The Worst Chain Restaurant Dishes Ever
Let's be honest here for a minute: most people don't necessarily head to chain restaurants thinking about a healthy meal. You know you're in for a meal that is convenient and tasty! While it's great to indulge now and then, you might want to think twice about ordering certain meals, though—especially the truly unhealthy menu items. With more calories, fat, and sodium than anyone should consume in one day, these dishes can really be detrimental to your health.
We spoke with Danielle Stadelman, Real Foods Registered Dietitian to get some insight on why these meals are truly the unhealthiest chain restaurant dishes. Plus, she shares tips on some better-for-you options that don't sacrifice flavor. And while you're making better choices, check out these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time!
Cheesecake Factory: Pasta Napoletana
Although it might sound and look tasty, this dish from The Cheesecake Factory blows recommended daily values out of the water. Especially when you look at sodium, you might be shocked to find this dish has as much sodium as about 16 large orders of fast-food French fries.
"The dish is basically a meat lover's pizza combined into a huge portion size of pasta! However, this dish takes it to the extreme," Stadelman says. "It's estimated that it contains 2,480 calories (a whole day's worth for many), 5,150 milligrams of sodium (more than two days' worth), and 82 grams of saturated fat (four days' worth). If your heart is set on enjoying this meal, it would be a good idea to take half home with you for some tasty leftovers the next day!"
Chili's: Honey Chipotle Crispers & Waffles
Neither fried chicken nor waffles are a highly nutritious food, so it's no surprise that combining the two is especially unhealthy.
"This one dish provides a couple [of] days worth of your macronutrient needs and the added sugar alone is over 5 times your daily amount," Stadelman warns.
While you might try making a healthified version at home, if you really want Chili's version, Stadelman offers a game plan to make it more enjoyable and less likely to make you feel sick.
"I'd never suggest you have off-limit foods or restrict your feel-good foods. However, an even better idea: make a plan to split the crispers and waffles with a friend, so you can enjoy every bite," she says. "The rest of the day plan to eat more nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods, aka more fruits and veggies. An occasion treat once in a while will keep you satisfied and happy!"
Applebee's: Oriental Chicken Salad Wrap
At first look, a salad wrap sounds like a healthy option. But this is actually one of the unhealthiest options on the entire Applebee's menu. Swapping the fried chicken for grilled and reducing or omitting the dressing could help make this a better-for-you meal.
Looking for more helpful tips? Your ultimate restaurant and supermarket survival guide is here!
BJ's Brewhouse: Pizookie Trio (Salted Caramel, Money Bread, and Cookies 'n' Cream)
Why have one Pizookie when you can order three? Sure, this dessert trio is a great way to try multiple flavors of BJ's Brewhouse's famous sweet treat and the sizes are even considered "mini." But all together, if you happen to choose the Salted Caramel, Monkey Bread, and Cookies 'n' Cream flavors, they add up to 204 grams of sugar, the same amount found in four cans of Crush Pineapple soda.
"Who can say no to cookies and ice cream; however, this trio combo would be more reasonable if it was served up with a third of what you get. Think one mini cookie skillet with one scoop of ice cream. It's all about enjoying sweet treats but finding that right balance so you don't get a crazy blood sugar spike after indulging," Stadelman says. "Another idea is to think about sharing this trio dish with at least one other person, as you don't need to ingest all this sugar and fat by yourself!"
Olive Garden: Asiago Tortelloni Alfredo with Grilled Chicken
A creamy pasta dish is certainly delicious, but this meal from Olive Garden far exceeds recommended amounts for calories, fat, sodium, and even protein. With 114 grams of protein, the Asiago Tortelloni Alfredo with Grilled Chicken is way over the recommended 46 to 56 grams per day. What's the harm? As it turns out, excess protein can heighten your risk of kidney stones and cancer.
Panera: Mac & Cheese Bread Bowl
Panera's macaroni and cheese might be your weakness, and paired with a bread bowl, it's a carb-lover's delight. While carbs are essential for a healthy body, too much carb intake can lead to a higher risk of heart disease.
But don't despair just yet.
"I suggest ordering off the You Pick Two menu, which includes smaller portions of those classic dishes like soups and mac, salads, or a sandwich," Stadelman says. "You can still enjoy that mac and cheese (510 calories) and opt for a Half Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken (260 calories), so you can build a balanced plate with lean protein, carbs, and veggies to keep you fueled and energized throughout the day!"
IHOP: Country Fried Steak with Fried Eggs, Sausage Gravy, and Hash Browns
From the battered, fried red meat coated in gravy to the fried hash browns and fried eggs, there's a lot going on in this IHOP dish. Aside from the eggs, each item alone is hardly healthy but okay in moderation. Added together, you're looking at a meal with as much fat as about 31 slices of bacon and as much salt as you'd find in about 26 slices of bacon. Not the best way to start off your day!
TGI Fridays: Chicken Parmesan Pasta
This is one hearty dish, and it's certainly not a meal for the faint of heart. Luckily, Stadelman offers plenty of advice here to satisfy those carb cravings without ending up with a sugar spike while you're dining at TGI Fridays.
"I suggest browsing the kids' menu for some filling, yet tasty options. Grab the Kid's Butter Pasta Dish, which is a fettuccine pasta with butter and Parmesan Romano cheese (350 calories) and add a side of protein, like grilled chicken. It's a win-win and you'll be feeling satisfied but not overstuffed," she explains. "If you're not feeling the kids' choices, then decode the menu by looking for specific terms. Be mindful of these words, such as, 'crunchy,' 'crispy,' 'battered' and 'breaded,' as well as 'creamy' and 'cheesy,' which often can mean they're higher in fat or calories. Instead, opt for dishes that may be more healthful such as 'baked,' 'grilled,' 'roasted,' and 'steamed.'"
Red Lobster: Admiral's Feast
Any of these deep-fried seafood items alone would be a treat when you're at Red Lobster, but when you pile them all onto one plate together, you get a lot of greasy items for just one person. This is a feast best shared with others, lest you take in 5,000 milligrams of sodium and risk wrecking both short- and long-term health, from bloating and discomfort to kidney stones, heart failure, and stomach cancer.
Outback Steakhouse: Baby Back Ribs, Full Order, with Aussie Fries
With 129 grams of protein, the full order of ribs from Outback Steakhouse offers an excess of protein as well as fat and calories. If this is your go-to, try cutting it to the half order and pairing it with a side salad or steamed veggies for a more balanced and nutritious meal.
Denny's: Double Spicy Sriracha Burger with Seasoned Fries
While Denny's is known for its selection of breakfast meals, there are plenty of savory entrée options. But the Spicy Sriracha Burger is a no-go. You can order this burger as a double, meaning there are two patties that are covered in cheddar cheese, bacon, jalapeños, Sriracha sauce, and mayo. Paired with some seasoned fries and this meal is clocking it at nearly an entire day's worth of calories. The sodium here is just downright scary too, equivalent to 386 Lay's potato chips.
O'Charley's: Seafood Combo Platter
Going for a seafood dish is often a healthier choice, but it depends on how the fish is cooked. Take this platter from O'Charley's as an example. Here, you're feasting on hand-battered cod, buttermilk fried shrimp, and imperial stuffed crab, alongside fries, coleslaw, tartar, and cocktail sauces. Deep-frying the seafood has resulted in a highly caloric, fatty, sodium-filled dish. Beware!