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How To Eat Low-Carb At Your Favorite Casual Dining Restaurant

Posted by Jimmy M. Healthy Living Professional

Last week I was interviewed by my local newspaper here in South Carolina--Spartanburg Herald-Journal--for an upcoming feature story about how I've turned my weight loss success into a business and an interesting topic of conversation came up that coincides with a blog post I've been working on for a while. I told the freelance writer who was interviewing me last Friday that we were just on our way out the door to go to lunch at Denny's and she said, "Well, you can't eat anything healthy there, can you?"

Opportunities to educate never end. :)

I explained how with just a few substitutions of key ingredients that inevitably end up on all the dishes (in the case of Denny's, that would be pancakes or French fries), you can have a very nice low-carb friendly meal that will keep you on the straight and narrow as you pursue a healthier lifestyle. She was surprised because conventional wisdom is that the large portions and high calories served when dining out will prevent you from eating healthy. Not necessarily, as I'll SHOW you today.

After I shared this YouTube video about which restaurants are good for low-carbers, I decided to start taking pictures of the foods I order so you can visualize exactly what I'm getting when I go out. These were taken at various times over the past few months and are a good representation of the kind of things you can order when you visit your favorite casual dining restaurant (I may hit fast food in a future blog post, but I'm not a big fan of it).

In no particular order, here's what I ate at various places:

Christine and I really love to go to Denny's because they allow you to make reasonable substitutions with all of their meals to make them perfect for anyone who is livin' la vida low-carb. As long as you avoid the starchy (hashbrowns and French fries) and the sugary (French Toast and pancakes) menu items and choose better options instead, you'll be good to go.

Here's a sample of what I recently ate on our trip to Denny's:

This is the Meat Lover's Scramble and I substituted mixed veggies consisting of squash, broccoli, peppers, and green beans for the hashbrowns and a side salad with Ranch dressing for the pancakes. You get two slices of bacon, two sausage links, and a ham, sausage, bacon, egg and cheese scramble with it as well. One thing's for sure, you WON'T leave hungry after eating this meal!


Here's what Christine had for her meal at Denny's:

A simple two chicken breast meal with mixed vegetables and a side salad (not pictured) is plenty of protein and non-starchy carbohydrates to keep you satisfied for hours. Adding some butter to your mixed veggies will give you some much-needed extra fat to make this meal tastier and healthier.


Although I was quite upset with Ruby Tuesday when they decided to remove their outstanding low-carb cheesecake from their menu and when they pretty much turned their back on the low-carb consumer after trashing their low-carb menu in 2006, I've begun to warm back up to them because they do offer some excellent dishes for low-carbers to enjoy.

There's one meal I must get when I go to Ruby Tuesday:

The Mini-Burgers & Salad Bar deal is one of the best things around for someone following a low-carb lifestyle. You get unlimited trips to the fresh salad bar where I get a bed of spinach leaves piled high with cheese, eggs, sunflower seeds, bacon, and dried cranberries with Ranch dressing on top to start off. Then I order the mini-burgers without the buns and eat them with mayonnaise and pickles. Add a bowl of mashed cauliflower (YES!) with a couple of dollops of butter and this meal is to die for when you are livin' la vida low-carb!


I know what you're thinking--wait a minute, Jimmy, are you saying I can eat at Olive Garden on my low-carb lifestyle? Yep, as long as you can avoid the temptation of those hot buttery garlic breadsticks (a tall order to ask of low-carb newbies, but not too bad once you've ditch the carbs for a while). Load up on some of their famous salad (sans the croutons) and don't forget to put lots of cheese on top, too! But please avoid the "no sugar added" dessert sham they have to offer at the end of the meal. Not good!

Here's a wonderful dish I ordered at the Olive Garden:

A delicious grilled salmon steak with a touch of lemon and seasoning that is oh-so-yummy and full of healthy omega-3 fats along with a generous portion of non-starchy veggies (mostly broccoli) that I ate with butter to increase the fat content of the meal. You'll never eat this low-carb (about 2-3g carbohydrates) in an Italian restaurant!


I got excited about Applebee's when they introduced world-famous chef Tyler Florence into their marketing efforts to spruce up their menu in late 2006 with a fabulous covert low-carb dish called the Crispy Brick Chicken. So imagine my surprise when Christine and I went there recently and they've removed it from their menu. GASP! Why do they always remove the GOOD stuff?! Oh well, it was hard, but we found something to eat there.

Here was my choice for a meal from Applebee's:

I adore shrimp and always have since I was a kid, so imagine my delight when I got to choose a salad made with spinach leaves--my favorite low-carb veggie--along with some almond slivers, diced tomatoes, a little cheese from Christine's salad, and I substituted Ranch dressing for the warm bacon vinegarette (too much sugar in this dressing!). Not too filling, but the full-size version of this meal is a refreshing low-carb dinner.


Not to be outdone with my salad, here's what Christine ordered:

A spicy chicken breast cut up into bite-sized pieces on top of a bed of salad greens, cheese, diced tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and Ranch dressing. The chicken was quite savory with a hint of spiciness to perfectly complement the cool salad ingredients. Not too shabby for a low-carber to order and enjoy!


Finally, I can't say enough good things about Cracker Barrel. While all the other restaurants have pretty much given up on catering to the low-carb community with a specific menu, they have been one of the only major national chains to keep a low-carb menu prominently displaying options for controlled-carbohydrate lifestyles. WOO HOO, Cracker Barrel! Check 'em out for yourself:

I ordered something off Cracker Barrel's dinner low-carb menu:

Smothered Grilled Chicken Tenderloins with a side salad and a double portion of green beans (with butter on top, of course!) made this a wonderful low-carb meal. I'm a big fan of cheese and bacon, too, and you get plenty of it with this menu item. The green beans are those sweet kind that have a little bit of crunch to them--but what else would you expect from Cracker Barrel?"


So there you have it! Suggestions about how you can eat low-carb at your favorite casual dining restaurants. This is by no means a comprehensive listing of what you can order when you eat out, but it gives you an idea about what you can do to make virtually ANY meal a low-carb one. Steaks and salads are ALWAYS acceptable, although be careful about hidden carbs in sauces, toppings, and dressings.

Livin' la vida low-carb need not be difficult or inconvenient to follow. When you make this your permanent lifestyle change, adapting to what fits YOUR life is important. And that will include the occasional visit to restaurants.
Answers (1)
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Thanks for the casual dining reviews! This is very helpful and I will try the grilled salmon the next time I'm at the Olive Garden. I think so many people don't achieve their weight loss goals because it's hard to eat healthy on the go. While dieting, people still want to go out to eat with friends, so thanks for showing people how to be practical while eating out.
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