I'm tired of trying to make healthy restaurant choices and being "rewarded" with something so bad that it's not so much diet food as inspiration for anorexia. We're talking salads where the lettuce is so brown and spoiled it looks like it's slowly morphing into an entirely different life form. Cottage cheese that tastes like it was manufactured in the 1980s, and steamed meats so flavorless that the aspire to be as tasty as tofu.
Just about anywhere you go you can get a burger for 3 to 7 bucks and it's going to taste pretty good and meet your standards of what a burger should be and satisfy your cravings. I've spent 8 bucks on a salad that consisted of iceberg lettuce, a recently defrosted tomato, and a dry carrot. I've bitten into grilled chicken so tough that it tastes more like jerky than anything else. I've stabbed my fork into broccoli that was roughly the consistency of Gerber pureed baby foods.
And why? Some people argue that it's cost, but there are restaurants out there that can make a very respectable salad for around $4 to $6, cheaper than a lot of the "iceberg lettuce with a side order of cockroach" places. Is it really more expensive to properly grill a piece of chicken than to cover it in breadcrumbs and mozzarella?
The truth is that there are two primary reasons why diet food in restaurants sucks. The first is that it's frequently an afterthought. People don't go to restaurants to eat sensibly, they go to enjoy themselves and the pleasure of food. When presented the option of a delicious porterhouse or a bunch of shit that used to grow in the ground the average guy is going to pick the succulent bovine flesh*. The server is always surprised when you ask for cottage cheese. "Cottage cheese? Really. That's what you want? Not the chicken fried pork chops. The cottage cheese on a half a cantaloupe? Okay. You're the boss. But you're being serious, right? This isn't a prank. Did Mike put you up to this? Where the fuck is that even on the menu? We sell cottage cheese?" The diet foods are kept in a hidden part of the kitchen covered in dust and mildew. They're bought in January of every year and frozen until some poor confused soul decides that the "House Salad" sounds like a good idea. Cooks don't spend a lot of time creating good, healthful recipes (definitely doable) because nobody buys them. It's a vicious cycle of obesity.
The other reason restaurants don't do much with the diet menu is because it discourages auxiliary business. If you get the diet special you're less likely to get a Coke, a beer, or a desert. That's bad for business. Rather you get the fried chicken, say "Oh well, I blew it anyway" and get a couple brewskies and the tiramisu. Places that do make really good healthy food usually charge a premium for it because of this.
Meanwhile America (and I) gets fatter and fatter and eats out more and more. Eventually someone's going to come up with a really good Diet restaurant chain and clean up (Subway most certainly does not count. Their sides are potato chips, their sodas aren't diet.) The restaurant industry will adapt (in New York the government is even taking steps to force them.) Until then it's a choice between 50 year old cottage cheese and brand new cellulite.
*As for women, well, they're not as whiny and they don't pick restaurants as often so just like with all other aspects of society, they don't really matter.