It isn't always easy to eat healthy when you eat out, especially if you go to a quick-service or fast-food restaurant. Familiarizing yourself with the more nutritious options available on the menu can make it easier to stick to your healthy eating goals. Culver's has a special notation on its menu for the lower-calorie options available -- Mindful Choices. If you're in a hurry, choosing from these options is probably your best bet. Keep in mind, menu items or their nutrition information may change from time to time.
HelpGuide.org recommends keeping your entire meal under 500 calories if possible. If you'd like a burger, the original single is your best bet, with 361 calories, 16 grams of fat, 500 milligrams of sodium and 39 grams of carbohydrates. Skip the cheese, bacon and extra patties, as these add a significant number of calories. For example, the bacon deluxe triple burger has 1,020 calories and 66 grams of fat.
Other sandwiches that are relatively low in calories are the beef pot roast sandwich, with 413 calories, and the grilled chicken sandwich, with 407 calories. Stay away from the dinners, as the one with the lowest calories, the beef pot roast dinner, still has 755 calories and 34 grams of fat. The four-piece fresh fried chicken dinner has 2,017 calories, which is enough for a whole day for many people.
Salads and Soups
A salad is an even better choice than a sandwich, as it gives you a larger portion size for fewer calories. Just make sure to choose one of the lighter dressings, such as the raspberry vinaigrette, which has just 45 calories, compared to 310 calories for the same amount of chunky bleu cheese dressing. Get the dressing on the side so you can choose how much you use and save some calories. The healthiest meal-sized salad is the garden fresco with grilled chicken, which has 350 calories, 13 grams of fat and 12 grams of carbohydrates. Even the highest calorie choice -- the chicken cashew with grilled chicken -- is better than most of the sandwiches, with 459 calories.
A broth-based soup is another nutritious alternative for a starter or side. You can pair it with a salad for a low-calorie lunch or dinner. The chicken noodle and tomato florentine soups are the lowest in calories, with 110 per serving. Avoid the Baja chicken enchilada, George's chili, potato au gratin and Wisconsin cheese, which are all over 300 calories per serving.
Sides and Beverages
The side salad has just 54 calories, making it one of the best choices for sides. Other relatively good options include the green beans, mashed potatoes and dinner roll, which all have between 120 and 140 calories. Avoid the chili cheddar fries, which have 690 calories per serving, and the Wisconsin cheese curds, which have 515 calories. The other types of fries and onion rings are all between 260 and 460 calories per serving.
Unsweetened iced tea, hot tea, water and diet soda or light lemonade are your best choices for beverages. These all contain less than 20 calories per serving. Avoid the regular soda, which has between 200 and 440 calories depending on the size and type you choose. The malts, shakes and floats are even higher in calories. A short root beer float has 446 calories, but choose a tall mint chip shake, and you'll be consuming 1,348 calories.
Skipping dessert is the healthiest option, but it may be hard when going to a restaurant like Culver's that's known for its frozen custard. If you stick with healthier choices for your meal, you can splurge with a single scoop in a dish. Chocolate has 280 calories per scoop, and vanilla has 308. Stay away from the three-scoop sundaes and medium or large concrete mixers, which have over 1,000 calories each.
If you'd love a sundae or mixer, get a mini mixer or a one-scoop sundae and share with someone else at your table. The one-scoop cashew caramel sundae has 572 calories, making it the lowest calorie sundae, and the chocolate, strawberry and vanilla mini mixers each have between 400 and 450 calories.
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.