Low Cal Choices at Family Style Restaurants

Like everyone else we eat out at least once a week. Having a higher calorie, less than healthy meal once in a while is o.k. for a treat. But what happens if you do that every week or more than once a week? That can derail a weight loss or maintenance diet fast! To avoid problems, I have low cal choices for some family style restaurants that I can depend on.

Family Style Restaurant

Thankfully, it’s a bit less challenging than even a few years ago to find suitable choices at most restaurants. However, I encourage you to make your own list of the low calorie meals you like so YOU have something to depend on at each of the restaurants you frequent. This makes eating out less stressful and more enjoyable.

If you haven’t done your homework ahead of time, you’ll need to be vigilant about following eating out strategies to not ruin your diet.  (see Easy Ways to Cut Calories with Restaurant Meals “Easy” is a bit misleading. These strategies are always easier said than done!).

Today I’ll share with you some of my picks for five family restaurants where I live. Because I can only choose from what is available I try to be open-minded and flexible about what I am willing to eat. Sure I see all the yummy high calorie choices on the menus but maintaining my health and weight is more important to me than ordering something I will later regret!

Bob Evans

My favorite meal at Bob Evans is the Potato-Crusted Flounder with Broccoli and glazed fresh baby carrots! I genuinely like this entree.

The fish is a mild whitefish fillet grilled in a delicious potato crust. I ask for hot tea (in the cold months) and unsweetened cold tea (in the warm months) to go along with the meal. The total calorie count is 304 calories. You might have to look for this dish under the “Seniors Menu.” No worry, I’m sure you won’t be denied the meal if you are under 55!

Fish is low calorie as are both the broccoli and carrots depending on how they are prepared. What I especially like is that the potato crust on the fish satisfies my desire to occasionally have something that tastes as good as a higher calorie fried food meal without all the typical calories. This entree is tasty, healthy, low calorie and filling. It has two servings of delicious healthy veggies. What’s not to love?

Cracker Barrel

I like the Cracker Barrel quite a bit since discovering that they have low carb choices. Given that I don’t typically eat a low carb diet why does that matter? Good question. Although I don’t eat a low carb diet, I do try to avoid refined grains and sugars and I keep a tally of my portions of whole grain foods.

Many days I’ve already eaten my allotment of whole grains before I eat out in the evening. The Cracker Barrel gives a couple of filling and healthy choices for meals without the grains.

I choose either the Lemon Pepper Grilled Rainbow Trout (when available) or the Spicy Grilled Catfish. Either dish gives me TWO great tasting fish fillets along with a choice of 3 low carb sides. I choose the green beans, tossed salad, and a side of salad dressing.

To keep the calorie count down on the dressing, I use only a tiny bit. What works well to get the flavor of the dressing without all the calories is to dip my fork in the dressing before taking a forkful of greens.

(For the Cracker Barrel menu, I choose to forgo the sweet baby carrots because they are prepared in a way that adds a lot of unnecessary calories.)

Both meals are very filling if I eat both fillets and all the veggies. I often can’t eat it all. I estimate the total calories ranges from about 350-400 calories per meal.

The hardest part about eating at the Cracker Barrel is avoiding the corn muffins or biscuits!!!

Ruby Tuesday

I have yet to pick a favorite at Ruby Tuesdays because the menu offers quite a few choices. That’s the good news. On the other hand, if this restaurant is as popular where you live as it is for me, you’ll want to be sure to make reservations ahead of time!

I’d recommend the Creole Catch, Petite Jumbo Shrimp, Plain Grilled Chicken, Plain Grilled Petite Sirloin (if you eat red meat, this is a lean cut and a small portion), and White Bean Chicken Chili. Add a side of fresh steamed broccoli or fresh grilled zucchini and you’ve got a low calorie healthy meal for approximately 250-350 calories.

When the calorie count is so low you’ve got an opportunity to add a small garlic cheese biscuit or a little wine as a treat.

Here’s a link to the current menu as a pdf file if you’d like to take a look:

Ruby Tuesday Nutrition Menu

P.F. Chang’s

Most of the dinner dishes served at P. F. Chang’s are high calorie foods. You can come up with a low calorie combo if you do a bit of searching through the nutritional menu online. However, you might be better off choosing a dish you like that provides about twice the calories you might need. Because the portions served tend to be large, all you have to do is divide the dish in half and take the remainder home with you.

Knowing the total calorie count in advance gives you peace of mind when making a selection. If you find it difficult to eat just half you could ask for a take home carton when your meal is served. By taking half off your plate before you even start you can then relax and enjoy your meal!

I’ve had the Almond & Cashew Chicken for 640 calories. When divided in half there’s still room for a bit of rice and a fortune cookie. P.F. Chang’s now serves brown rice, which is a much better choice than white rice even when your portion size is small.

The Buddha’s Feast Steamed, a vegetarian dish, has only 260 calories and Shanghai Shrimp with Garlic Sauce has only 240 calories (both not counting the rice).

P.F. Chang’s Nutrition Menu


I appreciate how Applebee’s has changed their menu in recent years to provide lower calorie healthy options. Here’s some tips taken straight from their nutritional menu online that you might find helpful:

“We are happy to make any modifications or substitutions to your meal that you request, although these adjustments will impact the nutritional information detailed in this document. Following are tips for easy ways to make your meal at Applebee’s your way—and as delicious as ever.

  • Select your entrée from our variety of our Unbelievably Great Tasting and Under 550 Calories or Weight Watchers® endorsed menu items.
  • Ask for reduced fat dressing, if available.
  • Ask for dressings and sauces to be served on the side.
  • Substitute a side salad, steamed vegetables or fresh fruit in place of mashed potatoes, fries or onion rings.
  • Substitute grilled chicken or shrimp in place of fried chicken or shrimp.
  • Select the half portion of any of our Signature Salads.”

My favorite meal at Applebee’s is the Weight Watcher’s Grilled Jalapeno-Lime Shrimp for only 300 calories including sides! It seems hard to believe but I suppose it’s possible because the bulk of the salad is low calorie lettuce and leafy greens. It’s a delicious and filling meal.

I believe I’ve tried the Zesta Roma Chicken & Shrimp for 410 calories and it’s also quite good, if I remember correctly, but not my favorite.


So there you have it. There might not be as many choices as you or I might like but enough to stay on track with a low calorie diet and hopefully not leave you feeling unsatisfied. There are many other restaurants I frequent, family style and otherwise, but many of these are local not national chains.

How about you? Where do you go for a delicious low calorie meal at a family style restaurant? Let me know. I’m always looking for more ideas!