Can You Get A Healthy Meal Here?

July 8, 2011   43 Comments

Snack Girl recently visited a chain restaurant (not the one photographed above) and conducted her own thrilling investigation of healthy options.

Are Chain Restaurants Healthy?

What is the healthiest food you can eat? I think most of us would say it is fresh food made from real ingredients that are minimally processed.

When I go out to eat, I expect that a chef has cooked the meal that is served to me. That is what I am paying for, right? I am there because I don't want to cook.

At the chain restaurant I visited (to protect the waitstaff I will not name it - let's call it Mario's), I ordered minestrone soup. When it arrived it was SO salty that I decided that it was inedible and did something I never do - I complained.

When the waitress approached, I said, "This soup is REALLY salty. I know a little about food and I think the chef made a mistake."

The waitress said, "Do you love food?".

I replied in the affirmative.

"Then why are you eating here?"

This was not the answer I was expecting :)

"I can't change the soup because it is made at our headquarters and we just heat it up. I hate it when customers complain and there is nothing I can do for them."

Ummm, okayyyy.

Mario's business plan is to make a bunch of cheap food in one place and have their staff just heat up the PROCESSED food that you are served.

Try this - go to a chain restaurant where you sit down and order such as Applebee's, Chili's, Outback Steakhouse, Friendly's, Denny's, Ruby Tuesday, Houlihan's, etc. and make a wrong turn in the restaurant.

Yes, I am suggesting that you walk quickly toward the kitchen entrance (as if you need to go to the bathroom) and then spend as much time as they allow you peering into the kitchen! What do you see there?

Well, I have done this and was shocked to see very little fresh food. There was a couple microwaves, a grill, a deep fryer, and not much else. The staff wasn't cooking, it was tossing prepackaged food together to serve on your plate.

I have also watched a frozen food truck with BOXES of frozen hash browns, sausages, etc. unload into a local diner (not a chain).

Why am I paying someone to heat up CRAP that I could heat up for myself for a lot less money?

The restaurant I went to, Mario's, has this beautiful oven in the center that they use to make pizzas - so, I thought I was going to a place where they actually cook. The kitchen is open and I realized that they are just putting together pre-made dough, sauce, and cheese to make the pies.

Nothing is really fresh and even the salads have a topping of mixed lettuces while the bottom of the salad is just iceberg lettuce.

Just like Domino's! (except that I am paying a lot more for it!)

I have found restaurants in my town that do make things from scratch (thankfully) and I have made it my mission to avoid all restaurants that reheat packaged food and then serve it to me as if someone was actually cooking.

I can't believe I am writing this - but go find restaurants with chefs that actually COOK when you go out to eat. I am sure that food will be tastier, fresher, and healthier.

What do you think of chain restaurants?

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First 20 Comments: ( See all 43 )

ı love you

Great idea to walk into the restaurant kitchen!

There used to be a website - that had over-the-top food items. While not its intention, the site helped me change my diet/lifestyle.

So...I noticed, while watching NFL games, that the food on the commercials looked a lot like that website. So ... I decided to take snapshots ... take a peak and see what you think

BTW, the Western diet and be hysterical ... here's the proof ... You'll be ROTFL after watching these.

Ken Leebow

My husband is a pest control specialist, and as a result, he spends much of his time in local restaurant kitchens. I have to say, since he started his job, the number of restaurants we eat in locally has declined in dramatically, both because of the lack of cleanness in kitchens and because of the very issue you noted!

Have you noticed a trend in commercials lately (specifically Sonic and Papa John's) that brag that they are proud to announce they are now using REAL food in their dishes? Papa John's brags that while other chains can't say this, he uses REAL sausage (um, as apposed to WHAT??) and Sonic is bragging that they are now using real ice cream in their desserts. What the heck were they using before?!? This is very alarming to me, has anyone else noticed that? Apparently, using fake chemicals is so prevalent that they now get to brag for using the stuff I thought they were using the whole time.

I saw that papa johns commercial too and was weirded out! I was never under the impression that most restaurants (especially chains) actually have a "chef". Restaurants like that are usually expensive.

My husband and I have a mental list of places we will never eat at again. Many of the places you mentioned are on that list.

We make an exception for wings though.

I stopped going out to eat a long time ago. It is almost impossible to find healthy food out there. I will occassionally enjoy Panera salads but yes these chain restaurants are known for reheating. Yuck to them all!

Most daycares/schools/fast-food/chain restaurants ect use processed pre packaged foods. Things like beef crumbles are mostly soy, salt, and seasonings, cheese us the cheapest they can get, fruit is canned in heavy syrup and veggies canned. They toss so much of the product anyway, and the idea is for it to be simple and fast to put together and serve.

Papa Johns pizza is horrible. I even have to persuade family members sometimes from ordering it, insisting on this reliable local joint up the road that actually makes pizza that tastes REAL and fresh. Making your own food is fifty times better for you, I've been good with that the past few years, although I am guilty of getting lazy once in a while and heading to a chain like Outback for a steak and beer on the weekends...

I learened this lesson from the Chefs at our Culinary School (where I teach in another area of the University). I was stunned that some of my favorite places, who proclaim to have such "fresh" and "healthy" choices actually are misleading the customers! Thanks for pointing this out to your readers...we truly do have to be careful!

Really good question! I gained quite a few pounds at Chili's.

I met friends at a local restaurant where the real live human chef makes really good food (with local ingredients where possible) from scratch so we were surprised when the kid's menu "chicken fingers" were prepackaged nugget thingies. The kid at our table is used to real food and we ended up sending them back for a good grilled cheese (local cheddar on homemade bread) instead. But the waiter said most kids balk at real chicken strips so they went to the "fast food" type for the kids menu. It gave us all something to think about....

I have to agree with megrcam51. I've always laughed when I see foods at the grocery store that say "Now made with real cheese!" Oh, well I just assumed that as this is a cheese product you were always using real cheese! Silly me!

I also laugh when I see commercials for Burger King's 'flame-broiled hamburgers.' I guess it's possible (though I'm betting on unlikely) that they were flame-broiled at one time, but everything at BK is nuked in the microwave. I know because I worked there in high school (not that long ago) and I seriously doubt that things have IMPROVED since then.

On another note, my husband works at a barbeque restaurant. It's not really a chain, but it has 5 stores in Oklahoma. They smoke all their meats and actually use the grill. They buy bread pre-made, and their desserts are made but not cooked so they do have to bake them. Anyways, it's not perfect but it's the closest thing I've seen to 'homemade' food at a restaurant. It's hard to find the small diner-types around here, and I can't think of any chain or fast-food that does anything close to that much actual work.

that's one of the many reasons I prefer to eat at home...I can prepare food how I want it, it's healthier, and of course cheaper :)

I have a firm rule not to eat at chain restaurants. Support local business' like snack girl said that cooks their own food...

Snackgirl, this is actually a shocking discovery. You should write an article for a national newspaper on this - what a travesty.

Its funny you say that! I live in Melbourne Fl and found a great Italian place called Amici's (friends). When I had the food it was just like I had cooked it myself but better!! The thing is you know when you are eating good freshly prepared food. You just can't mistake the quality you know?

@Sammy....I agree. I used to do phone installs and the demark is usually in the kitchen. I, too, made a list of places I no longer wanted to eat. People laugh at me and call me weird for thinking the way I do but that was when I really started examining where I would get my food and "dine" out. Guys who want to date are generally knocked for a loop when going to a restaurant doesn't interest me. It makes them have to work a little harder because they will not be getting away with a cheap meal at Chili's or Applebee's. I don't even darken the doorstep of those places. 90% of these restaurants get their food from the same suppliers. It smells the same, tastes the same and is the same bad for you. The only difference is one restaurant has red sauce made from a chemical concoction of flavors while the other restaurant has a white or yellow sauce from a different concoction. It's all very boring and a waste of time and money.

Wonderful post! **applause**

I am so lucky to live in an area that has dozens of restaurants that serve local, clean fod with lots of veggie and healthy options. If you're ever in Asheville, please check out Homegrown:

Just one example of the slow food movement we have going on around here. What's funny to me is that even being surrounded by healthy choices doesn't stop people from eating at the crappy chains. Every time I drive by Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Chili's, they're parking lots are packed! I for one am willing to spend a little more and wait a littel longer for fresh, tasty REAL food!

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