"You go for the appetizer, you go for the entree and you add it up and it's a lot of calories," said Mary Anderson, a diner at the El Monte Applebee's restaurant.
A shocked Anderson found the nutrition facts on her menu favorites had far more calories than she could ever imagine. Now she is lightening up.
"So we got Shrimp Diablo and it's like 500 calories for shrimp pasta? That's really good," said Anderson.
From Applebee's to Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill there's a growing trend in casual dining: small meals and plates offering reduced calories.
"We looked at the research and 65 percent of Americans in an international survey said they wanted to watch their calories," said Joe Herrera, vice president of marketing, Applebee's restaurants. "So our executive chefs working in conjunction with professional nutritionists. Tested flavors, ingredients, cooking processes, took them a year and they came up with our under-550 entrees."
Applebee's has its 550-calorie menu. The Cheesecake Factory created its Small Plates and Snacks menu. T.G.I. Friday's has skinny selections with the Right Portion, Right Price menu. California Pizza Kitchen has created Small Cravings.
They're all designed to keep calories and dollars at a discount.
"They can still indulge in the delicious juicy burger with fries, have a milkshake to go with it, or they can have a healthier option in a dedicated part of the menu where they know exactly what they're getting," said Krista Faron a senior analyst at Mintel, a marketing research firm.
Well not exactly. A Tufts University study found the calorie count on more than 29 quick-serve or sit-down restaurants were almost 20 percent higher than the listed nutrition facts.
"It can be hard with restaurant meals because they can be hand-crafted, they can be pretty complex with marinades and sub recipes and a lot of different people cooking them in the kitchen and ingredients varying by season," said Anita Jones-Mueller, Master of Public Health, HealthyDiningFinder.com.
So diners might consider using these nutrition facts as guidelines then do the obvious: First, order smaller portions. second order foods that aren't creamy or fried.