ramekin for the dip and put it in the center before filling it, just to help me form the wreath shape with the fruit. Green grapes — I found giant ones! — made the basic green wreath, and then I added some red fruits for accents. I made somewhat flower-like clusters with strawberries and red grapes and then scattered a few more red grapes along with some blueberries to break up the green. You could certainly come up with your own variations of this, with different fruits for accents and other types of shapes.


I then added a bow made with Fruit by the Foot fruit leather. I was considering another option before I found the Fruit by the Foot. There were some Marlowe brand sour candy belts that looked like ribbons. One variety even had green and red stripes. These ribbons were much shorter than the Fruit by the Foot, but I thought I could make a different style bow, like the sort you stick on Christmas packages, with multiple loops of candy. That may be another option. In the end, I was very happy to find the fruit leather.


I took these photos before I took my tray to the church. I made the mistake of tucking up my ribbons and leaving my nice little bow on the tray while it refrigerated overnight and most of the next day and then stayed in the church fridge during our one hour concert. I gave instructions to the ladies on kitchen duty to adjust the bow before putting it out, but by then, my ribbon was sticky, had stuck itself to the fruit and couldn’t move without tearing. So, if you do this, don’t put on the fruit leather bow until the last minute. Bring your fruit leather wrapped and separate.

I created a yogurt dip to go with the fruit. It’s sweet enough that the yogurt is no longer tart and just has a little punch of cinnamon and ginger.

Spiced Honey Yogurt Dip Recipe

2 cups nonfat Greek yogurt

1 Tbsp. honey

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ginger

You can print my Spiced Honey Yogurt Dip recipe card here.

When You Don’t Have Those Little Taco Seasoning Envelopes …

On My Plate (1)

Photo by bari abakar on Unsplash

The other day, I did find myself in a position where I had every ingredient for tacos but none of those little packets of store-bought taco seasoning. I decided to mix up my own with good results. You may notice that the photo above is not my own. I did not think about taking food photos at the time.

My mix is about the same heat level as those that you can buy, and gives a little spice but is still fairly mild. Some of the others in my family do not have the same tolerance for heat that I do, so I have to keep that in mind.

Susan’s Taco Seasoning

1 Tbsp. chili powder

2 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Print my Susan’s Taco Seasoning┬árecipe card here.

Here are some additional healthy tips if you want to enjoy tacos and cut back on calories.

  1. Watch your portion. You can enjoy two or three, but don’t go totally loco.

2. Use lean ground beef. You can find 90% lean beef, but I usually use 85%.

3. Limit or cut back on the fatty toppings like cheese, sour cream and guacamole/avocado. You can have as many veggie toppings like onion, lettuce and tomato as you like. Avocados are a good source of healthy fats, but they still need to be somewhat limited.


4. Replace regular sour cream with reduced-fat sour cream or …

5. Replace sour cream with nonfat Greek yogurt. You’ll still get that tart taste. Possibly, you could add a little lemon or lime juice to thin it out.

6. Salsa can give a lot of flavor to tacos without adding many calories. I prefer fresh salsa much more than the jarred kind. Some grocery stores sell freshly made salsa or pico de gallo in the produce department or you could make your own at home with chopped tomatoes, onions, sweet and hot peppers.

7. One idea is to limit your toppings to guacamole and fresh salsa. The flavors will balance each other out, a little cool and a little heat, and you’ll get nutritional benefits from the fruit and veggies. If you’re an avocado lover like I am, I don’t think you will even miss the other fats.