- Ilana Muhlstein, a dietitian, reviewed an Applebee's menu for Insider.
- She said she'd avoid deep-fried foods and select menu options that include vegetables and protein.
- She said she'd also avoid menu items with high fat or sugar content, such as the quesadilla burger.
Chain restaurants offer convenient sit-down or to-go meals if you want a bite to eat, and you can find healthy food options on the menu if you're looking for them, said Ilana Muhlstein, a dietitian.
Muhlstein reviewed an Applebee's menu for Insider and shared three healthy menu options she would recommend for customers — and three she would avoid ordering.
The dietitian said she would steer clear of deep-fried foods and instead eat dishes such as the tomato basil soup and Caesar salad, because they contain vegetables and protein and are lower in fat.
Skip the fried appetizers
Muhlstein said that when it comes to picking healthy food items off the menu, you're better off skipping fried appetizers. She said that deep-frying foods adds fat, which can contribute to heart disease. Fried foods are also often covered in refined carbohydrates, such as white flour, which can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to Healthline.
"If you're going to eat some fried food, and you're going to have a handful of fries with your entrée, it's one thing, but to kick off a meal with a sea of deep-fried food is just not the strategy to go into a meal," she said.
Instead, Muhlstein said that the tomato basil soup in the "Extras" section is a great dish to start with because it contains vegetables, fiber, and protein. She said the French onion soup is another good option because of its high protein content, with 16 grams of protein per serving. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends 5.5 ounces, or about 155 grams, of protein per day for the average person. But she said the dish contains a lot of cheese, which adds up to 22 grams of fat per serving, which is 10 grams more than the tomato basil soup. For a 2,000-calorie diet, the recommended daily fat intake is about 67 grams per day. If you're going to have a higher-fat entrée, you might want to skip this one, the dietitian said.
Muhlstein said that it's best to avoid the breadsticks with Alfredo sauce, which contains 1,570 calories and 95 grams of fat per serving.
She said in addition to having high fat and calories, the breadsticks are made up of white bread, which means they tend to have less fiber than whole-grain wheat bread.
Stick to 'straightforward' protein and veggies for the entrée
For entrées, Muhlstein recommended vegetables and protein that aren't deep fried.
She said Caesar salads, with either blackened shrimp or grilled chicken, are a good choice because it contains vegetables, protein, and fewer calories than other options. Muhlstein said that if you order the salad with an extra lemon, you can squeeze the lemon into the salad for flavor and half the amount of dressing, which can take off about 21 grams of fat and 200 calories.
The dietitian also recommended the grilled chicken, blackened Cajun salmon, and 6-ounce or 8-ounce top sirloin because they aren't fried and incorporate vegetables. The steamed broccoli side is a particularly good source of fiber with 2 grams of fiber per serving, she said. People should eat between 21 and 38 grams of fiber per day, the Mayo Clinic said.
Muhlstein said to avoid the quesadilla burger, which she called "unnecessary." The entrée contains 40 grams of saturated fat, and the American Heart Association recommends only 13 grams of saturated fat per day. The entrée is also 1,620 calories, which is a large chunk of a 2,000-calorie diet.
Look for smaller portion sizes for dessert
For dessert, Muhlstein said she liked the brownie bite for its smaller portion size, which is 330 calories compared to the 1,420-calorie blue ribbon brownie. She said more restaurants should incorporate similarly sized dessert options.
Muhlstein said to avoid one of the newer items on the menu: the sugar-dusted donut dippers. She said that this treat contains more than a day's worth of saturated fats and about 40 teaspoons of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that men don't consume more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day and 6 teaspoons per day for women.
Muhlstein called it "one of the worst things on the menu."