Monday, March 19, 2012

Healthier Options: Denny's and IHOP

I have never been a big Denny's or IHOP fan, except that here (and maybe everywhere), they feature Kids Eat Free times or days and the kids like those places, so we do find ourselves there from time to time.  In the past week, we found ourselves at each place once.

I may have mentioned that I've been working hard to make healthier dietary choices.  I refuse to say, "I'm on a diet."  But rather, I'm trying to make smarter choices about what I put into my body.  I gave up fries and chips "for Lent," which are two of my favorite foods on this planet.  Overall, though, I've been working hard not to eat sweets, junk food, fried foods or white-flour based foods.  I've been limiting my red meat intake and increasing my whole grain and fruits/vegetables intake.  It's better for me.  I've lost a few pounds and I feel better.  Oh, I've also cut waaaay back on diet soda (that I used to drink like water) and now mostly drink water, sometimes with lemon slices in it.  Occasionally, I'll have iced tea, but I never, ever drink coffee ... even before these dietary changes.

Okay, so that being said, you might imagine my trepidation of winding up at either Denny's or IHOP.  I mean, what there isn't unhealthy?  Right?

Turns out, I was wrong.

I will put a disclaimer here to tell you that I am not a health expert or a dietitian and my suggestions here are purely from an experiential standpoint.  I tried something new at each restaurant this week and I was mostly pleased with the results -- and surprised! to find a better option at places notoriously greasy and unhealthy.  I would not suggest anyone eat these meals regularly or as part of a diet plan, because like most restaurants, I'm sure the portion sizes and sodium levels are probably not very good, however, if you find yourself in one of these places and wanting to make a "healthier" choice, these aren't too bad taste-wise and from what I can tell, health-wise.

Okay, let's talk about IHOP first.

I ordered the SIMPLE & FIT Grilled Balsamic-Glazed Chicken.  The chicken breast was cooked really nicely and was moist and tender.  It was smothered in mushrooms, onions and tomatoes in a tasty balsamic sauce.  It was served with steamed broccoli (mine was perfectly cooked) and a house salad.  It comes with some vinaigrette, but I went ahead and did Ranch dressing on the side because of my personal preference.  Their house salads are just okay -- think: bagged salad with iceberg lettuce as a base with a few croutons tossed on top and maybe a tomato slice.  But the chicken and broccoli were really great. I won't say, best meal I've ever eaten in my life, but for IHOP, really tasty and satisfying.

Here is some of the nutritional information from IHOP's website:

Calories: 440
Fat: 22g (only 3.5 were saturated fat, 0 trans-fats)
Sugar: 13g
Fiber: 8g
Protein: 39g


Now, let me tell you about my meal at Denny's.

I ordered the FitFare Banana Pecan Pancake Breakfast.  It came with two whole-grain pecan pancakes with fresh-sliced banana on top, scrambled egg whites and two slices of turkey bacon.  I did add a little butter to the pancakes, but I did not add syrup.  I'll start with the best part: the pancakes.  These were delicious!  I mean, as a whole-grain alternative, but just in general.  I thought they were some of the best tasting pancakes I've had in a while (no offense to my husband who makes delicious pancakes as well).  The pecans were toasted in cinnamon sugar or something, which probably added a bit to the sugar count, but they balanced the wheat flavor of the pancakes with a subtle sweetness that made the syrup unnecessary.  I could have done without the butter, but they might have been too dry.  I did not use up the entire portion cup of butter they brought me (which I might have done in the past, so I consider it a "healthier" victory).

On the downside, I don't care how healthy I eat, I don't think I can ever get used to scrambled egg whites.  I need some yolk.  And they tried to flavor the egg whites because they're missing yolk with too much butter.  So to me, I'd say, order regular ol' scrambled eggs in place of the egg whites.  They were weird, greasy and flavorless -- not to mention unattractive on the white plate.

The turkey bacon ... well, let's just say I'd rather have no bacon.  It was floppy and oily.  Lukewarm.  I am a bacon fiend (except lately because I've limited my intake of that as well) and I love it hot and crispy.  And made from pork.  Wimpy, turkey bacon is not a good substitute in my opinion ... although, I do realize the need for more protein when I'm eating pancakes.  So I'm not sure what to suggest there.  Maybe turkey sausage is a better alternative (like they offer at Cracker Barrel)?

Okay, so here's the nutritional rundown from Denny's website:

Calories: 780
Fat: 15g (only 4 were saturated fat, 0 trans-fats)
Sugar: 62g
Fiber: 10g
Protein: 33g

Again, I'm no expert and I'm not recommending these as part of an overall healthy diet plan.  But if you're wondering about some of these healthy options served at notoriously unhealthy restaurants, give some of them a try and you might surprise yourself.  I've definitely changed my mind.


  1. I love IHOP's spinach and mushroom omelet! I get it without the sauce and I don't think it's too dangerous that way.

  2. You know I enjoy omelets anytime! (as suggested by Brenda)
    I think, though, that it was a good choice for you to try the healthier pancakes so you didn't feel completely deprived.
    As for the eggs, Dad and I mix egg substitute with real egg when we make scrambled eggs or omelets. It tastes great!
    (Those egg whites did look gross.) I haven't been to IHop in a long time.