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The #1 Unhealthiest Meal at 30 Popular Chain Restaurants

When heading to your favorite chain restaurant, dietitians say you may want to skip these meals.
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Eating out can be tricky when looking for reasonable and healthy options. While some restaurants have created menus for those with health in mind, most prioritize flavor over nutrition. These unhealthy meals may be delicious, but you should think twice before ordering. 

There is no single definition for "healthy," but general rules of thumb exist. For instance, a healthy meal provides a reasonable number of calories, adequate fiber for the given calories, lean protein, and healthy fats. This should be the style of meal you choose more often than not when eating out. On the other hand, unhealthy meals can provide more calories than many need in an entire day and be loaded with sodium and added sugar. These two nutrients may increase your risk of certain diseases, and the lack of fiber found in many unhealthy dishes can do a number on your health, too.

This doesn't mean you need to avoid going to restaurants like Red Lobster, Olive Garden, TGI Fridays, or Applebee's, but knowing what you're getting into ahead of time can be helpful for your peace of mind and personal health goals. That's why we created this list of the unhealthiest meals at popular chain restaurants.

The meals on this list are all high in calories, total fat, saturated fat, sodium, and sometimes trans fat, and many of these dishes contain more than what is recommended for you to consume in an entire day. Here are the unhealthiest meals at 30 popular chain restaurants. 

Things to consider when eating healthy at chain restaurants

  • Calories: There is no one recommendation on how many calories you should eat in a day. This number depends on an individual's unique needs and goals. As a point of reference, the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests adult women get somewhere between 1,600–2,400 calories per day, and adult men aim for 2,000–3,000. Many of the unhealthiest meals at chain restaurants contain as many calories as an entire day's worth.
  • Saturated fat: Saturated fat is something you'll see in high numbers in restaurant dishes. The American Heart Association suggests consuming only 5–6% of your daily calories as saturated fat, which for a 2,000-calorie diet equals about 13 grams. Too much of this fat can lead to increased cholesterol, clogged arteries, and heart disease. All the meals on this list contain more than 13 grams of saturated fat, with some containing upwards of five times this amount in one dish.
  • Trans fat: This is another type of unhealthy fat that can lead to heart disease, high cholesterol, and death from heart disease. According to the World Health Organization, you should aim to consume less than 2.2 grams of trans fat per day but stick to zero if you can. Many meals here contain trans fat, with a few even containing more than the daily limit.
  • Sodium: And lastly, it's common for chain restaurant dishes to pile on the sodium. It's one of the reasons they taste so darn good. Unfortunately, too much sodium can lead to things like heart disease and high blood pressure, which is why the FDA recommends eating less than 2,300 milligrams per day. The meals on this list either get you close to this limit—if not, go well over it.

Applebee's Riblet Platter

Applebee's riblets
Courtesy of Applebee's
Per meal: 1,660 calories, 79 g fat (24 g saturated fat), 3,160 mg sodium, 149 g carbs (12 g fiber, 80 g sugar), 91 g protein

Applebee's is known for serving some of the unhealthiest chain restaurant meals, but its BBQ Riblets Platter is among the worst.

"This platter of BBQ riblets comes with fries and coleslaw and contains 1,660 calories, 79 grams of fat, and 3,160 milligrams of sodium," Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD says. "And the barbecue sauce is also loaded with sugar, which over time can contribute to weight gain and other health problems."

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Outback Steakhouse Slow Roasted Prime Rib

Outback steakhouse prime rib
Courtesy of Outback Steakhouse
Per 16-ounce meal: 1,770 calories, 145 g fat (66 g saturated fat), 1,510 mg sodium, 0 g carbs (0 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 116 g protein

A deliciously cooked prime rib is a special treat on any occasion. Unfortunately, this particular cut of meat contains lots of calories, total fat, and saturated fat. That is why Outback Steakhouse's giant 16-ounce option is exceptionally unhealthy, especially when "this prime rib is also served with a loaded baked potato and a side of creamy horseradish sauce," Sabat says.

For a healthier steak option, try something like Victoria's Filet Mignon or Center-Cut Sirloin.

Cheesecake Factory Breakfast Burrito

Cheesecake factory breakfast burrito
Courtesy of Cheesecake Factory
Per meal: 2,260 calories, 151 g fat (72 g saturated fat, 4 g trans fat), 4,260 mg sodium, 138 g carbs (21g fiber, 20 g sugar), 89 g protein

Many people may not associate breakfast with the Cheesecake Factory, but this chain restaurant offers a few morning meal options in its gigantic textbook-sized menu. Unfortunately, one of its breakfast items—a classic breakfast burrito—weighs in as one of the chain's most calorie-dense dishes.

"This breakfast burrito consists of eggs, bacon, chicken chorizo, cheese, crispy potatoes, avocado, peppers, and onions. It is served with a side of sour cream and black beans," says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and member of our Medical Expert Board. "It's an extremely unhealthy dish as it is highly caloric, estimating about the average amount of calories for an entire day."

 The 9 Unhealthiest Fast-Food Breakfast Burritos, According to Dietitians

Red Lobster Admiral's Feast

Red Lobster Admiral's Feast
Courtesy of Red Lobster
Per meal: 4,980 calories, 302 g fat (33 g saturated fat, 4 g trans fat), 1,580 mg sodium, 393 g carbs (23 g fiber, 61 g sugar), 171 g protein

The Admiral's Feast from Red Lobster isn't meant for just one person, but it's easy to go overboard on these fried foods and consume more than what would be considered a serving. Sabat suggests avoiding it next time you're out at this chain.

"This seafood platter includes fried shrimp, bay scallops, clam strips, and a seafood-stuffed flounder, all served with fries and coleslaw," Sabat says. "And the high levels of fried and processed foods make this a particularly unhealthy choice." 

As mentioned earlier, the WHO recommends limiting your daily consumption of trans fat to 2.2 grams to keep it as close to zero as possible. This meal has 4 grams of trans fat, which is dangerously high. According to the Mayo Clinic, a diet higher in trans fat can lead to heart disease through higher cholesterol.

The 9 Healthiest Dishes To Order at Red Lobster

Olive Garden Tour of Italy

Olive Garden Tour of Italy
Olive Garden
Per meal: 1,550 calories, 97 g fat (50 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat), 3,220 mg sodium, 99 g carbs (7 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 72 g protein

Going on a literal "tour of Italy" might be tempting, but try to resist the urge to sample the flavors of Italia via this unhealthy dinner order from Olive Garden. At more than 1,500 calories, 1.5 grams of trans fat, and well over your daily recommended sodium limit, Sabat suggests skipping over this famous trio dish.

"Olive Garden's Tour of Italy dish includes three Italian classics—chicken parmigiana, lasagna classico, and fettuccine Alfredo," Sabat says.

If you're craving this meal, you may want to split it with a friend to lighten it up.

8 Healthiest Dishes To Order at Olive Garden

Chili's Nashville Hot Chicken Crispers, 6-Count, Without Sides

Chili's Nashville Hot Chicken Crispers Combo
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 1,770
Fat: 130 g (Saturated fat: 22 g)
Sodium: 6,520 mg
Carbs: 78 g (Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 8 g)
Protein: 73 g

It probably doesn't surprise you to see fried chicken tenders on this list, but these take fried chicken to a new level of unhealthy. Just six tenders will set you back nearly 1,800 calories, and that doesn't even consider the mac and cheese, fries, and ranch dressing on the side. All in, you are looking at more than 2,500 calories for this meal. The amount of sodium in the chicken alone packs enough for nearly three days' worth.

Ruby Tuesday Crispy Chicken Mac 'n' Cheese

ruby tuesday crispy chicken mac and cheese
Ruby Tuesday
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 1,920
Fat: 110 g (Saturated fat: 51 g)
Sodium: 5960 mg
Carbs: 147 g (Fiber: 8 g, Sugar: 26 g)
Protein: 91 g

Creamy mac 'n' cheese usually doesn't constitute a healthy meal, but you may be surprised at how unhealthy this dish is. One entree packs nearly 2,000 calories, more energy than many people need daily. Combine with the high fat, saturated fat count, and sky-high sodium, and you have the unhealthiest meal at Ruby Tuesdays. If you are craving mac 'n' cheese, go with the side order and a lean protein and veggie for a healthier meal. 

 6 Unhealthiest Fast-Food Mac & Cheese Dishes

TGI Fridays Loaded Potato Skins

TGI Fridays Loaded Potato Skins
TGI Fridays
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 2120
Fat: 92g (Saturated fat: 26g)
Sodium: 1,450mg
Carbs: 2,83g (Fiber: 48g, Sugar: 10g)
Protein: 44g

Whether you plan to share these potato skins or enjoy them as your entree, you may think twice before ordering. They pack a whopping 2,100 calories and nearly 300 grams of carbohydrate. They have an impressive amount of fiber, which is their only positive attribute. Instead of these high-fat bites as an appetizer, go with the potstickers for 590 calories.

P.F. Chang's Combo Pad Thai

pf changs chicken pad thai
P.F. Chang's
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 750
Fat: 27 g (Saturated fat: 5 g)
Sodium: 1790 mg
Carbs: 98g (Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 27g)
Protein: 29 g

Of all the entrees at P.F. Chang's, this noodle dish has some of the highest calorie counts. The pad thai with shrimp and chicken is the highest and packs nearly 100 grams of carbs. For the calories, it is also relatively low in protein, providing 29 grams. To make this meal healthier, enjoy only half of the dish and save the rest for a later meal. 

Uno Pizzeria and Grill Chicago Classic Deep Dish Pizza

Uno's deep dish Chicago pizza
Courtesy of Uno Pizzeria
Per slice: 360 calories, 26 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 710 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (1 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 15 g protein

At first glance, you may think that the nutritional information of Uno's Deep Dish Pizza doesn't seem all that bad, but these numbers are per slice. And when you consider that most of us will eat between two to three slices in one sitting (sometimes more), these numbers start to feel a bit heavier.

"This pizza is loaded with high-calorie ingredients, such as sausage, pepperoni, and cheese, and the deep dish crust is also very calorie-dense," Sabat says. Try one of its thin-crust options instead to keep your calories and fat on the lower side.

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Red Robin Monster Burger

Red Robin's Monster Burger
Red Robin
Per meal: 1,220 calories, 77 g fat (31 g saturated fat, 3 g trans fat), 2,840 mg sodium, 60 g carbs (4 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 73 g protein

With a name like Monster Burger, it should come as no surprise that this Red Robin menu item is high in calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. Because of this, Sabat says to skip it altogether.

"This burger comes with two beef patties, bacon, cheese, onion rings, lettuce, tomato, and mayo," Sabat says. "It also comes with bottomless steak fries on the side."

For a healthier option at Red Robin, try its Keep It Simple Beef Burger or Veggie Burger.

Panera Bread Pepperoni Mozzarella Melt

Panera Mozzarella Melt
Courtesy of Panera Bread
Per meal: 1,020 calories, 41 g fat (22 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 2,610 mg sodium, 115 g carbs (4 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 48 g protein

"If you are dining at Panera, the Pepperoni Mozzarella Melt is definitely an option to steer clear of," Young says.

You might assume that most of Panera's options are healthier, but this isn't true. The Mozzarella Melt has more than 1,000 calories. "The protein source in this sandwich is loaded with sodium, and consuming too much sodium can raise blood pressure and increase one's risk for heart disease and stroke," Young explains.

5 Worst Menu Items At Panera, According to Dietitians

Shake Shack Double SmokeShack Burger

Shake Shack's Smoke Shack Burger
Courtesy of Shake Shack
Per burger: 830 calories, 53 g fat (22 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat), 3,030 mg sodium, 28 g carbs (0 g fiber, 7 g sugar)

Shake Shack is known for its juicy burgers and creamy milkshakes, but its menu doesn't exactly contain the healthiest items. Young suggests avoiding the Double SmokeShack Burger if you're headed to this chain restaurant.

"This Shake Shack burger is high in calories and saturated fat, as it is a double cheeseburger that contains bacon, cherry peppers, and Shack Sauce on a potato bun," Young says.

Even opting for the single version of this burger can save you almost 300 calories and 20 grams of fat—so switch to this if you're craving the delicious SmokeShack flavors.

BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse Baby Back Pork Ribs, Full Rack with Peppered BBQ Sauce

BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse Baby Back Pork Ribs, Full Rack with Peppered BBQ sauce
BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 1630
Fat: 69 g (Saturated fat: 25 g)
Sodium: 9518 mg
Carbs: 196 g (Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 162g)
Protein: 51g

For a savory meal, this dish packs an extraordinary amount of sugar. This is largely due to the barbecue sauce, and these nutritional values don't even consider the two sides you can choose, as well as the Pizookie that comes with the meal. In total, you are looking at a meal of more than 2,000 calories with a concerning amount of sugar. Skip this meal and go with the filet mignon if you want a meaty dish. 

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LongHorn Steakhouse Outlaw Ribeye, 20 Ounces

Resting Outlaw Ribeye_courtesy of LongHorn Steakhouse
LongHorn Steakhouse
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 1,250
Fat: 87g (Saturated fat: 38 g)
Sodium: 1,670 mg
Carbs: 2 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 0 g)
Protein: 94 g

Rib-eye is one of the fattier cuts of meat, and this order is no different. The 1,250 calories in this meal come entirely from the meat and doesn't include calories from sides or bread, which could add up to 860 calories. Not only are the calories high in this meal, but the steak also contains a very high amount of fat and saturated fat. Go with the sirloin or filet for a much leaner meal. 

Hooters Big Fish Sandwich with Tartar Sauce

hooters big fish sandwich fried
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 1,220
Fat: 79 g (Saturated fat: 17g)
Sodium: 1,740mg
Carbs: 85g (Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 12g)
Protein: 46g

Fish is generally a lean source of protein, but coat it in batter and fry in oil to turn it into the unhealthiest meal at Hooters. Not only are the calories high in this meal, but at nearly 80 grams of fat, it provides more fat than most people need in an entire day. The grilled version is slightly better at 74 grams of fat, but you are better off going with the grilled Baja fish taco if you want a fish option here.

 10 Restaurant Chains That Serve the Best Fried Fish

Golden Corral Nashville Fried Chicken

golden corral nashville hot chicken
Golden Corral Buffet & Grill/Facebook
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 2,900
Fat: 245 g (Saturated fat: 42 g)
Sodium: 15,650mg
Carbs: 85g (Fiber: 25g, Sugar: 11g)
Protein: 112g

Another fried chicken option on this list is the four-piece meal at Golden Corral, which contains a shocking amount of fat at 245 grams. For many people, this is enough for four days. You'll also get nearly 3,000 calories with this meal and the highest sodium content on this list. For reference, the American Heart Association recommends 2,300 mg of sodium per day, and this chicken contains nearly seven times that amount. 

Buffalo Wild Wings Buffalo Chicken Tots

buffalo wild wings chicken tots
Buffalo Wild Wings
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 2,110
Fat: 144 g (Saturated fat: 51 g)
Sodium: 7360 mg
Carbs: 147 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 3 g)
Protein: 57 g

Although some may order this as a shareable appetizer, others will consider enjoying it as their main meal. Before doing so, evaluate whether or not 2,100 calories fit into your meal budget. For many people, this is four times the number of calories that constitutes a reasonable meal. It also packs 147 grams of carbs with zero fiber, making it the unhealthiest meal at BWW.

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California Pizza Kitchen West Coast Burger

cpk west coast burger
California Pizza Kitchen
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 1,520
Fat: 94 g (Saturated fat: 35 g)
Sodium: 4,110 mg
Carbs: 110 g (Fiber: 6 g, Sugar: 23 g)
Protein: 50 g

Pizza can be unhealthy when loaded with high-fat meats and cheese, but a single slice, or even two, can be reasonable. The West Coast Burger, on the other hand, has a high-calorie count, fat and saturated fat grams, and sodium. Skip the burger and check out the Banh Mi Bowl as a healthier alternative.

On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina Stacked Nachos

on the border stacked nachos
On The Border / Facebook
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 2,000
Fat: 127 g (Saturated fat: 52 g)
Sodium: 3,810 mg
Carbs: 139 g (Fiber: 19 g, Sugar: 13 g)
Protein: 75g

Although nachos are traditionally in the menu's appetizer section, many people will enjoy this dish as an entree. This indulgence will set you back 2,000 calories and over 120 grams of fat. Unfortunately, about 40% of this fat is saturated, making it an especially unhealthy dish. At least these nachos provide 19 grams of fiber, but that doesn't keep it from being the unhealthiest order at On the Border. 

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Long John Silver's Breaded Clam Strips

Long John Silver's Breaded Clam Strips
Long John Silver's
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 343
Fat: 19 g (Saturated fat: 8 g)
Sodium: 918 mg
Carbs: 24 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 1 g)
Protein: 18 g

Many of Long John Silver's menu items are fried, which makes for some unhealthy options. However, the Breaded Clam Strips top the list with 343 calories for a relatively small portion of 85 grams. Additionally, this nutrition info doesn't consider any side items, multiple servings of the clams, or sauces. You could easily build a meal of more than 1,000 calories. 

Texas Roadhouse 12-Ounce Ft. Worth Rib-Eye and Grilled Shrimp

Texas Roadhouse 12 oz. Ft. Worth Ribeye & Grilled Shrimp
Texas Roadhouse
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 1,510
Fat: 111 g (Saturated fat: 46 g)
Sodium: 2,040 mg
Carbs: 18 g (Fiber: 5 g, Sugar: 6 g)
Protein: 122 g

While the grilled shrimp on the dish makes for a lean protein source, the 12-ounce rib-eye packs most of the fat in this meal. The side lemon butter also contributes to the high fat and saturated fat count, and depending on the sides you choose, you could end up with a meal closer to 2,000 calories. Stick with the grilled shrimp on its own for a much leaner meal. 

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Carrabba's Italian Grill Filet and Shrimp Pasta Toscana

Carrabba's Italian Grill Filet and Shrimp Pasta Toscana
Carrabba's Italian Grill
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 2,220
Fat: 147g (Saturated fat: 80g)
Sodium: 4810 mg
Carbs: 1,42g (Fiber: 12g, Sugar: 10g)
Protein: 78g

Not only does this meal have the highest calorie count of all of the pasta dishes, but it also has the highest sodium count. Luckily, a few lower-calorie pasta options are on the menu, like the Mezzaluna, which contains 700 calories and far less sodium. 

Denny's Ultimate Omelette with Hash Browns and White Toast

Denny's The Ultimate Omelette
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 1,140
Fat: 77 g (Saturated fat: 23 g)
Sodium: 2,220 mg
Carbs: 63 g (Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 7 g)
Protein: 44g

A combination of three eggs, sausage, bacon, and cheese makes this omelet a whopping 1,140 calories. Sure, the veggies in the meal provide a few grams of fiber, but this doesn't contribute enough nutritional value to consider this a healthy meal. For a more nutritious egg dish, build your own omelet with lean protein, like ham, light cheese, and veggies.

 The 8 Unhealthiest Omelets at Popular Breakfast Chains

Bob Evans Red, White, and Blueberry Hotcakes

Bob Evans Red, White & Blueberry Hotcakes
Bob Evans
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 1,020
Fat: 20 g (Saturated fat: 8 g)
Sodium: 1,780 mg
Carbs: 194 g (Fiber: 6 g, Sugar: 69 g)
Protein: 7 g

The 1,000 calories and 69 grams of sugar in this meal make it an unhealthy option on its own, let alone when you add on a side meat, like the sausage links, for an additional 320 calories. An egg or egg white dish with a side pancake is a healthier way to enjoy the pancakes here. Skip the syrup for a dry cake to save significant grams of sugar.

Waffle House's T-Bone and Eggs Breakfast

Waffle House T-Bone and Eggs Breakfast
Waffle House
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 1,230
Fat: 73 g (Saturated fat: 23 g)
Sodium: 1,835 mg
Carbs: 3 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 3 g)
Protein: 139 g

Another cut of red meat with plenty of fat, this T-bone and egg dish contains enough fat for an entire day and enough protein for several days. For 1,230 calories, fiber content should be more than 14 grams, but this meal contains zero. Enjoy a traditional egg breakfast for a healthier option at Waffle House.

Cracker Barrel Stuffed Cheesecake Pancake Breakfast

Cracker Barrel Stuffed Cheesecake Pancake Breakfast
Cracker Barrel
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 1,250
Fat: 54 g (Saturated fat: 26 g)
Sodium: 2,240 mg
Carbs: 152 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 73 g)
Protein: 27g

Although this may not be the highest-calorie meal on the menu, its combination of 1,200-plus calories, more than 70 grams of sugar, and only 2 grams of fiber earns it the title of unhealthiest Cracker Barrel meal. Not to mention, this nutrition info is for the pancakes, toppings, and eggs and doesn't take into account the side meats, which will add an additional 210 to 240 calories.

IHOP MagnIFicent French Toast Sandwich

IHOP MagnIFicent French Toast Sandwich
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 2,160
Fat: 129 g (Saturated fat: 41 g)
Sodium: 3,020 mg
Carbs: 190 g (Fiber: 9 g, Sugar: 61 g)
Protein: 60 g

Who knew a breakfast sandwich could run you more than 2,000 calories, not including the side items? This meal includes eggs, sausage, cheese, hashbrowns, and chipotle mayo sandwiched between two thick slices of French toast. It is served with syrup, which adds significant sugar, and a choice of sides that could run you an additional few hundred calories. 

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First Watch Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

First Watch
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 1,250
Fat: 53 g (Saturated fat: 24 g)
Sodium: 1630mg
Carbs: 170 g (Fiber: 5 g, Sugar: 92 g)
Protein: 23 g

At 92 grams of sugar, this is the second-highest sugar content on our list. You could swap the regular syrup for sugar-free, but that would only save you about 130 calories. With more than 1,200 calories in this pancake dish and a few days' worth of sugar, you are better off skipping it in favor of a traditional pancake. 

Perkins Hearty Man's Combo

Perkins Hearty Man's Combo
Nutrition (Per order):
Calories: 800
Fat: 69 g (Saturated fat: 26 g)
Sodium: 1650 mg
Carbs: 11 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 8 g)
Protein: 34 g

The base of the Hearty Man's Combo includes two eggs, bacon, and two types of sausage. These ingredients not only lead to a high-fat meal but also provide 26 grams of saturated fat and no fiber. The combo also comes with potatoes and your choice of three pancakes, muffins, or buttered toast. Depending on your side, this meal could easily add up to over 1800 calories. For a healthier option, stick with a smaller meal, like eggs with fruit and toast.

This story has been updated to include new information, fact-checking, and copyedits.

Melissa Rifkin, MS, RDN, CDN
Melissa is a Connecticut-based registered dietitian with over 15 years of experience, including clinical and outpatient settings, and runs the popular nutrition education Instagram account, Confessionofadietitian. Read more about Melissa
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