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Eating low carb at chain restos

I was reading another thread about chains, and thought for some of us who eat low carb, it might be nice to hear where and what we eat when forced to visit a chain restaurant. I don't have a lot to choose from in my area, at least I don't have a lot I like to visit. But here are a few I visit locally on when I'm on the road:

Hardee's I truly enjoy the low carb burger. I order it without mayo or ketchup, for a totally sour taste I seem to enjoy. I like this way too much.

Qdoba I get a burrito without beans or rice. Sometimes the server takes pity on me and adds a few more veggies or a little more cheese or meat. Or I get a burrito with queso. At any rate, I eat the filling within the burrito, but not the burrito itself.

Panera We always stop here on the road if there is one around, and we eat here frequently in town. I eat a salad usually with 1/2 of a whole grain baguette, and a refillable cup of coffee. Panera is a temptation to me, because I like their bread. Sometimes I splurge for the tomato soup.

Ruby Tuesdays I like to stop here, but I can't remember what I order. The buffet is of limited use to someone who does low carb.

Chilli's I think I get grilled shrimp here. We only stop here when we are on the road. I believe I've had chilli here, because it has no beans. It was pretty good, as I remember.

McDonald's When we are on the road, we stop for coffee midmorning. On one occasion I've had the chicken nuggets with regular mustard for dipping. There isn't a lot of breading on those things, and the chicken does give you a little protein. If they are still serving breakfast, I get a breakfast sandwich and eat it without the bread.

Sweet Tomatoes I can eat pretty well here. I love the turkey chili, which I might eat, leaving the beans. Or I might eat the whole thing. The Sunday brunch is sub par.

If you are low carbing, how do you manage eating out when the choices are chains or nothing?

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  1. Lots of bunless burgers!

    Fast Food - Bunless burger and side salad (most entree salads have more carbs than I'd like. Wendy's Cobb is a good one though). Nuggets are too high carb for me.
    Mexican Fast food- Fajita salad, my favorite meal ever.
    Asian - I can usually get plain sauteed meat and veggies or egg fu yung with no sauce. Wings are ok, but plain.
    Wing places - Another fav! Standard buffalo sauce is usually ok as well as garlic Parmesan.
    Casual sit down- Bunless burger w/ salad, salad with chicken, grilled meat and veggies.

    Convenience stores can be a good option too! 7-11 has packs of hard boiled eggs, cheese slabs, almonds, and pork rinds.
    I've found that eating out low-carb is much easier, more varied and tastier than when I was a vegetarian.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Lixer

      I like Wendy's chicken cesar salad with cesar dressing

      1. re: Lixer

        Thanks for the good ideas, Lixer. I knew someone out there was doing what I have to do when I travel.

      2. I don't eat at any of those chains, or any chain other than Legal Seafoods, really. But same rule applies no matter where I go; hold the bread, rice, noodles, fries, corn starch, and if available, substitute veggies and/or salad. Many years ago, I ate bunless Whoppers at BK, for instance, and that's how I eat burgers I make at home, too. Even if I'm on the road and only sandwiches are available, I just eat the filling and toss out the bread.

        3 Replies
        1. re: mcf

          Eating the filling on a sandwich is a good strategy that I have used. I'd like to know how to hold the cornstarch though! Often you think you are getting a simple chili and instead of, say a little corn flour or mashed beans for thickener, the stuff has the obvious appearance of cornstarch. Happened to me this weekend.

          That's why I like the chili at Sweet Tomatoes. It is obviously not thickened.

          I do think that ordering sandwiches, eating the filling and ordering a side salad gets boring after about the 3rd time. .

          And, if you travel by car as we do, you will probably have to eat at chains. That's why I started this thread.

          1. re: sueatmo

            When I travel by car, I always have a small cooler in the back seat with low carb wraps, cheese, cold cuts, cheese sticks, nuts and water bottles. And some good, dark chocolate.
            Traveling by car makes it pretty easy to skip some or most meals out, I find. We only stop for meals if it's somewhere we want to eat or we need a longer break from driving, preferably somewhere we like to eat. Also, if you plan a trip ahead, you can check the boards for reccos for where to stop in towns along the way, not too far from the highway and have some good food experiences.

            As to corn starch, I was thinking Chinese for that, a general rule. Might not apply here.

            1. re: sueatmo

              For car trips I get bags of beef jerky at walmart.

          2. I just read that Ruby Tuesdays is offering a new entree consisting of 3 veggie sides and the salad bar. They are also offering spaghetti squash marinara - I don't do low carb per se, but that's what I'd order there. at least once, lol.

            3 Replies
            1. re: jujuthomas

              Interesting! I've tried to eat spaghetti squash as spaghetti, and I didn't like it at all. Perhaps Ruby Tuesday has a better method of prep than I! It might be worth a try. I had the salad bar this past weekend, as we were on the road, and I did find enough for me to enjoy a salad. They have vinegar and oil at the end of the salad bar, so I didn't have to eat lousy prepared salad dressings with unknown amounts of carbs.

              But as I wrote earlier, the white chili probably had cornstarch as its thickener. It did taste good though.

              1. re: sueatmo

                Ruby Tuesday's used to have a special low carb menu, but I think they ditched it. They actually made fauxtatoes with cauliflower as a side dish. And low carb wraps, I think. I use spaghetti squash as a side dish, and I love it, but it's not a good sub for pasta, I agree.

                1. re: sueatmo

                  We were on vacation a week or two ago, and ate at a Ruby Tuesday's. DH and I are both on Weight Watchers, and we had the Roasted Spaghetti Squash Marinara. It was delicious!! And to boot, it was 8 PP for that whole big plate. I had the pureed cauliflower on the side, which I love. I think it is 4 PP. The marinara dish was too much for me to eat, so I took home the rest. That made it an 8 PP dinner. I was very impressed, since it is so hard to find points friendly meals out.

              2. I'm big into low carbing. I'll warn you that McDonald's chicken nuggets aren't low carb. It's about half carb and half protein. 4 pieces = 11g carb to 10 g protein . Carb-wise, you'd actually be better off getting a quarter pounder even with the bun. 29 g protein to 40 g carb. Plus you don't have to eat the entire bun.

                For sit-down chains, I'll usually get either a burger or a grilled chicken sandwich and either ignore the bun or ask them to serve it without the bread, with a few greens.

                Subway does salads. You can start with a plate of lettuce, add your selected meats and cheese and all of the typical sandwich veggie toppings.

                Ruby Tuesdays has many chicken and steak options on the menu that aren't sandwiches or pasta based. A good choice for a low carb "fast food" meal.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Christnp

                  You are the second person to inform me that the chicken nuggets aren't low carb. (sigh) At least now I know. I should have checked the menu online, but the first time I got the nuggets I was on the road, and didn't have access to a computer.

                  I have decided that Ruby Tuesdays is a good place to eat for me.

                2. Also, I believe that Cracker Barrel still has a full fledged low carb menu! The availability of nutrition information has somewhat made special menus moot, but I suspect we'll have more options in the coming years. :)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Lixer

                    I've eaten from the low carb menu. Mr. Sueatmo likes to eat there when we travel. I don't, but I go along with him from time to time. I can't say I enjoy the food there, frankly. And the bathrooms frequently are problematical.

                  2. Kentucky Fried Chicken's grilled chicken offerings and green beans are a good go to item. Love that their online menu lists all the carb counts. Otherwise it is a sausage mcmuffin or a burger hold the bun/mcmuffin

                    1. Red Robin offers a burger on lettuce leaves instead of the bun. But their fries and onion rings are really good! LOL

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Bob W

                        Yes, the fried stuff becomes a real temptation when you are doing low carb! I'd forgotten that you could get a low carb burger at Red Robin.

                        It is great to hear about the burgers you can find, and the grilled chicken, and of course the salads. It is just a shame that so little is out there for us that is real food.

                      2. I don't eat low carb, but you could put together a fantastic low-carb bowl at Chipotle. No rice, meat, veggies, beans?, salsa, sour cream, cheese, lots of lettuce...No burrito shell to dispose.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: puddin head

                          I've eaten there before, but it isn't my fave. Of course eating low carb means by definition that it will be hard to find menu items I can eat. I do eat at Qdoba. Of course your "no rice,meat, veggies, beans?" is not accurate. I do eat meat and veggies. I would eat a small quantity of beans. I wouldn't eat a burrito wrap, though.

                        2. I'm reviving this thread. (I hope) I have recently been able to find food at Ruby Tuesday's and Red Robin. For those of you near a Pasta House (St. Louis area chain) there are 3 menu possibilities for eating low carb. I like the grilled salmon (Atlantic) the best. They do a decent steamed broccoli with it as well.

                          What I get out of the posts that were left here (thank you very much!) is that the most popular choices are burgers. Does anyone manage other sorts of food? If your family wants chain Italian, what do you order, for instance? I can't do very strict low carb for a long time on the road, but I have better success eating limited carbs a few times a day. How do you manage?

                          1. I feel your pain. Basically we're screwed in this carb-obsessed society when it comes to chain/fast-food. It's always a plate of carbs, stuffed into a carb shell, between carbs with carb sauce, stuffed with carbs with carbs on the side, and would you like some carbs with that. No wonder everyone is diabetic. Basically you're stuck with a variation of a Chicken Caesar, hold the croutons.

                            As you mentioned, Red Robin has a couple of good entrees you can also turn into salads (IIRC one is the Ensenada Chicken; ask them to just chop up the whole platter for you in the Kitchen). Qdoba has good Burrito Bowls if you hold the beans and rice. Stay away from those chips or I'll smack your hands!

                            You'd think Asian would be easier but as has been mentioned, there's the corn starch and sweet sauces to contend with even if you can will yourself away from the Rice and Noodles. But I have been known to polish off the lion's share of a whole roasted duck (no sauce) with stir-fried veg with no problem.

                            If you're in the Southwest you already know about In-N-Out's 4x4, Protein style.

                            You can do just fine at Olive Garden or other Italian Chains with Soup & Salad and their Protein-based entrees, and have them double up on veg rather than pasta. Most chain Italian places also have plenty of veg sides as well as things like Scampi, Mussels, Clams, etc in butter and wine -- not breaded and baked -- that I'll put together to make a nice dinner.

                            10 Replies
                            1. re: acgold7

                              Good ideas here. I forgot to add before that I've gotten grilled shrimp platters in at least a couple of chain places. I found these to be very good. Yes, and I don't care for Chicken Caesar all that much! I find the inevitable grilled chicken breast.

                              Hardees has added a Turkey burger to its menu, and I like it made low carb style very well, hold the mayo and ketchup please!

                              It sounds like I eat at chains all the time, but really, I end up at chains when we travel on the road, and we do that fairly often.

                              1. re: sueatmo

                                Cobb salads are good if you can find them. I don't love Chicken Caesar either but sometimes they're the only alternative and they seem to be ubiquitous. But why on Earth would you hold the mayo on anything? Fats are very important to moderate that Blood Glucose spike.

                                Some KFCs have grilled chicken and Green Beans available as sides. Burger joints are largely killers.

                                1. re: acgold7

                                  I try to watch fats as well as eating low carb. I can't seem to lose past a certain point on low carb. I am trying now to lose a few calories every day, but still eat low carb. But I also just like a nice sour hamburger!

                                  1. re: acgold7

                                    I've heard and read that said about fats, but they've never made a diff in my glucose peak timing, post meal. I eat fat because it's GOOD. Hold the toast and croutons. :-)

                                    1. re: mcf

                                      I know. I thought low carbing was the total answer for me. I do keep off a certain amount of weight doing low carb, but my cholesterol is still high. I've reduced red meat intake and egg yolks. I eat pretty lean anyway. I make sure to get in my fish. But it doesn't budge. I think to lose more weight, which would possibly help with the cholesterol, I need to reduce total calories. But I eat such a restricted diet now, I have a hard time deciding to be hungry all the time. I may do it anyway though.

                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                        Google intermittent fasting. Once you get used to it you're not really hungry during the fasting period, and you eat the same number of calories during your eating period. Lots of studies backing up its benefits.

                                        1. re: sueatmo

                                          Sanjay Gupta is doing heart attack prevention specials and in it, the correct info is presented about cholesterol not causing heart disease, if LDL is the large, fluffy particle size which happens to be what low carbing produces. Rising HDL and falling TGL indicate that LDL is of the harmless variety no matter how high it is, like my mothers's was; high LDL zero atherosclerosis, and my friend's father, LDL of 395 lifelong; died of non heart related causes at 95. I'd eat the meat, fat and yolks, they are not the reason cholesterol rises. LDL rises in response to high insulin levels.

                                    2. re: sueatmo

                                      Fast food is always the low-carb killer for me, but I've been known to order a burger or grilled chicken sandwich and just add it to a salad. Even better are any kind of taco salad - I don't sweat the small amounts of corn starch in taco meat, and easily avoid the huge, greasy taco shell they're usually served in. (I also don't sweat tomatoes - quality of life issue there - along with onions.)

                                      Any casual dining generally has, as mentioned before, some version of grilled protein w/steamed veggies available, so they're easy enough to navigate.

                                      ETA: If the family wants pizza, most pizza places have added some kind of wings to their menus - if they're not the breaded version they're fair game. When I'm all serious about low-carbing, I'll also just eat the toppings and cheese off of the pizza - bread loses its appeal for me when I'm doing really well, so it's easier to do than you'd think.

                                      1. re: shanagain

                                        I've eaten the toppings off pizza before.

                                        Yesterday I ordered chicken vegetable soup, a side salad and one piece of fried chicken. The fried chicken was the reason we were there. I often eat a la carte. But it often takes me several visits to a place to get the hang of eating there.

                                  2. If you eat Mexican, try chillis relenos, fajitas,, carne asada, and of course no chips or wraps.

                                    Applebees has several, one of my favs is rueben sandwich, no bread, with the grilled shrimp spinach salad, dressing on the side.

                                    The calimari @ Olive Garden doesn't throw me out of ketosis, nor did the coconut shrimp @ Red Lobster, no fries or rice of course.

                                    You can get sandwiches almost everywhere, hold the bread, Arbys for sure.

                                    18 Replies
                                    1. re: Nanzi

                                      I agree about the no bread sandwiches. This is OK for a few meals, but gets old if you are on the road. I wouldn't mind trying a no bread reuben though!

                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                        When traveling by car, we have a small (Igloo sized) cooler with low carb wraps or pitas, cheese, cheese sticks, nuts, water. If we buy sandwiches or sandwich foods, we just transfer to the low carb bread. No bread Reuben is very good, but some low carbers can also afford a one slice Reuben, using either Arnold melba thin or Weight Watchers rye.

                                        1. re: mcf

                                          There are some good low carb breads out there. Currently I'm buying from WF sprouted grain breads that come in way low in carb per slice. The breads are coarse--my favorite--and pretty flavorful. There are some other low carb bread which are OK, but what I find at WF please me most. I keep them in the fridge. I like the whole wheat and the 'rye.'

                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                            Even if you just rravel with the bread in the car, you can buy cold cuts or sandwich fillings almost anywhere on the road.

                                            1. re: mcf

                                              Or you could just *not* bring the bread, and then you wouldn't have to pick the fillings off the bread you didn't bring when you don't get the not-sandwiches you didn't order because you can't eat sandwiches since you're trying to avoid carbs.

                                              Although I would love to see the look on the kids' faces on a road trip where you brought the bread, bought the fillings, built the sandwich carefully, then deconstructed the whole thing, threw the bread away and only ate the fillings and veg. The look on their faces would undoubtedly be priceless.

                                              1. re: acgold7

                                                My kid is 24. We mostly brought our own cold cuts. Wraps are an easy to eat thing to eat while still driving, much more so than cold cut rollups.

                                              2. re: mcf

                                                I do have a thermal bag that I can use for car trips. I put blue ice thingies in it. I have not carried bread before, but I might try that. Eating is such a hassle sometimes when you do low carb. I like carrying a little fruit, snack bars that have fewer than 20 g of carb, and nuts for snacking, celery sticks. I think 1/2 loaf of bread would fit as well.

                                                1. re: sueatmo

                                                  I did very low fat years ago, including Ornish. That was a pain in the neck, hardly could find anything suitable that was worth eating anywhere. Low carb is a complete breeze, and I've been doing it over a decade. Pretty much everyone has proteins and salads and veggies. Just hold the bread, rice and spuds. I've had so many more good choices and easy times finding stuff I can eat on low carb than I did before PLUS, everthing tastes so much better with fat!

                                                  1. re: mcf

                                                    This works until you go to a nice place that serves actual fine cooking. To be really low carb, you have to ask a million questions about ingredients. I do the best I can. But I get tired of grilled meat with no sauce, grilled chicken breasts and salad. But mostly I eat out at places where it is pretty simple to get a lower carb meal. It can get boring though.

                                                    1. re: sueatmo

                                                      I go to many such places and have no problem. I just don't eat bread, and ask for veggies substituted for starch sides. If you're limited to grilled meat, no sauce, that's the difference; you're eating low carb and low fat, which strips food of flavor and interest. When I ate low fat, years ago, I had much more trouble having enjoyable meals at restaurants; with low carb, I never have to compromise on variety or flavor. Since meta study and the WHI proved the complete lack of benefit of low fat diets, it's hard to imagine why you're imposing such misery on yourself, from my POV.

                                                      1. re: mcf

                                                        I agree completely and my experience has been much the same. I think much goes to one's own personal strategy for this. I see a lot of people saying they're going low-carb, for which I applaud them, and then I see them mention Protein Bars, which are really just candy bars, or "Protein Shakes", which are loaded with carbs and are no more than liquid candy milkshakes, or even "low-carb" bread, which is an oxymoron.

                                                        I just don't think it works that way. Just one of these things can blow your allotment for the day.

                                                        I've got a friend who is the most brilliant guy I know, has battled weight for all his life, exercises obsessively, is a scientific genius, brags how he got an "A" in Organic Chemistry in College, is a gourmet cook and yet still swallows the low-fat high carb dogma thrust down his throat by the weight-loss establishment and won't listen to reason. Kills me. When we go to stay with them he cooks all this high carb food and loads up the table with rice and beans, even though I beg him to also just cook some proteins and green veg so I can eat that. I have to overcompensate with insulin and I always wake up in the middle of the night with cold sweats with my BG down in the 50s and have to start pounding candy because I overshoot.

                                                        1. re: acgold7

                                                          For your information there is low carb bread, several sorts actually, on the market. If you prefer, you can call it reduced carb bread. But I have personally eaten bread that has 5 net carbs per slice. It isn't wonderful tasting, but it is bread. And there are better tasting breads, with a few more carbs out there as well. Whey milkshakes have 3 g of carb, and they taste pretty good with 1 packet of Splenda in them. I fruit + the correct portion of whey milkshake, and they make a nice shake with more protein for satiety than I can get easily other places. There are snack bars that have under 20 g of carb, and they are easily found in a grocery store. You can't eat your carb allottment all at once of course, if you are eating low carb. But you are supposed to space these out every few hours. Having a bar in your purse when you out and about is a godsend.

                                                          Your friend doesn't sound as if he has your best interest at heart.

                                                          I'm with you on green veggies. The more leafy greens I can consume the better. I have some mustard greens in the fridge along with some spinach. I'll stir fry these later this week, or put them in some homeade chicken soup.

                                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                                            No, I know. That works for some people, I guess.

                                                            But 20g in one snack? That's whole day's worth.

                                                            The lowest-carb bread I could choke down was about 11g per slice, so about 22g per sandwich, so again more than a day's worth in one meal. So at that point I usually just say, screw it, I'll have a salad. Then of course everyone's always pushing those low-fat dressings at you which are just sugar-bombs.

                                                            But again it's whatever works for you.

                                                            Ironically, my friend thinks he *is* looking out for me by trying to get me away from all those high-calorie fats. All he sees is the number of calories per gram -- nothing else.

                                                            1. re: sueatmo

                                                              Many do low carb in part to stay away from gluten and over processed products though so that also may be why acgold brings that up. Yes, an atkins bar may only have 5 "net" carbs, but it is still a candy bar and don't fit in to my plan of wanting to be a better eater.

                                                              1. re: Lixer

                                                                I wouldn't argue that the Kashi bar I eat several times a week is super good nutrition. And yes, I eat fewer than 20 g of carb 5 times a day. I'm not diabetic, and I'm not gluten intolerant. Eating bar allows me to eat something sweet, usually in a difficult situation, and I rely on it. I noticed that I slept really well after eating a kashi bar last night for a bedtime snack. Since I started eating low carb, I'm sleeping better, and feeling better as well. I am also interested in eating foods that are not as processed for the most part. However I rely on low carb milk and low carb bread, which are certainly processed foods.

                                                                We each have to find what works for us as individuals. I hoped in this thread I could receive and share ideas about a situation that I find hard but necessary. We ate out last night because I found myself tired after an exercise session earlier in the day. We ate at Chipotle where I opted for a bowl. I didn't tell the service person not to put in rice in time, but I ate around it, eating most of the beans instead. This seems to be an OK meal for me.

                                                            2. re: acgold7

                                                              Why don't you bring your own food/snacks instead of doing that repeatedly? I would. Jerky, cheese sticks in a little cooler, lc protein shakes (muscle milk), nuts.
                                                              You know it's dangerous by the way you feel later, having hypos.

                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                I actually do, but in a more subtle way, "gifting" them with local artisan cheeses, salamis, olives, etc, so they're well-stocked when I'm there. Nothing's more obnoxious than a houseguest who implies your food isn't good enough for them, so I try not to be one of those, and accept what they offer gratefully and graciously.

                                                                1. re: acgold7

                                                                  I think a guest passing out or becoming disoriented by a hypo is more obnoxious.

                                          2. It's amazing to me how many restaurants don't offer vegetable choices outside a side salad or maybe the awful 'mixed seasonal veggies' that are usually half cooked.

                                            Ruby Tuesday has never been a favorite, but I'm more impressed by them now because of the variety of vegetables they offer + the salad bar.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: summeranne

                                              I'm always offered a veggie substitute for starches, or am given one if I ask. Usually, it's sauteed veggies with olive oil and garlic.

                                              1. re: summeranne

                                                We hit Ruby Tuesday on a specific car trip we take twice a year. I've been pleased lately with what the menu offers and cheerful service. I fully understand the suggestions made on this thread, and I appreciate hearing others' experiences. Sure you can ask for a veggie side, and of course I do that. Sure you can remove bread from sandwiches, or ask for a lettuce leaf wrap which is my fave option. On occasion I've had grilled shrimp which I've found to be a treat. But mostly the food is boring, boring, boring. But maybe the problem is that chain food is boring, boring, boring.

                                                1. re: sueatmo

                                                  It certainly can get boring. I appreciate places with interesting burger toppings! I was a vegetarian for a few years back in a very vegetarian friendly city, and I gotta say I love my low-carb options so much more!