Think the plate of food your server placed in front of you is way too full? Restaurants’ portion size problem isn’t all in your head — and it has a serious impact on the quality of your meals. In 2016, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published a study looking at the calorie counts of popular restaurant meals around the country. Researchers found that 92% of the meals surveyed contained more calories than one person should eat in an entire day — over 2,000 calories per meal. Some of your favorite restaurant chains are guilty of this — and it’s something to be aware of if you want to eat out without destroying your diet.
If you’re trying to slim down, you’ll want to stay away from these calorie-dense restaurant meals. Some of them have almost 3,000 calories. Here’s where you’ll find them, and what makes them so unhealthy.
1. Red Lobster: Crab Linguini Alfredo
Craving seafood and pasta? Red Lobster’s Alfredo is a linguini-based pasta dish with a garlic-Parmesan cream sauce and crabmeat pieces. A full portion comes out to 1,260 total calories — and that doesn’t include the accompanying side salad. In addition, you’ll also consume about 24 grams of saturated fat and more than 2,730 milligrams of sodium in a single meal.
The pasta sauce is mostly to blame here. Red Lobster’s website does describe it as “creamy,” which is basically a menu’s way of saying, “There’s way too much salt and fat in this stuff, but it tastes great!” Alfredo sauce is a mixture of butter, cream, salt, and cheese — which are all fine to eat in moderation, but in this case, it’s anything but a moderate portion.
2. Denny’s: Chicken Bacon Classic
If you’re dreaming of a chicken sandwich topped with bacon, Denny’s can make that dream come true. Just because it’s possible, though, doesn’t mean you should go for it. Denny’s isn’t exactly known for small portions, and side orders come at no extra cost. When ordering this sandwich, you have the option to order two sides — and if it comes with the meal, why not indulge? One Chicken Bacon Classic with a side of bacon cheddar tots and seasoned fries comes out to 1,730 total calories. Generally any menu item that’s seasoned with creamy sauce and melted cheese is going to give you trouble, and this sandwich is no exception.
3. IHOP: Chorizo Fiesta Omelette
It’s hard to find a breakfast place that doesn’t serve omelets three times the size of what you’d make for yourself at home. In the case of IHOP’s chorizo-flecked dish, portion size brings the amount of calories and sodium to ridiculous heights — 1,300 calories, plus over 3,000 milligrams of sodium. Breakfast really isn’t the best time of day to almost double your maximum recommended amount of sodium in one meal, since you’re likely only going to eat more later on.
Standing alone, this omelette is pretty healthy — a mix of eggs, roasted peppers, onions, and cheese. However, it’s topped with sour cream and citrus-chili sauce. This is all in addition to the omelette’s main ingredient, chorizo sausage. Just because it has vegetables doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Even if you skipped the sauce, you’d still be eating mostly salt for breakfast.
4. Olive Garden: Chicken Alfredo
When you’re craving cheap Italian food that’s not pizza, where do you go? Somewhere where the breadsticks are all-you-can-eat and the pasta comes in pounds. It seems worth it, until you start counting the calories. One plate of Olive Garden’s Alfredo pasta with chicken is 1,480 calories. But it’s nearly impossible to eat just an entrée. If you also eat two breadsticks (140 calories each) and salad, you’re about 100 calories shy of a 2,000-calorie meal. And let’s be honest, eating only two breadsticks before the rest of your food shows up is the absolute best case scenario.
If portion size is such a problem in the industry, why don’t we order smaller portions? We probably would, if we had the option to. A study published in Health Affairs suggests that while putting calorie counts on menus isn’t an effective way to encourage people to eat less, giving them the option to order smaller portions might be. You’re better off saving half for later or splitting your meal with someone at your table.
5. Steak ‘n Shake: 7X7 Steakburger ‘n Fries
How much do you love burgers? Enough to quadruple your favorite hamburger order? The 7×7 Steakburger is exactly what it sounds like: a Steak ‘n Shake signature Steakburger, but seven patties per bun instead of just one. According to Steak ‘n Shake’s nutrition information, it’s 1,330 calories total, and a large order of fries on the side adds an additional 640 calories. You’re already pushing it, even if you skip a drink or milkshake — and who doesn’t want a milkshake?
The amount of calories in this sandwich isn’t the worst thing about it, but it’s hard to tell what is. Is it the nearly 4,500 milligrams of sodium, the 45 grams of saturated fat, the 3.5 grams of trans fat, or the 34 grams of carbohydrates? Even if you order a burger every time you go out to eat, it’s not very likely you love burgers this much. Imagine how hard this thing must be to eat. Save your energy. Order a single Steakburger and a milkshake instead.
6. Papa John’s: Tuscan Six Cheese Pizza
If you love extra cheese on your pizza, you’ll absolutely adore Papa John’s cheesy pie. On top of a salty tomato sauce, there are six different types of cheeses, plus seasonings galore. Four slices amount to just under 1,300 calories. Paired with a few garlic knots and a drink, you’re set for the day.
7. Buffalo Wild Wings: Large Thai Curry Boneless Wings
When you walk into B-Dubs hungry for chicken wings, you probably don’t realize the nutritional quality of those wings depends largely on the seasonings and sauces you choose. The more ingredients that go into the topping, the more calories you’re going to eat in a single meal. One large order of Thai-inspired wings, for example, adds up to more than 2,000 calories, 40 grams of saturated fat, 4 grams of trans fat, and over 7,000 milligrams of sodium. Even if you don’t eat all those wings by yourself, that’s a lot of extra stuff going into your body that you really don’t need.
Thai curry seasoning is a blend of spices, chiles, coconut, and curry. There’s also a sodium-packed coconut curry sauce, a mix of peppers, sugar, oil, and various sauces. You have a few options if you want to cut back on the calories though. You can choose a small order instead of a large, share your large order, or choose a wing seasoning that’s not quite so salty.
8. Applebee’s: New England Fish and Chips
If seafood is your go-to order when dining out, you might want to go for something that isn’t battered and fried. Applebee’s New England Fish and Chips is a 1,520-calorie platter of fried seafood and potatoes, with 18 grams of saturated fat and 2 grams of trans fat. But that’s not all you get when you order this treat.
It also comes with a side of tartar sauce, which doesn’t make this dish any healthier. It’s a mixture of mayonnaise, pickle relish, and salt, which adds flavor to your fish but also packs on plenty of extra saturated fat and sodium. Unfortunately, even if you leave the sauce untouched, this meal doesn’t provide enough nutritional benefits to make fried fish worth eating.
9. Red Robin: The Southern Charm
At this point, you’ve probably lost all faith in restaurant-made burgers. And Red Robin’s 1,150-calorie Southern Charm isn’t going to restore any of your faith in ground beef. In addition to its high calorie count, it also comes with a side of steak fries — an additional 370 calories. This burger doesn’t try to hide its health hazards, though; it’s not trying to trick you. This is one of those iffy restaurant meals you can single out (and avoid) just by reading the menu description. Let’s break it down.
The half pound burger is “glazed with brown sugar,” which is only the first of many warning signs. To glaze something, in cooking terms, means to cover something with a coating — and in this case, it’s a coating made of sugar. We’ll top that with candied bacon and sugary caramelized onions. Add honey-barbecue sauce and mayonnaise on top, and you have just about everything that makes a meal terrible for you, all in one burger.
10. Cheesecake Factory: Chicken Pasta Carbonara
The Cheesecake Factory serves amazing cheesecake — but they also serve lunch and dinner entrées like pasta carbonara, an Italian dish made of pasta, bacon, and a creamy egg-and-cheese sauce. If you’re tempted to order this the next time you visit the Cheesecake Factory — especially if you go for the chicken option — be aware that nearly 2,300 calories await you. According to their menu, this pasta dish is a combination of grilled chicken, bacon, peas, garlic cream sauce, and spaghettini. If you really want pasta, you have some tough cheesecake-related decisions ahead of you.
11. Uno Pizzeria & Grill: Deep Dish Macaroni & Cheese
Pasta is a favorite among diners, but not all noodles are worth the price. Uno’s pasta dishes range from healthy to disconcerting, but their take on macaroni and cheese is especially noteworthy. Cooked in a deep dish pan, like a pizza, their take on this classic is a three-cheese nightmare with a “rich crumb topping” (whatever that means). You’ll get 1,740 calories from this baked pasta experience, 52 grams of saturated fat, and well over a day’s worth of sodium. Order a side and a drink to go with it, and you’ll have to start shopping for a new pair of jeans.
What makes this pasta dish in particular so bad for you? Aged cheddar, Parmesan, and Romano cheeses are among the healthiest you can eat, according to The Huffington Post. Just because they’re not the worst, though, doesn’t mean you can go all in without facing the consequences. This is just too much.
12. Wendy’s: Dave’s Triple
A Dave’s Triple burger from Wendy’s includes three quarters of a pound of ground beef, plus cheese and is a total of 1,090 calories. This triple-patty burger also has 30 grams of saturated fat and almost 2,000 milligrams of sodium. Once you add on a large order of fries (530 calories) and a medium Dr Pepper (190), you’re at a whole day’s worth of calories. Don’t even think about ordering a Frosty.
13. Outback Steakhouse: Slow Roasted Prime Rib
People like ordering out because they have options. When you order a steak from Outback Steakhouse, you don’t just get to choose which one, but how much of it you want to eat. Ordering a 16 ounce prime rib — the largest of the three options — yields 1,400 calories. Menu items in this category also come with a choice of signature potatoes and a fresh side. If you order homestyle mashed potatoes (240 calories) and fresh steamed broccoli (150 calories) as your sides for this entree, you get your protein, starch, and veggies for the day — literally, a whole day’s worth.
It’s not just the calories you need to worry about when you order a prime rib from Outback, either. According to the American Heart Association, both artificial and naturally occurring trans fats (like the kind found in that steak) increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes.
14. Dave & Busters: Short Rib & Cheesy Mac Stack
If you’ve ever wanted macaroni and cheese on a sandwich, you’re in luck. Dave & Busters has created one composed of short rib, macaroni and cheese, and onions on two pieces of sourdough bread. With a side of “crispy seasoned tots” (read: fried and salted potato pieces), you’re looking at a meal that almost hits the 2,000 calorie mark. And that’s if you don’t splurge on an appetizer, salad, or dessert. Consider ordering a half rack of smokehouse barbecue ribs instead, which come with a side of macaroni and cheese. It’s not much better, but you’ll still get your rib and macaroni fix without the bread.
15. Cheddar’s: Fried Buffalo Chicken Wrapper
When it comes to ordering a sandwich, wraps aren’t as healthy as restaurant menus lead you to believe. This wrap is basically a fried chicken salad wrapped in a flour tortilla: buffalo chicken tenders, cheddar cheese, shredded cabbage, and ranch dressing. According to Cheddar’s nutrition info, the wrap itself will give you about 1,630 calories. You’d be much better off ordering a maple, bacon, and chicken sandwich from the same menu, which has half the calories and more than half the sodium.
16. Chili’s: Crispy Buffalo Bleu Crispers
A Chili’s menu has its fair share of healthy entrées and sides, but its famous Crispers aren’t part of that category. These buffalo-style Crispers are nothing more than a fried chicken fiesta with a side of corn on the cob. Not only do you get fried chicken topped with buffalo sauce and cheese; you also get fries and a dipping sauce. The entire meal adds up to 1,940 calories, which is likely the result of the batter the chicken is fried in, the buffalo sauce, and the plethora of bleu cheese. Bleu cheese, according to Livestrong, is high in sodium, calories, and saturated fat. The dressing combines that with mayonnaise and sour cream to create a creamy sauce you really don’t need as much as you think.