106 locations in 24 states (Southeast, West, North)
Someone at Atlanta Bread must be a Seinfeld fan: There are muffin tops (half the size of regular muffins) on its breakfast menu -- the low-fat pumpkin muffin top has only 200 calories, compared with 320 to 640 calories for regular-size muffins. But this chain's got more going for it than skinny muffins. This innovative bakery also features whole-grain bread, fresh sandwiches (including paninis), and hearty, healthy soups and salads. It earned high marks for great sides, too, including fire-roasted black bean and corn salad.
We love: The entree salads like Salsa Fresca Salmon Salad: grilled wild Alaskan salmon filet on greens with fire-roasted black bean and corn salsa and a pineapple-mango vinaigrette.
Danger zone: Pasta entrees at some locations are offered with bread -- that's a whole lotta carbs!
14,000 locations nationwide
Among the big burger-based chains, McDonald's is leading the way in overhauling its menu to offer more heart- and waist-friendly fare. Take the Happy Meals, which you can order with a side of apple dippers (with low-fat caramel) instead of fries and low-fat milk or fruit juice instead of soda. (Now the trick is just getting your kid to go for them!) And if you've gotta have fries, McDonald's are made in a healthy canola-blend oil and come in at just 230 calories for a small. (See "Healthiest Indulgences," page 138.) The Grilled Chicken Classic sandwich and wraps are healthy choices, too (just skip the mayo or sauce). So is the salad with Paul Newman low-fat balsamic vinaigrette. Registered dietitian Moore notes that an Egg McMuffin, at 300 calories, is a smart alternative to other "calorie-laden biscuit breakfasts." And our whole panel commends McDonald's for spelling out the nutritional information right on the back of its tray liners.
We love: The chain's 260- to 270-calorie Snack Wraps (choose grilled chicken) for protein without a lot of unwanted carbs.
Danger zone: Although McDonald's made our list, this is still the land of supersizing and giant sodas. It's up to you to request a small.
9. Einstein Bros. Bagels
649 locations nationwide
OK, we all know that bagels are pretty high-carb, but slathering cream cheese or butter on them is what really gets you into trouble. No worries at this chain: Einstein Bros. offers healthier alternatives like reduced-fat shmears, hummus and peanut butter -- a great way to add healthy fat to breakfast (or lunch). It also serves a Good Grains bagel that has an impressive 4 grams of fiber. In the mood for a salad? You can order any in a half-size. For kids, our panel of judges gave a thumbs-up to the bagel dog (picture a Pig-in-a-Blanket with bagel-style bread as the "blanket") and a fruit salad upgrade.
We love: The high-fiber Veg Out on a sesame seed bagel.
Danger zone: "Overstuffed" size sandwiches are a calorie nightmare.
10. Taco Del Mar
270 locations in 22 states
You may have noticed that Baja-style Mexican cuisine -- think: fresh ingredients and fish instead of beef and chicken -- is a growing trend. Whole grains are easy to get here, with whole-wheat tortillas available as an alternative in burritos. The chain gets high marks for its new 320-calorie chicken burrito, available at most locations. Our judges were also impressed that Taco Del Mar banned lard from its beans and bakes its fish and taco shells instead of frying them.