Subway, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A and Chili's are some of the most popular food chains around with choices that are hard to pass up. So we wanted to know: Can you still enjoy a meal out without derailing your diet? Registered dietician Dr. Catherine Kruppa, of Advice for Eating, tells us what to pick and what to skip.
We started with two meals from Chili's. The Monterrey Chicken for example, has 940 calories and 51 grams of fat. But, things get worse: This dish is loaded with 3,560 milligrams of sodium -- nearly 2,000 more than the recommended daily allowance.
Kruppa said the dish could easily appear healthy, but upon closer inspection it's actually one of the worse on the menu.
"You think, 'Oh, I'm getting a chicken breast,' but as you can see (there's) cheese, bacon," said Kruppa. "Chili's is scary if you're someone trying to make healthy choices, and the majority of menu options are 1,000 calories and over."
Instead, Kruppa suggests swapping that Monterrey Chicken for the Classic Sirloin with a side of broccoli and corn on the cob. Coming in at just 500 calories with 22 grams of fat and a slightly improved 1,720 milligrams of sodium, Kruppa said the steak is not a bad choice at all.
"This is a small steak, not a 16-ounce small steak with double vegetables. Great option," said Kruppa.
We then picked two dishes from the menu at P.F. Chang's -- a favorite for Chinese food. Hunan-Style Hot Fish has 1,000 calories, 43 grams of fat and 3,460 milligrams of sodium.
According to Kruppa, more than 500 calories in one sitting and your body stores the extra as fat. Instead, Kruppa recommends the Shrimp with Lobster Sauce as a much better choice.
"Shrimp or scallops are always the best option in anything you get at P. F. Chang's," said Kruppa.
Although most people save calories by opting for brown rice instead of white, another tip Kruppa suggests is skipping the rice all together. Ordering the Shrimp with Lobster Sauce without rice shaves 300 calories.
Kruppa added if you absolutely have to indulge on something unhealthy, whether it's the Monterey Chicken or Hunan-Style Hot Fish, she said to "cut it in half and take it home for the next day. That's much better than eating it at one time."
If you're grabbing a burrito at Chipotle, ditch the tortilla and forget the chips and salsa, said Kruppa. The Burrito with steak, black beans, cilantro lime rice, cheese, sour cream and roasted chili-corn salsa is a whopping 1,090 calories, 40 grams of fat and 2,195 milligrams of sodium.
"The tortilla itself is 300 calories. So choosing it in a salad does reduce you by 300 calories, but a typical burrito is 1,000 calories or higher depending on what you put it in," said Kruppa.
Instead of one Burrito, Kruppa said you can get three Soft Corn Tortilla Tacos with steak, cheese, lettuce and salsa. That will only set you back 525 calories, and 14 grams of fat.
"Corn tortillas have half the calories as flour tortillas, so any time you have the choice to eat corn over flour, that is half your calories," said Kruppa.
But the biggest surprise might be what's in the Chick-fil-A Cobb Salad with avocado lime dressing. Topped with the fried chicken and salad dressing, it has 770 calories.
Kruppa says the Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich with pickles is only 440 calories, and you can get it on a wheat bun to save more calories. Kruppa noted you can also shave another 140 calories from the sandwich by ordering grilled chicken and skipping the mayo.
At Subway, you can get a salad and a sandwich for under 500 calories -- if you choose the right combination. A Steak and Cheese Toasted Sandwich and a salad loaded with veggies is only 490 calories. Much better than the Big Philly Cheesesteak and salad with ranch, which combined is 770 calories.
For salads, Kruppa said to put dressing on the side and dip your fork just in the amount you need, instead of covering the entire salad with dressing.
And last, we took a look at ice cream from Baskin-Robbins. The Oreo Layered Sundae is 1330 calories, has 61 grams of fat and 146 grams of sugar. But, at nearly 1000 calories less, the Oreo Cookies'nCream Ice Cream in a cake cone is the better choice for those with a sweet tooth. With only 365 calories, 18 grams of fat, and 34 grams of sugars, it satisfies the sweet craving, without packing on the pounds.
Although the majority of meals from these restaurants are more than half a day's calories, Kruppa said you can still enjoy eating out if you remember to keep things simple. Eliminating the sauce, the starchy sides and choosing small portions is key.