Fred Prouser

Just because it's low-calorie doesn't make it healthy. Here’s what's worth ordering—and what isn't.

Elizabeth Laseter
October 05, 2018

The Cheesecake Factory has a well-deserved reputation for calorie-laden plates and larger-than-life portion sizes. In fact, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently awarded two dishes from the menu—the Breakfast Burrito and the Chicken Parmesan Pasta—in its annual Extreme Eating Awards, for being among the unhealthiest restaurant meals in America.

But here’s the big question—is there anything healthy at The Cheesecake Factory? Potentially. The chain restaurant’s SkinnyLicious menu offers over 50 dishes (of course) that have 590 calories or less. The official description reads, “SkinnyLicious® is our collection of fresh and delicious menu options with lower calories and signature rich taste.”

It’s important to understand that the SkinnyLicious menu only promises lower calorie options. It says nothing about the amount of saturated fat, sodium, or sugar.

While the number of calories in a dish can certainly serve as a guide when choosing a healthy meal, it doesn’t tell you the full story. A low calorie salad may be sky-high in sodium or loaded with unnecessary sugar. We recommend taking into account the full nutrition information of a dish when ordering from the menu. This doesn’t just apply to The Cheesecake Factory—it applies to any restaurant.

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The SkinnyLicious offerings include cocktails, small plates, salads, and meals like grilled salmon, a turkey burger, or tacos. Many of them sound like promising options for health-conscious individuals, but how do they actually stack up nutritionally?

We did some digging into The Cheesecake Factory’s nutrition information, and crunched the numbers behind all 50+ SkinnyLicious items. We found several winners that would make perfectly suitable options if you’re watching your weight—but we also surfaced a crop of not-so-healthy meals. See below for the five dishes you can feel okay about ordering—and three items you should probably avoid.

Note: How exactly did we determine this list? The USDA’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines a “healthy eating pattern” as one that limits saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium. For sodium specifically, the Guidelines recommend limiting your intake to less the 2,300mg per day.

The Good

Courtesy The Cheesecake Factory

There are a number of nutritionally solid options on the SkinnyLicious menu, from shareable plates to tacos to even a cocktail. Keep in mind that the bulk of these dishes come from the Appetizers & Small Plates menu, so the portions may be on the small side. If you’re ordering one of these for just yourself, we recommend supplementing it with a tossed green salad.

SkinnyLicious Mojito
Calories: 100, Fat: 0g, Sat Fat: 0g, Sodium: 30mg, Carbohydrates: 9g, Fiber: 0g, Sugars: 6g, Protein: 0g

If you’re looking for something boozy, try the SkinnyLicious Mojito, a refreshing rum-based drink made with fresh mint and lime juice. It’s lower in calories and sugar than any other cocktail on the menu, so you can safely sip away.

Tossed Green Salad (No Dressing)
Calories: 140, Fat: 6g, Sat Fat: 1.5g, Sodium: 150mg, Carbohydrates: 19g, Fiber: Sugars: 8g, Protein:5g

The majority of the salads on the SkinnyLicious menu are loaded with sodium, so finding a healthy option can be difficult. It’s not the most exciting thing, but your safest bet is the simple Tossed Green Salad. Order the dressing on the side and drizzle it over yourself. Opt for the Mustard Vinaigrette, which is lower in calories, fat, and sodium.

SkinnyLicious Chicken Soft Tacos
Calories: 520, Fat: 16g, Sat Fat: 3.5g, Sodium: 890mg, Carbohydrates: 65g, Fiber: 12g, Sugars: 13g, Protein: 32g

If you can believe it, the Chicken Soft Tacos have the least amount of sodium out of any option from the SkinnyLicious Specialties menu. (In fact, most items clock in over 1000mg!) Per order, you get three soft corn tortillas filled with chicken, avocado, tomato, onions, cilantro, and crema—plus a side of veggies. Major kudos to The Cheesecake Factory for choosing corn tortillas, which are lower in calories, fat, sodium, and carbs than their flour counterparts. The Shrimp Soft Tacos are also a smart pick, but they’re a touch higher in sodium.

Mexican Chicken Lettuce Wrap Tacos 
Calories: 220, Fat: 9g, Sat Fat: 2.5g, Sodium: 690mg, Carbohydrates: 14g, Fiber: 5g, Sugars: 7g, Protein: 24g

The Mexican Chicken Lettuce Wrap Tacos, which are also gluten-free, are an excellent choice to share with the table, and they’d also work as a lighter meal. You get three to an order, and each one comes stuffed with avocado, tomato, onion, cilantro, roasted corn salsa, and crema.

Ahi Tartare
Calories: 240, Fat: 14g, Sat Fat: 2g, Sodium: 650mg, Carbohydrates: 17g, Fiber: 4g, Sugars: 3g, Protein: 13g

The Ahi Tartare, composed of raw tuna, avocado and a soy-ginger sesame sauce, is a solid pick across the board. It probably isn’t filling enough for one person, but it would make a great shareable appetizer.

The Bad

Courtesy The Cheesecake Factory

While there are plenty of healthy options on the SkinnyLicious menu, there are also plenty of unhealthy options. Some of these, like the Chicken Pot Pie, aren’t so surprising. But others, such as the Fresh Vegetable Salad, are more deceiving. In most cases, the culprit is sodium. And if that’s something you’re watching, we recommend double-checking the nutrition of any dish, even the ones that sound harmless.

SkinnyLicious Chicken Pot Pie
Calories: 590, Fat: 29g, Sat Fat: 17g, Sodium: 1700mg, Carbohydrates: 47g, Fiber: 6g, Sugars: 4g, Protein: 37g

A healthy chicken pot pie sounds too good to be true—and unfortunately it is. The Cheesecake Factory’s SkinnyLicious version features chicken breast and veggies in a light cream sauce topped with puff pastry. While it’s probably tasty, it’s simply not worth the load in sodium and saturated fat. If you’re looking for chicken, the Tuscan Chicken is a slightly better option, but it still packs over 1000mg sodium.

SkinnyLicious Fresh Vegetable Salad
Calories: 400, Fat: 17g, Sat Fat: 7g, Sodium: 1700mg, Carbohydrates: 49g, Fiber: 11g, Sugars: 23g, Protein: 15g

We want to love the Fresh Vegetable Salad—it’s full of nutritious veggies like asparagus, green beans, and beets—and it packs plenty of fiber and plant protein. But we just can’t overlook the shocking sodium and sugar overload. However, we’re willing to bet that a big contributor is the Pomegranate Vinaigrette. You can make this salad a little healthier by swapping the vinaigrette for a lighter dressing, such as the Mustard Vinaigrette, and asking for it on the side.

Lemon-Garlic Shrimp
Calories: 510, Fat: 17g, Sat Fat: 9g, Sodium: 2070mg, Carbohydrates: 52g, Fiber: 5g, Sugars: 2g, Protein: 33g

The Lemon-Garlic Shrimp (pictured above) contains nearly an entire day’s worth of sodium. And in all honesty, there’s nothing very “skinny” about this dish, except for the calorie count. If you want shrimp, opt for the Shrimp Soft Tacos, which have a fraction of the sodium and sat fat.