Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cracker Barrel Side Choices (and making the best of them!)

Happy Thursday!

Today I will be talking about how to choose sides at Cracker Barrel that will give you the most benefit. This post will be near and dear to my heart because I have worked at the Cracker Barrel for about a year and a half now, so I have spent more time with these side dishes than I probably should admit.

With that being said, Cracker Barrel has TONS and TONS of options on their menu. I'm pretty sure someone could argue the menu to be a short novel if they really wanted to.

If you have never been to Cracker Barrel before I will give you the low down on how it works. There are about 25 main dishes you may choose from and most meals come with a choice of 2-3 sides (depending on how fancy you want to get). Since there are so many main dish options, I am just going to focus on the sides.

When I ask people at my tables what sides they want I often receive a baffled look because they cannot make up their mind so they just choose whatever sounds good. Since there are about 20 side choices it saddens me when I get people ordering fries, hash brown casserole, and a side of mashed potatoes and gravy as their three sides. There really is so much potential to have a healthy meal here and there should be more of an emphasis on getting people to take advantage of that.

Unfortunately, Cracker Barrel does not offer their nutritional values on their website so it is hard to decipher exactly what the calorie/fat/protein counts are from web research alone. The only thing that the restaurant offers on its website (which is what I will trust) is the calorie count of their "Wholesome Fixins" menu.

Wholesome Fixins is a section of the menu that promotes healthier eating and allows people to see how many calories they are consuming.

These are the sides that they offer on this menu:
  • Mixed Seasonal Vegetables- 50 calories
  • Tomato, Cucumber, and Onion Salad- 40 calories
  • Sweet Whole Baby Carrots- 80 calories
  • Mixed Green Side Salad with Country Pepper Vinaigrette Dressing-120 calories
  • Baked Sweet Potato-190 calories
  • Brown Rice Pilaf-170 calories
  • Fresh Apple Slices-70 calories
  • Fresh Seasonal Fruit-50 calories
  • Fresh Steamed Broccoli-30 calories
  • Country Green Beans- 60 calories
  • Cheese Grits- 150 calories
  • Whole Kernel Corn- 180 calories
Here are the additional sides that did not make it on to the list:
  • Low-fat Vanilla Yogurt
  •  Hash brown Casserole
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Fried Apples
  • Steak Fries
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Breaded Fried Okra
  • Cole Slaw
  • Dumplings
  • Turnip Greens
  • Pinto Beans

Here I have given my own opinion on the nutritional quality of each side dish offered at Cracker Barrel.

Mixed Vegetables
Brown Rice Pilaf
Fresh Sliced Apples
Fresh Seasonal Fruit
Fresh Steamed Broccoli
Cucumber, Tomato, n’ Onion Salad
Low-fat Vanilla Yogurt
Baked Sweet Potato
Pinto Beans
Turnip Greens
Whole Kernel Corn
Sweet Whole Baby Carrots
Country Green Beans
Hashbrown Casserole
Macaroni n’ Cheese
Fried Apples
Steak Fries
Mashed Potatoes
Breaded Fried Okra
Cheese Grits

Most of these you probably could have figured out for yourself, but you may be wondering why I put some of these in certain categories.

  1. Baked sweet potatoes are served with a cinnamon brown sugar and butter- if you choose to eat this with a smaller amount of these add-ins then you may proudly move it up to the gold category.
  2. Fried Apples are a fruit, yes, however they are fried with butter, flour, sugar, etc. So they are more of an indulgence than a fruit per say.
  3. Green beans, carrots, and corn are healthy, however I have seen how they are made at the store and they are dowsed in butter and are not to their full potential. I would stick with the steamed broccoli or mixed seasonal vegetables if you are looking to get the most fiber and nutrients out of your veggies!
To sum it all up, it is definitely possible to eat at Cracker Barrel and have a decently healthy meal! Look for key words such as "fresh" and "steamed", and avoid words such as "fried". Just be conscious of what you are choosing and look for the best options for you and your body.

Here are some additional resources you may look at with nutritional info on Cracker Barrel foods: