Snack menus are popping up at restaurants everywhere. But how healthy are they? We reveal the best and worst picks. By: Karen Ansel, MS, RD
Text: Karen Ansel, MS, RD
February 16, 2011
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Snack Menus Decoded
Move over appetizers, entrées, and desserts. Thanks to our love affair with snacking, restaurants everywhere are now offering snack menus. In the last four years the number of snack foods on restaurant menus has exploded 170% and that growth is expected to continue to skyrocket. While snack menus might sound like a great way to get a grip on between-meal hunger, most of their offerings aren’t always healthy (think sliders, quesadillas and wings), often packing enough calories and sodium to qualify as a meal.
Our guide to the best and the worst of the new snack menus will keep you on the right track.
2 of 9Photo Courtesy of McDonald's
Thumbs up: Grilled Chipotle BBQ Snack Wrap (pictured) They sound so small and innocent, but many of McDonald’s Snack Wraps hardly qualify as snacks. With 10 varieties to choose from these mini wraps range from 250 to 430 calories. When only a snack wrap will do, curb your hunger with the Chipotle BBQ Snack Wrap and walk away for 250 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 670 milligrams of sodium.
Thumbs down: Angus Mushroom & Swiss Snack Wrap The dubious distinction of most dangerous snack wrap goes to the Angus Mushroom & Swiss Snack Wrap. Weighing in with a whopping 430 calories, 26 grams of fat, and 10 grams of saturated fat this “snack” has more fat and calories than a medium order of fries.
3 of 9Photo Courtesy of California Pizza Kitchen
California Pizza Kitchen
Thumbs up: Asparagus & Arugula Salad (pictured) The offerings on CPK’s Small Cravings menu run the gamut from healthy to hefty. On the healthy end, this snack menu also boasts several snack-sized salads. Our top pick is the Asparagus & Arugula Salad with 190 calories and 2 grams of fiber. Packed with good-for-you asparagus, arugula, and sun-dried tomatoes, it’s an easy way to score a serving of veggies. Honorable mention goes to the 280-calorie Wedge Salad.
Thumbs Down: Mediterranean Foccacia It was neck and neck, but the Mediterranean Foccacia tips CPK’s snack menu scales with 660 calories. Finishing close behind is the 510-calorie Spicy Chicken Tinga Quesadilla.
4 of 9Photo Courtesy of Uno Chicago Grill
Uno Chicago Grill
Thumbs Up: Housemade Guacamole and Chips (pictured) Late afternoon is prime snack time and Uno’s Snack Hours Menu steps up to the plate. Available from 4 to 7pm (and again after 10pm), you’ll find munchies like mini deep-dish pizzas, nachos, and crispy cheese dippers, all guaranteed to set you back some serious calories. Play it safe with the Housemade Guacamole and Chips for 230 calories.
Thumbs Down: Buffalo Chicken Wings The granddaddy of the Snack Hours Menu, these wings sport an over-the-top 990 calories, 84 grams of fat, and more sodium than you should eat in a day.
5 of 9Photo Courtesy of McCormick & Schmick’s
McCormick & Schmick’s
Thumbs Up: Peel & Eat Shrimp McCormick & Schmick’s is famous for its budget-friendly bar menu. But just because the prices are low doesn’t mean the food is low-calorie. Buried at the bottom of the menu is one true calorie bargain: the steamed Peel & Eat Shrimp with six plump, large shrimp plus cocktail sauce for a shockingly low 45 calories.
Thumbs Down: Half-Pound Cheeseburger It may only cost $2.95, but this burger is more of a meal than a snack. Served with a side of fries it will set you back an ugly 1,120 calories and 57 grams of fat.
6 of 9Photo Courtesy of Houlihan’s
Thumbs Up: Pot Roast Slider (pictured) Satisfy your inner carnivore with this surprisingly healthy sandwich from Houlihan’s. You’ll bite into beefy pot roast topped with decadent red wine-mushroom sauce and fried onion straws – all for a respectable 229 calories and 10 grams of fat.
Thumbs Down: White Bean & Artichoke Hummus Sometimes what seems healthy isn’t. Virtuous as it may sound, one order of this plant-based dip will set you back an astounding 972 calories and 51 grams of fat. With 2,147 milligrams of sodium it’s a salt bomb, too.
7 of 9Photo Courtesy of P.F. Chang's
Thumbs Up: Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (pictured) P.F. Chang’s Happy Hour menu is packed with no-guilt nibbles—if you choose wisely. For the best of the best, go with the Steamed Shrimp Dumplings. Each little plateful packs 9 grams of protein for a skinny 110 calories. Even the dipping sauce is guilt free with only 20 calories. With just 130 calories and 6 grams of heart-friendly vegetable protein, the edamame dumplings are a close second.
Thumbs Down: Crispy Green Beans The word “crispy” is a dead giveaway that this is a good dish gone bad. Innocent green beans go downhill quickly when they’re slathered in batter and deep fried. The result: a jaw-dropping 895 calories and 70 grams of fat per plateful. And that’s not even including the additional 310 calories and 33 fat grams you’ll get from the dipping sauce. A better bet: the 380-calorie edamame which supplies a filling 15 grams of fiber and 30 grams of protein.
8 of 9Photo Courtesy of The Cheesecake Factory
The Cheesecake Factory
Thumbs Up: Arugula Salad Even though calorie counts are nowhere to be found on the Cheesecake Factory’s Small Plates and Snacks menu, their SkinnyLicious picks (all 490 calories or less) provide some damage control. For the best of the bunch go with the Arugula Salad. You’ll squeeze in a serving of produce and score satisfying greens, raisins, Marcona almonds plus Parmesan – all for a slimming 133 calories and 9 grams of fat.
Thumbs Down: Crispy Fried Cheese Breaded and fried, this fat-laden dish screams trouble at 516 calories and 16 grams of saturated fat.
9 of 9Photo Courtesy of Friendly’s
Thumbs Up: Kids’ Sized French Fries (pictured with Kids' Mozzarella Sticks) With only five fried or grilled options, Friendly’s Munchies Menu isn’t exactly figure friendly. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything with less than 570 calories and 35 grams of fat to choose from. Try the kids’ menu instead - and satisfy your fry fix for only 200 calories and 9 grams of fat.
Thumbs Down: Friendly’s Loaded Waffle Fries These fries are “loaded” with cheddar cheese sauce, bacon, and sour cream and served up with a side of ranch dressing. The result: a staggering 1,670 calories, 114 fat grams, and 4780 milligrams of sodium (more than triple your daily requirement).