Yesterday I found myself quite hungry and ready for dinner, but the only viable option nearby happened to be a Chili’s. I hadn’t been to one in quite a few years, and I figured it would be good research.
We walked in and asked the host if they had nutrition information. He had a stack on the counter, right next to the menus. As he handed it to us, he quietly said, “Here you go, but you probably won’t stay after you read this.”
We then spent five minutes looking through the pamphlet, figuring out what to order. I was determined to prove that it is possible to have a reasonably healthy meal at Chili’s. It wasn’t a perfect macrobiotic plate, but it was relatively healthy, tasty, and satisfying.*
Chili’s has offered “Guiltless Grill” options for a long time — I remember years ago in Chicago they had a separate section on the menu with that title, and also listed the calorie counts right on the menu. Yesterday’s experience in Southern California was a little different — they had a little chili icon next to the GG items, which indicated that they were under 750 calories, 8 grams saturated fat, and 25 grams total fat.
Even though the GG menu is better, they still don’t limit the insanely high amounts of sodium, so I recommend you double-check the nutrition information and keep that in mind.
Take Note: If you eat three times a day, 750 calories is approximately what you should be eating at each meal…so anything that’s not a “guiltless grill” item is a splurge.
The lowest calorie appetizer is the nutritionally-devoid Bottomless Tostada Chips with Salsa, which clocks in at 480 calories. The next least-caloric options are the Southwestern Eggrolls with Avocado Ranch (910 cal) and the Skillet Queso with Chips (920 cal).
Every other appetizer is over 1,000 calories. The “Triple Dippers” at first glance look better (410 to 800 calories), but you actually get THREE of them per order.
Most of the salads are high in calories, fat, and sodium – not much of a surprise. However, the Caribbean Salad and the Asian Salad can both be ordered “Guiltless,” and you can add Shrimp, Chicken, Salmon, or Steak on top, which turns this into a fairly hearty, relatively healthy plate.
We ordered a GG Caribbean Salad with Shrimp, but were served the Asian Salad. I forgot to ask for the dressing on the side, and it was drowning in it — to the point where it was hard to eat because it was so overpowering.
Guiltless Grill Caribbean Salad
520 cal, 4g sat fat, 24g total fat, 630mg sodium, 52g carbs, 7g fiber, 23g protein
Guiltless Grill Asian Salad
360 cal, 3g sat fat, 22g total fat, 930mg sodium, 22g carbs, 7g fiber, 26g protein
Soups & Chili
The soups aren’t too bad, though they’re high in sodium. These numbers do not include crackers. Double these numbers for a bowl.
Chicken & Green Chili (cup)
100 cal, no sat fat, 3g total fat, 530mg sodium (!), 11g carbs, 1g fiber, 7g protein
Southwestern Vegetable (cup)
110 cal, 3g sat fat, 5g total fat, 600mg sodium (!!), 11g carbs, 2g fiber, 4g protein
Broccoli and Cheese (cup)
120 cal, 4g sat fat, 8g total fat, 640mg sodium (!!), 8g carbs, 1g fiber, 5g protein
Loaded Baked Potato Soup (cup)
140 cal, 5g sat fat, 7g total fat, 580mg sodium (!), 14g carbs, 1g fiber, 6g protein
Black Bean Soup (cup)
150 cal, 2g sat fat, 4g total fat, 740mg sodium (!!!), 20g carbs, 5g fiber, 8g protein
Guiltless Gourmet Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Veggies
610 Cal, 5g sat fat, 12g total fat, 1,310mg sodium (!), 78g carbs, 8g fiber, 44g protein
Guiltless Gourmet Santa Fe Chicken Wrap with Veggies
610 cal, 4g sat fat, 22g total fat, 1,740mg sodium (!), 75g carbs, 9g fiber, 34g protein
The Smoked Turkey on Chile-Pepper Roll Combo (with Soup or Salad) would be a runner-up here, with 810 calories, except it also has 2,220mg sodium (about a day’s supply).
Everything else in the sandwich category ranges from 1,080 to 2,080 calories and 2,510 to 6,050mg sodium. Ouch.
Everything’s Better On The Grill
Guiltless Gourmet Grilled Salmon** with Garlic & Herbs
530 cal, 6g sat fat, 19g total fat, 1,640mg sodium (!), 43g carbs, 5g fiber, 48g protein
Guiltless Gourmet Classic Sirloin
240 cal, 4g sat fat, 8g total fat, 1,820mg sodium (!), 35g carbs, 5g fiber, 35g protein
The Regular Chicken Fajitas aren’t too bad, but only if you skip the tortillas (380 cal, 10g fat) and condiments (230 cal, 19g fat)…and where’s the fun in that?
Create Your Own Combo
This is where it’s possible to make a plate that’s pretty good, if you’re careful. You get to choose two proteins, and they come with Seasonal Veggies (steamed broccoli) and a side of Mashed Potatoes by default. Sub out the fatty & salty potatoes for a better side — see below for good side dish recommendations.
Yesterday I doubled up the Shrimp, had the surprisingly good broccoli, and got a cup of black beans instead of mashed potatoes.
Spicy Garlic & Lime Grilled Shrimp – one portion
120 cal, 3g sat fat, 8g total fat, 590mg sodium, 3g carbs, no fiber, 10g protein
Margarita Grilled Chicken – one portion
260 cal, 2g sat fat, 6g total fat, 370mg sodium, 14g carbs, 4g fiber, 39g protein
Grilled Salmon** with Garlic & Herbs – one portion
370 cal, 8g sat fat, 23g total fat, 560mg sodium, 1g carbs, no fiber, 41g protein
All the other combo options are 310+ calories and 1,130+ mg sodium – per portion (remember, you get two in the combo).
Sadly there are no Guiltless options to be found here. When served on a white bun with fries, they range from 1,260 calories and 62 grams of fat (Oldtimer®) to an it-would-be-funny-except-that-it’s-real 2,130 calories and 139 grams of fat (Jalapeño Smokehouse Burger with Jalapeño Ranch).
Can’t recommend any of the ribs because of the insane amounts of fat and sodium, but if you insist, and it’s your weekly cheat meal, at least limit it to a 1/2 Rack of Original or Shiner Bock.
560-610 cal, 13-14g sat fat, 41g total fat (!), 1,940-2,050mg sodium (!), 17-19g carbs, 0-1g fiber, 28-29g protein
Hand-Battered Wins Loses Every Time
Everything in this category is 1,050 to 1,750 calories, and 2,670 to 4,690 mg sodium.
Tacos Wrapped in Flavor Salt
Everything in this category is 800 to 1,240 calories, and 2,820 to 3,700 mg sodium.
80 cal, 3g sat fat, 6g total fat, 490mg sodium, 7g carbs, 3g fiber, 3g protein
Add Spicy Garlic & Lime Shrimp to any entrée (3 each)
60 cal, 2g sat fat, 4g total fat, 300mg sodium, 2g carbs, no fiber, 5g protein
70 cal, 1g sat fat, 7g total fat, no sodium, 4g carbs, 3g fiber, 1g protein
100 cal, no sat fat, 1g total fat, 620mg sodium (!), 17g carbs, 5g fiber, 6g protein
40 cal, no sat fat, 4g total fat, 135mg sodium, 2g carbs, 2g fiber, 1g protein
These numbers are so low that it must be just a tiny dollop of guacamole.
Sweet Corn on the Cob, with Butter
200 cal, 1g sat fat, 7g total fat, 420mg sodium, 32g carbs, 3g fiber, 5g protein
170 cal, no sat fat, 1g total fat, 650mg sodium (!), 36g carbs, 1g fiber, 4g protein
Pepper Pals® Grilled Chicken Platter
150 cal, 1g sat fat, 3g total fat, 140mg sodium, 1g carbs, 1g fiber, 31g protein
Pepper Pals® Grilled Chicken Sandwich
220 cal, 1g sat fat, 4g total fat, 270mg sodium, 25g carbs, 1g fiber, 21g protein
Pepper Pals® Side: Corn Cob without Butter
150 cal, no sat fat, 2g total fat, 5mg sodium, 32g carbs, 3g fiber, 5g protein
Pepper Pals® Side: Kernel Corn
130 cal, no sat fat, 2g total fat, no sodium, 23g carbs, 6g fiber, 4g protein
Pepper Pals® Side: Mandarin Oranges
70 cal, no fat, 10mg sodium, 17g carbs, no fiber, no protein
Pepper Pals® Side: Pineapple
35 cal, no fat, no sodium, 9g carbs, 1g fiber, no protein
Pepper Pals® Side: Seasonal Veggies or Steamed Broccoli
30-35 cal, no fat, 30mg sodium, 6g carbs, 3g fiber, 3g protein
The “Sweet Shots” are the lesser-of-the-evils here. If you’re indulging, three of the four “Sweet Shots” aren’t too bad. Here’s something to remember: The longer the name, the worse it is for you.
Sweet Shot Key Lime Pie, Sweet Shot Red Velvet Cake, or Sweet Shot Warm Cinnamon Roll
240-280 cal, 5-8g sat fat, 9-13g total fat, 75-200mg sodium, 30-39g carbs, 0-1g fiber, 3-4g protein.
Skip the Sweet Shot Warm Double Chocolate Fudge Brownie (420 cal) or any of the other deserts (710 to 1,290 calories. ‘Nuff said.)
Menu Mondays are my recommendations for the most healthful options at chain restaurants. Although it may be tough to find “perfect” options when eating out, it’s important to choose “better” whenever possible, and I hope these guides will help make that easier for you.
indicates the “best-of-the-best,” and indicates the “worst-of-the-worst,” more or less.
* After we finished eating, we were quite full and satisfied; however, about 90 minutes later, we both were hungry again and also kind of queasy. Very strange…
** A note on Salmon: The Salmon that Chili’s serves is most likely confirmed as farmed, and therefore should be avoided. Check out this important fact sheet on farmed salmon from the Monterey Bay Aquarium (PDF).