How to stick to the Mediterranean, keto, or Whole30 diets at The Cheesecake Factory


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Photo: Getty Images/Justin Pumfrey

Fact: Virtually everyone loves The Cheesecake Factory. It’s a family, friends, and date spot beloved by many—even Drake. That’s why there’s one at all the cool, fancy malls and the wait for dinner is usually nuts. Another fact: It has the War and Peace of menus, which is to say that it’s ginormous.

The Cheesecake Factory’s menu is 21 pages and 250 items long. Besides the usual categories like salads, lunch specials, and desserts, there’s also healthy-sounding sections called “Super” Foods and Skinnylicious. The options are overwhelming enough—and if you’re following a healthy eating plan such at the Mediterranean diet, ketogenic diet, or Whole30, narrowing down what works with your needs is even more overwhelming. Well, consider this your handy little cheat sheet.

To help navigate the endless menu options and zero in on the healthy ones, I enlisted integrative and functional dietitian Nour Zibdeh, MS, RDN, CLT, for help. “The main thing to keep in mind with The Cheesecake Factory that most of the meal portions on their main menu are really big, which is fine if you’re sharing with someone, but ultimately too many calories to be healthy to eat all in one sitting,” she says. “That said, there are some healthy picks on the menu, but the key is knowing what you’re going to order before you go. Otherwise, you could get overwhelmed in the moment and order something that isn’t exactly healthy.”

On that note, here’s the ultimate guide for what to order depending on what eating plan you’re following. With Zibdeh’s help, it will be a piece of…well, you know.

Keep reading for tips on how to follow the Mediterranean diet, ketogenic diet, or Whole30 at The Cheesecake Factory.

Mediterranean diet

Menu picks: Evelyn’s Favorite Pasta; Shrimp with Angel Hair; Cajun Jambalaya Pasta

What an RD says: “Technically pasta is Mediterranean!” Zibdeh says. She recommends the three above menu picks because they are the “lighter” options. “In general, chicken and fish tend to be lighter than red meats in restaurants, and choosing a tomato-based sauce instead of dairy-based is better,” she says. “Angel hair pasta also has less carbs and calories because it’s not as dense as other pasta types.”

Order tweak: Like everything else off The Cheesecake Factory’s main menu, Zibdeh says these dishes are too big of portions to be considered healthy. Instead, she suggests sharing it with someone or taking half home to eat the next day.

Side dish recommendations: Since the pasta dishes aren’t exactly loaded with veggies, round out your meal with Crispy Brussels sprouts, which aren’t coated with as much oil as some of the other sides on the menu (looking at you, fried zucchini and Korean fried cauliflower).

Ketogenic diet

Menu picks: Almond-Crusted Salmon SaladCobb Salad

What an RD says: At first glance, you may think the California Guacamole Salad would be the starring keto pick because of all that glorious avocado, but Zibdeh says it’s a no-go because of the corn, beans, and tortilla strips, which are high in carbs. “Instead, the Almond-Crusted Salmon Salad or the Cobb Salad are better picks because they’re lower in carbs. (PSA: A full serving of the salmon salad has 50 grams net carbs, and the Cobb salad has 44 grams net carbs, so: split it and consider it more of an indulgence than your usual keto fare.) “The vinaigrette is low-sugar, which makes it doable on a keto plan,” Zibdeh says.

Order tweak: “If you get the Almond-Crusted Salmon Salad, ask for it without cranberries, which are high in sugar,” Zibdeh recommends.

Side dish recommendations: If you want an app or something on the side, Zibdeh recommends Skinnylicious beet and avocado salad. “Beets are high in antioxidants and good for lowering inflammation,” she says. “It doesn’t have much protein, so I wouldn’t order it as a meal, but it’s a good appetizer to order to start, or something to order if you just want to snack on something while you enjoy a drink and socialize with friends,” she says.

Whole30

Menu pick: Skinnylicious Grilled Salmon

What an RD says: While it shouldn’t come as a shock that a restaurant named after a dessert that’s definitely not Whole30-approved isn’t exactly accommodating, Zibdeh did find one item that fits with the plan: the Skinnylicious Grilled Salmon. “It doesn’t have the mashed potatoes like the one on the main menu and it probably doesn’t have a butter-sugary glaze,” she says.

Order  tweaks: None needed—just confirm what kind of glaze they’re using on the salmon and if needed, ask if it could be cooked dry or with a Whole30-compliant cooking oil, like olive oil.

Side dish recommendations: While the apps and side salads on The Cheesecake Factory’s menu aren’t compliant with Whole30, the Skinnylicious Grilled Salmon comes with a side of asparagus and assorted vegetables, which are both OK on the eating plan.

Now that you have your go-to healthy order for The Cheesecake Factory ready, here’s how to eat healthy at Red Lobster and Panera Bread.

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