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A couple weeks ago, I asked several people what they hated most about trying to eat healthily at restaurants. Overall, I got many of the same replies: portions are too big, so-called “healthy” items aren’t healthy, sodium counts are too high, etc.

Stacey mentioned something that I always think about when trying to eat healthily (even though nobody else brought it up):

 I hate how its more expensive for less. Any time you get the less fat version or the portion controlled portion its most expensive, which i never understood. When its 9.99 for the three course huge portioned meal and 12.99 for the slice of chicken and side of broccoli I’m alot less enticed to get the healthy option.

Of course, I will admit that certain chains are at least making an effort to be healthier. IHOP and Applebees now post full nutritional information online. A few years ago, the only reason we had calorie information was because of New York City laws requiring they post the calories on the menus. I’ll even admit that some of IHOP’s “Simple and Fit” menu items are fairly decent; the “Simple and Fit” French Toast is probably the best on the menu.

Applebees, however, is a different story. They had a decent Weight Watchers menu for a while, but I can’t find any redeeming qualities of their POINTSPlus menu, but at least they’re making an effort with their “Under 550 Calorie” selections.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to have good nutritional information (excluding sodium, but we’re not looking for perfection- just progress). The food has to be decent. The portions they serve are tiny, but they still use ginormous plates. Then, there’s the quality of the food itself- especially the vegetables. They are always either under or over-cooked. I don’t understand. Steamed vegetables are the easiest thing in the WORLD to cook these days, and if anybody knows how to use a microwave it should be the “chefs” at Applebees, right?

Then, I usually have a problem where I only like one or two of the “healthy” entrees a restaurant offers, and no matter what I’m stuck with the same mediocre sides. It’s no wonder I end up cracking and eating pretty much anything that isn’t “diet-friendly” when I eat out.

Ruby Tuesday is different.

See, my best friend, Alex, and I used to go out to the Garden State Plaza’s Ruby Tuesday nearly every weekend (of course, the spinning cups on the carousel were part of the reason we went there). Truthfully, we usually only got appetizers at the bar. The selling point was their 0 proof drink menu with free refills. By the end of the night, we would each polish off several peach splashes (me) and strawberry lemonades (Alex).

These days, however, we’ve discovered that Ruby’s is fairly decent for actual meals- even on a “diet.” For one thing, they have more side options than just badly cooked vegetables. My personal favorite is the roasted spaghetti squash, but they also have tomatoes with balsamic vinegar, mashed cauliflower, grilled asparagus, grilled green beans, zucchini, and more.

Then, they have different seafood options, steak, and chicken. When eating healthily, I usually opt for either the Creole Catch or 7 oz. Petite Sirloin, but if I have extra calories, I’ll splurge and order a 500 calorie half-rack of ribs. A little high in calories, yes, but the meat literally falls off the bones. It’s most definitely worth it.

Their garlic cheddar biscuits are definitely worth it as well. Yes, I know, those “freebies” are “no-nos” in the dieting world, but for just over 100 calories (102) they are a nice treat if you can limit yourself to just one. Somehow, I always manage to make room for a biscuit. Who says you can’t enjoy yourself on occasion?

I can go to Ruby Tuesdays and not order the exact same meal twice in a row-and still stay within my calorie, fat, fiber, carb, and protein ranges. I can’t do that with Applebees (without losing my sanity… or willpower to diet).

And for those of you who think like Stacey when it comes to eating healthy being more expensive, it’s not that bad. Sure, the burgers are $10 and ribs are $14 there (with other options falling in between those prices), Ruby’s has the best eclub around. Sometimes, the coupons are good for $10 off two entrees or 25% off, but they frequently have BOGO coupons available as well. Now that it’s buy one, get one up to $15 it’s a pretty good deal. Two rib dinners with sides for $13.99 plus drinks and tax? Two crab cakes and salmon for less than $20? I’m not so sure Applebees’ 2 for $20 is so enticing after all.

Now, as far as drinks are concerned, since I don’t drink my calories these days, I tend to take advantage of the bar in my own way. I order my water with fresh mint leaves. Yum!

If you want advice for dessert at these chains, I can’t help you. Your best option is still probably to go to Starbucks for after-dinner coffee or tea and a pastry. Might I suggest the Marshmallow Dream Bar, a petite (any of them, really), or splitting a package of Black and White cookies with your friend/date?