While fast food gets a lot of negative attention for serving up less-than-healthy burgers, fries, chicken, and McRib meat, Whoppers and Big Macs have nothing on many of the meals you’ll get at a typical chain restaurant. Just about every item on the latest list of casual dining calorie bombs would be enough for a full day on its own.
This is according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, whose annual Xtreme Eating Awards have the effect of simultaneously making us really hungry and saying no to the extra cheese sauce.
The 2015 awards don’t just include some usual suspects like Cheesecake Factory, Uno, Red Lobster, and Outback, but also represent the growing trend of build-your-own meals — where your meal is made up of 2-3 smaller dishes — being offered by a number of chains.
Without further ado, here is this year’s list from the CSPI:
9. STEAK ’N SHAKE: 7X7 STEAKBURGER ’N FRIES & CHOCOLATE FUDGE BROWNIE MILKSHAKE
(1,570 calories; 960 calories)
The burger itself is only (only!) 1,330 calories, which makes the 240 calories for the french fries seem like an afterthought. Though these two items will slap you with 47 grams of saturated fat and 4,570 mg of sodium (about 3 days’ worth).
If you want that shake to wash down your seven patties, be prepared to account for another 960 calories on the treadmill. And let’s not forget about the additional 21 grams of saturated fat and 590 mg of sodium.
8. THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY: WARM APPLE CRISP
No Xtreme Eating list is complete without ye olde Cheesecake Factory. In fact, this is just the first of two entries for the chain where cheesecake might be the healthiest thing you order.
The Warm Apple Crisp — with apples, “delicious crispy nutty topping,” two scoops of ice cream, whipped cream, and caramel sauce — at the Factory beats out any cheesecake slice on the menu, with 1,740 calories, 2.5 days worth (48 g) of saturated fat, and and 32 teaspoons of sugar, most of which is added. You could actually eat two slices of the Cheesecake Factory’s Original Cheesecake and get the same result.
7. IHOP: CHORIZO FIESTA OMELETTE
This IHOP omelette is “loaded with spicy chorizo sausage, roasted peppers, onions & pepper jack cheese,” and “topped with a citrus chili sauce & sour cream and served with a fresh grilled serrano pepper.” And if it were just the omelette alone, you’d be looking at 1,300 calories.
But, being IHOP, it comes with three buttermilk pancakes, which would be enough for breakfast on their own. Throw on syrup and you’ve eaten just about an entire day’s worth of calories, more than two days of saturated fat (42 g), three days’ worth of sodium (4,840 mg), and enough cholesterol (1,035 mg) for two to three days.
“You might as well have ordered a McDonald’s Big Breakfast (scrambled eggs, hash browns, biscuit, and sausage) with three Sausage McMuffins and five packets of grape jam on the side,” writes the CSPI.
6. SONIC: PINEAPPLE UPSIDE DOWN MASTER BLAST
It’s just a vanilla shake with some pineapple, right? Well, yes… plus salted caramel, pie crust pieces and whipped cream — enough to fill a 32 oz. cup.
In addition to crossing the 2,000 calorie line, you’ll get three full days of saturated fat (61 g) more the four days of trans fat from the pie crust, and around 29 teaspoons of added sugar.
CSPI says that one of these desserts is equal to the calories in four (4) Dairy Queen Banana Splits.
5. UNO PIZZERIA & GRILL: 2 FOR $12 PICK & CHOOSE
Uno’s deal lets customers pick any two items from a selection of five salads, four pastas, and three pizzas for a dozen dollars.
CSPI ordered up the Baked Ziti & Sausage Pasta, whose 720 calories should have been more than sufficient by itself, and the miniature version of the restaurant’s Chicago Classic Deep Dish Pizza. At 1,470 calories, that second dish is more than double the pasta plate, pushing your total calorie count to nearly 2,200, with 49 g of saturated fat, 5,420 mg of sodium.
“It’s like eating three Pizza Hut Pepperoni Lover’s Personal Pan Pizzas,” writes CSPI.
4. THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY: LOUISIANA CHICKEN PASTA
Here we are back at the Factory for its second entry in this year’s awards. This time, it’s for a pasta dish described as, “Parmesan crusted chicken served over pasta with mushrooms, peppers and onions in a spicy New Orleans sauce.”
CSPI says the food alone, weighs about 1.5 lbs, and between the pasta and all the breading on the chicken it’s basically a big pile of sauce-covered flour that, with the New Orleans sauce (which apparently uses butter and heavy cream), you’re well past a full day’s calories, with a whopping 80 g of saturated fat and 2,370 mg of sodium.
“For those numbers, you could have had two Fettuccine Alfredos plus two breadsticks at Olive Garden,” explains CSPI.
3. OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE: HERB ROASTED PRIME RIB
You could eat three 10 oz. ribeye steaks (and three sides of garlic mashed potatoes) from Outback and come up with the same calories as this meal.
It’s not just the 1,400-calorie piece of prime rib; it’s also the dressed baked potato and wedge salad with blue cheese dressing, along with the little loaf of bread and butter you get.
Even if you only eat half that piece of bread with just a bit of butter, you’re looking at a total of 2,400 calories, 71 grams of saturated fat, and 3,560 mg of sodium.
2. DICKEY’S BARBECUE PIT: 3 MEAT PLATE w/FREE ICE CREAM CONE
Another build-your-own entree, with the obvious focus on meat meat meat. For their 3 Meat Plate, the CSPI chose the Polish sausage, pork ribs, and beef brisket. (They could have also selected from pulled pork, barbecue honey ham, spicy cheddar sausage, and turkey or chicken breast.)
Diners also get to choose two sides, so CSPI went with fried onion tanglers and mac & cheese, to accompany the included roll, pickles, and onions, and their 32. oz sweet tea (free refills).
If you’ve never been to on of Dickey’s more than 400 locations, you might not know that the chain offers customers free soft-serve ice cream cones during their visit (no refills on the ice cream, sadly).
Throw that party on a platter all together and you get an astounding 2,500 calories, 49 g of saturated fat and 4,700 mg of sodium, plus 29 teaspoons of (mostly added) sugar.
“It’s like having three Big Macs with five Vanilla Cones” from McDonald’s, says the CSPI.
1. RED LOBSTER: CREATE YOUR OWN COMBINATION
When it came time for the CSPI to build its own trio of dishes at Red Lobster, they went for three different shrimp menu items — Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut shrimp, Walt’s Favorite shrimp, and Linguine Alfredo with shrimp.
Of course you get a side and salad, so CSPI went with the old standbys of fries and a caesar salad. Tossing in just a single Cheddar Bay Biscuit, the meal came out to 2,710 calories, 37 g of saturated fat, and 6,530 mg of sodium.
CSPI calculates that this is equal to eating an 8-piece bucket of KFC Original Recipe chicken with four sides of mashed potatoes with gravy, four pieces of corn on the cob, and eight packets of “buttery spread.”
“This nutritional shipwreck from Red Lobster exemplifies the kind of gargantuan restaurant meal that promotes obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases,” said CSPI registered dietitian Paige Einstein. “If this meal were unusual, that would be one thing, but America’s chain restaurants are serving up 2,000-calorie breakfasts, 2,000-calorie lunches, 2,000-calorie dinners, and 2,000-calorie desserts left and right. Abnormal is the new normal.”
UPDATE: A rep for Red Lobster takes issue with the CSPI’s choices in creating its own combination.
“CSPI’s Xtreme Eating Awards hone in on just one atypical combination and as a result inaccurately portrays the nature of this menu item,” reads a statement from the restaurant chain. “CSPI was dishonest when they neglected to reference other possible combinations, guest choice and the lighter options available.”