Healthy Eating in Miami Restaurants Using the Lighter Menus, Find Low Carb Products

Thousands of Miami and South Florida residents, like millions of Americans, are fighting the obesity epidemic. The need to watch what you eat at Miami restaurants is well known, but not always easy. After all, Miami is a restaurant town! With the tremendous number of choices, residents find themselves eating out much of the week. They do this even more often during the holidays.

Over 70% of families in Miami have 2 parents that work. The convenience of takeout and restaurants is obvious. While fast food is notoriously fattening, meals at chain restaurants can be worse. Chain restaurant meals are often much higher in calories and carbs than anything you would prepare at home. Many nationwide chains have created healthier entrees to appease finicky eaters and calorie-counters. Among those with local branches in South Florida, these three stand out:

  • Cheese Cake Factory has its “SkinnyLicious” menu with 50 meals under 650 calories
  • Applebee’s has a lighter menu of meals “under 550 calories”
  • Chili’s offers “Guiltless Grill
  • Carrabbas offers their “Small Plates”

Light & Healthy Meal Guide for Miami Restaurants

Light, healthy restaurant meals are possible with the spread of separate menus at many chain restaurants. And because eating out is one of life’s great pleasures, I put together this guide to smart restaurant eating in South Florida. It ranges from undeniably healthy meals — with a rich variety of foods, heavy on fruits and vegetables, light on sugar — to fast-food meals that are at least better than the alternatives if you find yourself eating at McDonald’s. Even vegan based restaurants are found.  A few restaurants now serve veggie carbs!

Every lunch or dinner here stays under 650 calories — about one-third the number many adults should eat in a day. Many meals are well under 500 calories. To put this in perspective, a burger and fries at McDonalds might be 1000 calories or more. At a chain restaurant, a burger and fries could easily exceed 1500 calories!  Drive thru fast food restaurants may be even worse. The bottom line: Most meals at American restaurants aren’t healthy. They’re packed with processed food and enough calories to cover two or three sensible meals.

Rather than searching thru item after item on a menu, here are restaurants who have a separate menu with lighter or healthier meal choices. All of these chains have locations all over South Florida, so there are probably quite a few of them near you. All of these restaurants offer entrees less than 650 calories.

Miami Restaurants Healthy Food Choices

The Best Choices Among Miami Restaurants with Lighter Meals

Applebees Low Calorie MenuWithout question the best choice is Cheese Cake Factory, which devotes a separate menu to its SkinnyLicious selections. These include low calorie cocktails, salads, side dishes, entrees and even desserts. Perhaps they are trying to atone for 30 years of offering a menu with huge portions consisting sky high calories, fat and carbs.  You can review over 200 restaurants-both good and bad on Dr Lipman’s Diet APP.

Chili’s and Applebee’s are tied for second. Both have an extensive menu of lighter fare. Even Italian food is  healthy with the “small plate” choices at Carrabba’s Italian Grill. All entrees on this menu are less than 650 calories.

Panera Bread Precautions for Dieters: Of Course–It’s the BREAD

Panera Bread offers a lot of unique choices, especially the bread and baked products. We can use their information to evaluate other bread products where the information is not so clear. Panera is one of those places that seems healthy, but has a lot of pitfalls. As a result, you have to be very selective in what you order. The bagels are large, and therefore very high in calories. Of course, they also have a variety of healthy and delicious options. Their website also includes a cool interactive Nutrition Calculator, so if you buy more than one item, you can have it do the math for you. The serve a variety of healthy breads and include calories and ingredients in their menu. Read more about Low Calorie Breads and Whole wheat vs. whole grain baked products.

Artisan & Specialty Breads – Better Choices

Most of the breads are pretty reasonable, though a few are high in fat or sodium. Most are low in fiber, which means they’re from refined flours. Your best choice is the whole grain bread, of course.

Whole Grain Bread (miche, loaf, or baguette), per 2 ounce serving:
140-150 cal, no sat fat, 1-1.5g total fat, 260-330mg sodium, 27-30g carbs, 2g sugars, 3g fiber, 6g protein

Stone-Milled Rye (miche or loaf), per 2 ounce serving:
140 cal, no sat fat, 0.5g total fat, 380-420mg sodium, 27-28g carbs, no sugars, 2g fiber, 5g protein

Three Seed Demi, per 2 ounce serving:
160 cal, no sat fat, 3.5g total fat, 27g carbs, no sugars, 2g fiber, 6g protein

Artisan Breads – Poorer Choices

Focaccia, per 2 ounce serving:
180 cal, 0.5g sat fat, 4.5g total fat, 28g carbs, 1g sugars, 1g fiber, 5g protein

Focaccia with Asiago Cheese, per 2 ounce serving:
160 cal, 1.5g sat fat, 5g total fat, 23g carbs, 1g sugars, 1g fiber, 5g protein

Cinnamon Raisin Loaf, per 2 ounce serving:
180 cal, 1.5g sat fat, 3g total fat, 135mg sodium, 34g carbs, 11g sugars, 1g fiber, 5g protein

Sourdough Roll, per 2.5 ounce serving:
200 cal, no sat fat, 1g total fat, 400mg sodium, 39g carbs, no sugars, 1g fiber, 7g protein

Bagels – Better Choices

Panera’s bagels range in calories from 290 to 430, in fiber from 2 to 6 grams, in sugars from 3 to 30 grams, and in sodium from 420 to 740 mg.

Whole Grain Bagel
370 cal, no sat fat, 3.5g total fat, 70g carbs, 5g sugars, 6g fiber, 13g protein

Plain Bagel
290 cal, no sat fat, 1.5g total fat, 59g carbs, 3g sugars, 2g fiber, 10g protein (lowest in overall calories)

Sesame Bagel
310 cal, no sat fat, 3g total fat, 59g carbs, 3g sugars, 2g fiber, 10g protein

Bagels – Worst Choices

Asiago Cheese (high fat), Blueberry (high sugar), Sweet Onion Poppy Seed (high calories, high fat), Chocolate Chip (high sugar, high fat), Cinnamon Crunch (very high sugar, fat, and calories), Cinnamon Swirl & Raisin (high sugar), Jalapeño & Cheddar (highest sodium), Everything Bagel (high sodium).

Cream Cheese Spreads – Better Choices

The reduced-fat spreads are the better choices here. However, it’s tough to tell from the nutrition facts since the portions are “small enough” to allow for many of the nutrients to be rounded down to zero. Several of the 2-ounce servings listed in the nutrition guide include 0.5g trans fats, which means the 1-ounce servings also contain some trans fats, even though it says zero. The “Better Choices” then, are the ones that show no trans fats in the 2-ounce serving, meaning they’re lower in trans fats than the others (though it’s impossible to tell by what degree).

Reduced Fat Honey Walnut, per 2-ounce serving:
150 cal, 6g sat fat, 11g total fat, 200mg sodium, 8g carbs, 7g sugars, 1g fiber, 5g protein

Reduced Fat Raspberry, per 2-ounce serving:
130 cal, 6g sat fat, 10g total fat, 200mg sodium, 7g carbs, 6g sugars, 1g fiber, 4g protein

Cream Cheese Spreads – Worst Choices

Plain (highest calories, highest fat, 1g trans fat!), all the other Reduced Fat Spreads (Plain, Hazelnut, Sun-Dried Tomato, Veggie) are listed as containing 0.5g trans fat per serving, so avoid them.

Artisan Pastries, Brownies & Blondies, Cookies, Cakes, Specialty Pastries, Sweet Rolls, Scones, Muffins, Muffies – Worst Choices

They are so high in fat, calories, and most importantly, CARBS.

Baked Egg Soufflés, Grilled Breakfast Sandwiches, and Granola Yogurt Parfait – Better Choices

Egg & Cheese on Ciabatta
380 cal, 6g sat fat, 14g total fat, 43g carbs, 1g sugars, 2g fiber, 18g protein

Breakfast Power Sandwich
360 cal, 6g sat fat, 14g total fat, 36g carbs, 3g sugars, 4g fiber, 23g protein

Strawberry Granola Parfait
310 cal, 4g sat fat, 11g total fat, 100mg sodium, 44g carbs, 28g sugars, 3g fiber, 9g protein

Baked Egg Soufflés & Grilled Breakfast Sandwiches – Worst Choices

The Egg Soufflés are very high in saturated fat, so unfortunately they’re all in the Worst Choices category. Most of the breakfast sandwiches are very high in calories.

Bacon, Egg & Cheese on Ciabatta; Sausage, Egg & Cheese on Ciabatta (high calories, fat, and sodium)

Asiago Cheese Bagel Breakfast Sandwiches (high calories, fat, and sodium) – The ones with bacon and sausage are over 600 calories, and all of these have trans fat.

Jalapeño & Cheese Bagel Breakfast Sandwiches (high in calories, fat, and sodium).

Hot Paninis, Signature Sandwiches, and Cafe Sandwiches – Better Choices

These are all under 400 calories and have 16 grams fat or less per HALF SANDWICH.

Half Mediterranean Veggie Cafe Sandwich on Tomato Basil
300 cal, 1.5g sat fat, 7g total fat, 50g carbs, 3g sugars, 5g fiber, 11g protein

Half Tomato & Mozzarella Panini on Ciabatta
380 cal, 5g sat fat, 15g total fat, 48g carbs, 5g sugars, 3g fiber, 15g protein

Half Napa Almond Chicken Salad Cafe Sandwich on Sesame Semolina
350 cal, 2g sat fat, 13g total fat, 44g carbs, 6g sugars, 2g fiber, 15g protein

Half Asiago Roast Beef Signature Sandwich on Asiago Cheese
350 cal, 7g sat fat, 13g total fat, 32g carbs, 2g sugars, 1g fiber, 24g protein

Half Chicken Caesar Signature Sandwich on Three Cheese
360 cal, 4.5g sat fat, 16g total fat, 33g carbs, 2g sugars, 2g fiber, 21g protein

Half Smoked Turkey Breast Cafe Sandwich on Country
280 cal, 1.5g sat fat, 9g total fat, 34g carbs, 2g sugars, 2g fiber, 16g protein

Honorable Mention: Half Tuna Salad on Honey Wheat
380 cal, 4.5g sat fat, 23g total fat, 32g carbs, 6g sugars, 3g fiber, 10g protein
The Tuna is fairly good on calories and has the lowest sodium of any sandwich, but it’s high in fat.

Hot Paninis, Signature Sandwiches, and Cafe Sandwiches – Worst Choices

Cuban Chicken Panini (high calories & fat), Frontega Chicken® on Focaccia (high calories, fat and sodium), Smokehouse Turkey® on Three Cheese (high sodium), Turkey Artichoke on Focaccia (high sodium), Bacon Turkey Bravo® on Tomato Basil (high calories, very high sodium), Chipotle Chicken on Artisan French (very high calories, very high fat, high sodium), Italian Combo on Ciabatta (very high calories, high fat, very high sodium), Sierra Turkey on Focaccia with Asiago Cheese (high calories, very high fat), Smoked Ham & Swiss on Stone-Milled Rye (high sodium), Tuna Salad on Honey Wheat (high fat).

Soups & More – Better Choices

When part of a “You Pick Two” order, these are about 8 ounces. If ordered separately, they’re about 12 ounces. I’ll use the 8 ounce nutrition information here. (Get a bowl and add 50% to these numbers).

Best choices are under 200 calories

Low Fat Chicken Tortilla
140 cal, 1g sat fat, 4.5g total fat, 750mg sodium, 18g carbs, 1g sugars, 1g fiber, 7g protein

Low Fat Garden Vegetable with Pesto
110 cal, no sat fat, 2g total fat, 830mg sodium, 19g carbs, 5g sugars, 4g fiber, 4g protein

Low-Fat Vegetarian Black Bean
110 cal, 1g sat fat, 2.5g total fat, 980mg sodium, 18g carbs, 3g sugars, 3g fiber, 6g protein

Low fat Chicken Noodle Soup
130 Calories, 1.5 g total fat, 1440 mg sodium, 23 g total carb, 0 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 9 g protein.

Low fat Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
180 calories, 5 g total fat,1340 mg sodium, 22 g total carb, 2 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 20 g protein

Soups & More – Worst Choices

Signature Mac & Cheese (high calories, high fat, high trans fat, high sodium), Baked Potato Soup (high fat, high trans fat), Broccoli Cheddar (high sodium), Cream of Chicken & Wild Rice (high calories), French Onion (very high sodium), New England Clam Chowder (very high calories, very high fat, very high trans fat).

Hand-Tossed Salads – Better Choices

These are also available as part of the “You Pick Two” menu, so I’m using the smaller portion nutrition information. If you order the full salad, you should roughly double these numbers.

Best choices are 200 calories or less

Half Classic Cafe Salad
80 cal, 1g sat fat, 5g total fat, 135mg sodium, 9g carbs, 6g sugars, 2g fiber, 1g protein

Half Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken
140 cal, no sat fat, 4g total fat, 260mg sodium, 14g carbs, 9g sugars, 2g fiber, 14g protein

Half Asian Sesame Chicken Salad
200 cal, 2g sat fat, 10g total fat, 460mg sodium, 14g carbs, 3g sugars, 2g fiber, 15g protein

Half Caesar Salad
200 cal, 4g sat fat, 14g total fat, 310mg sodium, 13g carbs, 1g sugars, 1g fiber, 6g protein

Hand-Tossed Salads – Worst Choices

Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken (high calories), Greek Salad (very high sodium), Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad (high calories, high sodium), Tomato Mozzarella & Basil Salad (very high calories, high sodium), Chopped Chicken Cobb Salad (high calories, high sodium), BBQ Chopped Chicken Salad (high calories).

Sides – Better Choices

Sandwiches, Soups, Salads, and You Pick Two all come with a side option.

Apple or Fruit Cup

Whole Grain Roll (unless, of course, you’re already having a sandwich — then you’re getting plenty of bread!)

Sides – Worst Choices

Regular Potato Chips (fat, sodium)

French Baguette (refined flours, sodium)

Baked Potato Chips (sodium)

Panera Kids™ – Better Choices

Except for the Roast Beef, each of the sandwiches is too high in something, whether that’s calories, fat, or sodium.

Panera Kids Deli Sandwich – Roast Beef
320 cal, 6g sat fat, 10g total fat, 790mg sodium, 35g carbs, 3g fiber, 3g sugars, 23g protein

Panera Kids Organic Yogurt (blueberry, strawberry)
70 cal, 0.5g sat fat, 1g total fat, 40g sodium, 12g carbs, 11g sugars, no fiber, 2g protein (too little protein to help curb the hunger)

Panera Kids Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
410 calories, 3.5g sat fat, 18g total fat, 550mg sodium, 56g carbs, 21g sugars, 4g fiber, 12g protein

Panera Kids Deli Sandwich – Smoked Turkey
300 cal, 5g sat fat, 10g total fat, 35g carbs, 4g sugars, 3g fiber, 21g protein

Panera Kids Deli Sandwich – Smoked Ham
300 cal, 6g sat fat, 9g total fat 34g carbs, 3g sugars, 3g fiber, 21g protein

Panera Kids Grilled Cheese Sandwich
300 cal, 9g sat fat, 12g total fat, 35g carbs, 4g sugars, 3g fiber, 15g protein

Panera Kids™ – Worst Choice

Panera Kids Mac & Cheese
A whopping 490 calories, 13g sat fat, 30g total fat