The Bariatric Foodie Survival Guide to Denny’s

Ah Denny’s…great American slinger o’ pancakes! What have you to offer me, the surgically altered, health conscious, slightly carb-phobic post-op???

You’d be surprised.

Denny’s has come up a bit in the world from its roots as a culturally insensitive greasy spoon. I can say that I eat there at least once every two months (and if the divas had it their way, it’d be once every two days).

So here’s our peek at Denny’s: what to order, what to avoid and what to convince your spouse to get so you can have approximately one bite of it!


Since the original writing of this post years ago, Denny’s has vastly improved its breakfast offerings.

The easiest place to start is to look for the Fit Fare symbol on the menu. It may be one of several colors, and can look like any of these:

Now let’s break these down a little bit, because all Fit Fare is not created equally! Here are a few guiding tips:

  • Don’t just look at the symbol. Also look at the other nutrition information provided. On the menu, that’s likely to be the macro-nutrients (calories, grams of fat, grams of carbohydrates/sugars/protein, etc.)
  • When looking at the fiber symbol in particular, pay attention to the total carbs and sugar. Remember that fiber can be subtracted from the total carbs. If, after subtracting, it’s still super high-carb? You may wanna pass!
  • For the protein symbol as well, you want to look at the carb count. This is not only to help you in your weight loss efforts, but also if you are prone to “very special blood sugar moments” you’ll want to make sure the balance isn’t way off.

Now don’t fret if things are still looking a little outside of your comfort zone. That just means it’s time to “edit.” And of course, I have suggestions!

  • To reduce the fat in a recipe, you can ask that it not be cooked in butter or oil, but instead be cooked using non-stick cooking spray. You can also opt for the lower-fat meat offerings like turkey bacon or chicken sausage. Lastly, you can always opt for egg whites instead of using whole egss.
  • To reduce the carbs you can ask to omit or substitute any starches. Now please keep in mind that this may not be free. You may get charged a little extra to replace hash browns with, say, another sausage patty. Most Denny’s also offer either a seasonal fruit cup or grilled veggies as a side replacement. You can also ask for whole wheat versions of any starches you do choose.
  • Now doing the above things inevitably is going to reduce the calorie count however…you may not have access to exactly what that new calorie total is. GAH! So…see my suggestions below to help you be a bit more precise.

Breakfast Recommendations

“Build Your Own Grand Slam”

This allows you to pick four items from a list of items to build your own breakfast plate. Without fail, I almost always get the following.

  • Scrambled egg whites (I ask for shredded cheese, for a small extra charge)
  • An order of turkey bacon
  • double order of chicken sausage

So why the double order of chicken sausage? Mostly because all that protein is going to fill me up fast. Nine times out of 10, I pack up half of what I’ve got for later. So if I get a double order of chicken sausage patties, now I have an order of eggs, two slices of turkey bacon and two chicken sausage patties. It’s an even split. Yes, I am a little bit OCD, thanks for noticing!

These days, at nine years post-op I often get a side of wheat toast or an English Muffin to go with that. If I’m feeling super-compliant, I’ll have a cup of seasonal fruit instead.

Lunch/Dinner Options

I don’t usually do dinner at Denny’s. It just doesn’t feel right. The divas like the burgers. Me and beef got beef though. And to me…sorry…a Boca Burger is not a real burger. So I tend to stick to breakfast. I have, on occasion, however, gotten dinner and here’s what I’ve had.

Senior Tilapia Meal

The tilapia is the stand-out “diet” meal on the menu, and even the stats on that aren’t great. The regular meal will cost you 640 calories (which, in comparison to the rest of the menu is not bad), but if you get the senior version (a smaller filet), you knock it down to 450. The fish is grilled soft and comes with with two sides and you can make both of those veggies if you want. Mine has a Cajun variation (which is decidedly un-Cajun). I usually ask for mine with the Cajun seasoning nonetheless and ask for a side of salsa and work it out. To cut calories more, I’d insist they use cooking spray. Luckily, you can tell if they complied or not. The fish comes out more flaky and without a puddle of oil if they’ve done what you asked them to do.

Cranberry Pecan Salad

This is a relatively new offering and may not be at all Denny’s locations. But it is pretty decent. What I like most is that it comes in a half portion. At 2+ years out, I can finish the half portion. Basically, it’s grilled chicken atop a bed of salad greens with roasted pecans and craisins. If you are sensitive to sugar, tell them to hold the craisins. I can do them so I eat them with whatever low-cal dressing they have. A half portion will cost you 210 calories + whatever dressing you choose. Not bad!

Fit Fare Grilled chicken meal

This meal is always awkward for me. It’s good…don’t get me wrong…but it’s a little meal served on a big plate which comes out looking…empty. It’s the same deal as the tilapia meal, just throw a grilled chicken breast in there. Usually I only eat the chicken (it’s about 5 oz. so that fills me up) and ask for a piece of cheese melted on top and I pretend there’s a bun. It’s not quite the same but I feel like if I keep telling myself there’s a bun…someday it’ll taste like there’s a bun…Anyway, it will run you 380, 57g of protein (which almost guarantees you can’t eat it all…so plan for half that amount of calories and protein).

What to Avoid

Ok, so here’s some things you may want to stay away from (besides the obvious like the loaded nachos, buffalo wings, and sampler plate…)

  • Grits – I eat them in moderation but mostly at home. Denny’s has a tendency, no matter how much you ask them not to, to load your grits down in copious amounts of butter. Paula Deen would marvel. I do not. So I skip them. Plus…they commit what I consider to be the all-time sin in grits-making – they make them using water! (Folks…stop doing that. Use milk. It’s so much better when you do and it doesn’t even need a bunch of butter or salt.)
  • Any of the “sizzling skillets” – …And don’t give me the “but, Nik, it’s protein!” I don’t care. Some stuff is just a heart attack waiting to happen. All of the skillets are very heavy on the oil and they sort of have to be so as not to burn the food. If you absolutely must try one, get your spouse or companion to order one, take a bite of theirs and leave it at that. They will cost you at least 900 calories alone and lots of fat!
  • Pancakes. No matter what, the pancakes are not going to be your nutritional best bet. Now I have zero judgment if you get the pancakes understanding they are a splurge and enjoy them without guilt. That I can get with. But don’t be going and getting the Hearty Wheat pancakes thinking you are eating health food. I’m here to tell you that you are not! But…if you’d like to learn to make pancakes that you can feel good about, check out this recipe. It’s super easy to do at home. But not at Denny’s. At Denny’s your pancakes are always a splurge!

Now that you know – take the knowledge with you!

There are actually quite a few great choices to be had at Denny’s. That’s why I put together a downloadable Denny’s restaurant guide! It gives you my exact picks for what you should order for breakfast, lunch or dinner – along with the nutritional information and ordering tips!

All restaurant guide purchases support the “Global Foodie Fund” that keeps all Bariatric Foodie contests and giveaways open worldwide.

And check out these other great Bariatric Foodie Survival Guides: