20 of the Worst Restaurant Calorie Bombs

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
by Trinh Le, MPH, RD
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20 of the Worst Restaurant Calorie Bombs

How many calories are you really eating at restaurants? Everywhere you turn there are delicious dishes that turn out to be calorie bombs in disguise. A 2016 study by Tufts researchers found that 92% of 364 restaurant meals — from both large-chain and “non chain” restaurants — serve up more calories than the average person needs in a single meal.

Get this: The researchers found that meals at nonchain restaurants averaged 1,205 calories! (Nonchain restaurants are those with fewer than 20 locations, so they are not required to provide calorie information under the menu labeling law adopted in 2010.) Large-chain restaurants had roughly the same stats. To help you understand how many calories you’re getting, we’ve compiled stats from the study and other sources in this handy infographic. There are some tips to help you order up (just not in calories!).

20 of the Worst Restaurant Calorie Bombs

About the Author

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh is a registered dietitian by day, blogger at Fearless Food RD by night. She loves helping folks develop a better relationship with food, which includes lots of cooking, eating and learning about nutrition. When she’s not snapping mouthwatering shots of (mostly) healthy food, you can find Trinh HIIT-ing it at her local gym. For more, connect with her on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest.

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55 responses to “20 of the Worst Restaurant Calorie Bombs”

  1. Avatar Brenda says:

    I want to preface this by saying that I usually really enjoy your articles and often learn something new and useful. This one bothers me a bit, though. I’m not saying the following to criticize anyone really. I know there’s always good intention. I just feel protective of my fellow Fitpals who might take the sweeping generalizations in this article a little too much to heart. Case in point: you can doubtless find a cheeseburger for 1,412 calories at many restaurants and I realize that your focus in the infographic is primarily on non-chain restaurants; however, in the interest of fairness, I think you should also inform your hard working readers that on those days that their body is screaming out for a cheeseburger, they can also find one at, say… Burger King for just 350 calories, and that making that occasional choice will not spell their doom.

    I have lost nearly 40 lbs. over the last year. I did that by eating less and moving more. I did not, however do it by eating lettuce and carrots, and constantly saying “no” to foods I previously enjoyed. In fact, it’s the promise of allowing myself future treats that keep me on track.

    • Avatar Mia Jimz says:

      Thank You Brenda, I especially enjoyed reading the part that you have lost nearly 40lbs over the last year, that is my goal and I just started myfit so I pray I can stay on track and not loose sight of my goals because I want to enjoy the foods I love and an occasional treat.

    • Avatar Eric Barrans says:

      Agreed, descriptions are way too general. Ribeye steak is 1,726 calories. How big was that ribeye steak and what came with it? From the picture it looks like some bread and a potato and the steak looks huge. A lot of places I could order a steak half that size and some grilled vegetables and have a great, nutritious, reasonably low calorie meal.

      Little tip if you do order a meal that big ask for a box when you order, put half of the food in the box before you even start eating. Out of sight out of mind.

  2. Avatar Lauren says:

    This is rather misleading. Almost every meal includes an extremely high calorie side dish, and yet you make it sound as though the main dish is to blame. Every Chinese food has “rice”, every Italian food has “foccacia”, all the Mexican dishes include “chips and salsa”, the rib eye apparently includes a potato and bread — I would think any sensible person would know that adding these side options would of course lead to a high calorie meal.

    A better article would be how to enjoy a rib eye steak with vegetables and thus keep the calories within reason, instead of a click bait article based on misleading information.

  3. Avatar Aieomi says:

    This is a really dangerous post that can lead people who aren’t knowledgeable in observing their calorie intake into under eating.

    For anyone reading this please do your own research and learn how to count your calories properly and don’t listen to this garbage.

    • Avatar Miranda Rae says:

      I agree, especially for something like Indian food. More often than not when you order a dish it’s intended to be shared or taken home. Also, something like Naan can be left out, or a smaller portion of it and rice eaten.

      What would have made this article better is if they had included healthy alternatives to each choice.

      • Avatar BHAKTI says:

        Indian food is my favorite ethnic food. Another thing most people probably don’t realize is that Indian restaurants use heavy cream or half’n’half in their recipes because (from what my favorite restaurants have told me) cream makes the food look more appetizing than coconut milk. I was told this is especially true on days there are buffets.

        The amount of fat/calories in cream vs coconut milk is substantial, especially on a 1200 calorie a day restriction.

        (The ONLY reason I found this out is because I was diagnosed with dairy allergy six years ago and inquired about all food I was eating to discover what was making me sick. I was shocked to find out the vegetarian Indian restaurant was using cream without putting that info on the menu, because I was vegan at one point for health reasons.)

    • Avatar Timothy Fish says:

      The graphic does say to log your meals. But even if you don’t, I very much doubt that anyone who is eating at an American restaurant is going to go hungry.

      • Avatar Aieomi says:

        Anyone who is on a journey to lose, maintain, or gain weight can easily develop an eating disorder if they’re misinformed. Someone who doesn’t know any better may read this and think “hmm every cheese burger is 1,412 calories”, which is some peoples daily allotment.

        Posts like these that aren’t specific about the specific ingredients or specific meal from which restaurant that they collected their data is what brings on the “salad for every meal” mindset.

        “Anyone eating at an American restaurant isn’t going to go hungry”. MFP is not solely used by Americans. Regardless that is such a bad generalization.

    • Avatar Noduh says:

      If someone is too stupid to realize that not every single cheeseburger is going to be 1412 calories, losing weight is the least of their problems.
      It’s called critical thinking. The point is, restaurant food can pack an insane amount of calories if you’re not careful.

      • Avatar Aieomi says:

        Not everyone is aware of calorie tracking. Calling the unaware “stupid” is a ridiculous statement on your part. The entire point of posts like these is to educate people who know nothing about just how much they’re consuming.

        The wild generalization and no specifics as to which restaurants, ingredients, or extra side dishes that were included in the calorie calculations makes this post nothing but garbage.

      • Avatar Lynn Erren says:

        Number of calories…..it’s called grammar.

        • Avatar DLB says:

          Criticizing someone’s grammar on MyFitnessPal comments is just petty. Don’t you think there’s already enough hatred and vitriol in the world?
          Besides, anyone using a five-dot ellipsis shouldn’t be criticizing other people’s grammar.

          MyFitnessPal app is the last place I expect to find trolls.
          Let’s keep it civil, people.

          • Avatar Lynn Erren says:

            If you had read the entire thread you might have realized I was using irony to take down someone who called readers stupid and said “it’s called critical thinking”. That was petty.

  4. Avatar Kaiser says:

    I just read your article and have mixed feeling about it. One, I agree with Brends’s post on finding lower calorie burgers but my thoughts are thus, since 6 days of the week we eat at home, and my wife cooks healthy, when I go out to eat, I don’t want to have to worry about my calorie intake. I just want to enjoy what I eat for that one meal, be it a burger, pizza, or whatever.

  5. Avatar Lane G. Weinman says:

    On the opposite side of most of the comments left here I say kudos for a fantastic look (simplified for sure) at how many calories we’re really eating when eating out. My take is that the purpose of this article is to inform readers that restaurant portions and preparation are always equal to what you cook at home. For those of us who track our calories religiously it’s no surprise, but Im always shocked by what some people consider a single or “reasonable” portion of food.

    I don’t feel that this list was designed to stop people from eating out or steer them away from certain dishes. It’s just another great tool for making informed decisions about the food we eat.

  6. Avatar blitz4075 says:

    Ribeye steak is not 1700 calories. Trash article and graphic.

  7. Avatar Derek says:

    I agree eating restaurant food is very high in calories and bad for you! Cook your own good and eat healthier. I don’t understand all these negative comments, the food in restaurants is bad for you!!

    • Avatar ATXwino says:

      Derek – you are confused, misinformed, and uneducated with regard to food, macros, and nutrition. You are ignorant but there’s hope for you as long as you’re willing to put forth the time and effort in researching and learning. Spend some time understanding macros and calories and now they affect body composition…

      • Avatar Derek says:

        Read the nutrition facts from the restaurants and you will find the same as she did. Present some facts as she did, mr educator.

        • Avatar Aieomi says:

          The FACT is that not every cheese burger is riddled with calories in the thousands. Home cooked meals will most often be better because you can personalize them to be nutrient dense. But that doesn’t mean that restaurant food should be demonized.

          It’s your responsibility to know what you’re ordering. Ask for alternatives in your meal. Most restaurants serve HUGE portions. Ask for a second plate, split your meal up into appropriate portions and doggy bag the rest immediately in order to avoid temptation.

          • Avatar Derek says:

            She never said they were, she gave some averages on restaurant food which is correct! Yes cooking from home isn’t restaurant food. Most of these comments make no sense at all.

          • Avatar Aieomi says:

            Do you know how much stuff you have to slam into a “cheese burger” for it to be nearly 1500 cals? That’s not even close to an average. Try again.

          • Avatar Derek says:

            First one I pulled up was Cheesecake Factory double bacon cheeseburger 1580 calories above the average. 960 just for a regular burger with no condiments or toppings! So to your point it doesn’t take much to get to the 1,500. I don’t need to try start looking at the nutrition facts.

          • Avatar Aieomi says:

            I’ve never heard of this burger before. I googled it and thats a bunch of extra disgusting nonsense slapped on a burger.

            According to the USDA the AVERAGE cheese burger is 308 calories. So yes you do have to slap a bunch of nonsense on it in order to hike a single burger to nearly 1500 calories.

            I’m sticking to my guns. It is your responsibility to know what you are ordering not the restaurants to tell you. The average caloric intake on most of these foods is nowhere near what was posted unless you’re talking about a full course meal not just a “rib eye steak”. This was a highly irresponsible post. Have a good night.

          • Avatar Eric Barrans says:

            The reason that the calorie content is so high at most restaurants is simply because the portions are out of control. Doesn’t necessarily mean the food is bad for you (some is, some isn’t) but nobody needs to eat the amount of food that you normally get at an american restaurant in one sitting. Believe me, I did it for 35 years and got fat, way too fat. I am finally understanding how it works. I haven’t cut out any food from my diet, just simply reduced my portions and have lost 39 lbs in just over 4 months. I still eat at restaurants I just don’t eat the whole thing!

          • Avatar Aieomi says:

            Agreed! Great job on your weight loss. Your dedication is admirable.

          • Avatar Bjørn Deildok says:

            Same experience here. I eat exactly the same food – or as close as possible, I used to eat a lot of italian, now a bit more asian food due to my asian wife – but just cut down on portion size. So far dropped 30 kgs. That’s 65 pounds or so. Still hava love for italian that I have to fight a bit, I made a simple Pizza Margharita: Homemade dough with no sugar, a little tomato&meat sauce, some regular cheese and a bit of mozzarella, bell peppers and onion, a sprinkle of olive oil, 15″ diameter, just to see the calories of it. I got scared. That pizza packed 4.100 calories. A quarter of that is just about a full days food…

          • Avatar King Antonius says:

            EVERYTHING at Cheesecake Factory is very high in calories unless you get a salad, and even those are higher than necessary. Don’t assume that Cheesecake Factory is anywhere near average. Hell, you can eat 4 McDoubles from McDonalds to reach those 1580 calories. A foot long Meatball Marinara from Subway (on white bread) is 960 calories. More than half, for one sub! In said subs defense though, a foot long will have you flat out stuffed. A 6 inch will be more than enough if you don’t eat with the goal of being full.

          • Avatar Adam says:

            These comments make no sense. Yes, you’re right. Because people are commenting and getting worked up on marketing material.

      • Avatar Eric Barrans says:

        The reason that the calorie content is so high at most restaurants is simply because the portions are out of control. Doesn’t necessarily mean the food is bad for you (some is, some isn’t) but nobody needs to eat the amount of food that you normally get at an american restaurant in one sitting. Believe me, I did it for 35 years and got fat, way too fat. I am finally understanding how it works. I haven’t cut out any food from my diet, just simply reduced my portions and have lost 39 lbs in just over 4 months. I still eat at restaurants I just don’t eat the whole thing!

  8. Avatar ATXwino says:

    Sorry, and I’m sure everyone will take this the wrong way, but this article is garbage… There are still plenty of poorly informed, confused, lazy folks out there that don’t do their own research who, as a result of this article, will think all cheeseburgers have 1,412 calories, or all chicken fajitas have 1,588 calories, or etc. The better service is to advise these folks as to how to order these meals in a restaurant with fewer calories and better macros. Now at 45 years old, I’ve lost over 50 pounds of fat, and gained over 30 pounds of muscle over the past few years – and I still eat out most of the week. Preparing your own meals makes more sense from many perspectives, but you can eat out and make healthy, delicious choices while moving towards the body composition and health factors you want. I realize this article is a “30,000 foot” look at restaurant food, and is probably accurate in terms of calories for many of these dishes, but don’t demonized a cheeseburger because Chili’s or the local bar cooks burgers with almost 1,500 calories!

    • Avatar Timothy Fish says:

      In the restaurants I’ve been in, maybe 10% of their menu was low enough calorie to be reasonable. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that restaurants aren’t serving portions that are too large.

    • Avatar Robin Weiner says:

      I have, over the lsst year , during which I lost over 40 lbs., been made aware through due diligence that chain restaurants are dangerous. With 1 exception, I searched for choices that that were nutritionally efficient and found very very few. Though not as extreme as items mentioned in the article, many items exceeded 800-1000 calories for an entree. Even Budda’s Delight would result in a “Budda Belly”. This article is simply a nudge, a big wake up call.

  9. Avatar ATXwino says:

    And another thing, a calorie isn’t just a calorie… Focus your eating on high-quality protein first, them the balance of your calories from quality, healthy fats and carbs. You’d be foolish to cut calories at the expense of protein. Just remember, protein goals first, then calorie goals last – and make all of the macro sources good, high-quality sources. Never, ever cut calories to a level that sacrifices your daily necessity of protein – which is a lot higher than the US RDA suggests no matter your body composition! Move more, lift weights, limit cardio, get your protein, sleep plenty, and cut your calories – you will get the results you want; it’s literally that simple…

  10. Avatar Angela Wilkinson says:

    You should definitely be aware restaurants serve very caloric food, but the amount of calories in the food vary wildly from restaurant to restaurant. Honestly, research the specific place you’re going to eat. There’s plenty of places out there where the cheeseburger is better (less fat and calories) for you than some of the salads.

  11. Avatar Brandi says:

    I agree that it’s okay to eat out for a burger on occasion if you choose and it’s not hard to ditch the fries for a side salad. You can also choose to leave the bun or just have half the bun. Too many restrictions would not work for me personally but, that’s just me. I’ve only been using this App for 65 days and I’ve lost 21 pounds & I’m so thankful for it. Brenda said it perfectly, “Eating less and moving a bit more!”❤️

  12. Avatar Michele L'Intenditore says:

    The Italian food specified here aren’t quite Italian-style.
    You can’t possibly foind “Spaghetti with meatballs” in Italy: you could find “Spaghetti al ragù” that make 100 calories for the ragù sauce and 370 calories for 100 g of egg fettuccine, using industrial products, homemade ones may have different values, of course.
    For “Fettuccine Alfredo” in Italy are called “Pasta burro e parmigiano”: it’s more caloric because 50 g of Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano are 200 calories, and 30 g of butter are 240 calories: if you add butter of course the calorie count goes up.

    Stuffed chicken marsala I have no idea what is.

    Maybe the caloric intake is made by focaccia, that’s normally filled with olive oil: but in Itlay normally you don’t eat it with pasta, because is considered a first course like pasta, and anyway we normally eat plain white bread.

  13. Avatar Krishna says:

    Chicken Fajitas are less in calories if you order corn tortillas, and skip on the side of rice and beans. Indian food is also less calorie if you order roti instead of naan. There are always alternatives.

    • Avatar King Antonius says:

      Keep the beans. Low in calories over all and plenty of Potassium. You’d be better off going easy on rice, cheese and sour cream. I’d never say to completely omit them because to any lover of Mexican food, it’s pure blasphemy! Just go easy with what I mentioned and maybe just have one or two instead of the 3-6 I see most people eat.

  14. Avatar Rob Boyle says:

    Damn, such a short article and so many people didnt even read it before criticizing.
    This is the findings of actual research, not just some numbers that Trinh put together. These are calories for the typical complete meal at the restraunts included in the study.

  15. Avatar Bob says:

    I’ve lost 140 pounds eating 90% of my meals in restaurants. It can be done if you take your time and learn how to customize entrees. Saying “no” to cheese, mayo, and added sugar makes even the most calorific meals manageable. Learn to ask for items “on the side”. Even if you use all of it, you can control portion sizes that way. Sometimes I wonder if the authors of these types of articles are trying to discourage newcomers to weight management from succeeding. Every meal at every restaurant can be made healthier with a little attention and customization. If you ordered the items on this list and are surprised by the calories, you’re not really paying attention!

  16. Avatar CR says:

    What a garbage article. I need a to stop following this bogus site.

  17. Avatar Kenny Wilson says:

    I found this article to be off base. There are much worse things to eat than these. They didn’t even mention getting appetizers or desserts. Portions are more important if you ask me. But I am biased. I will not totally deprive myself of good food. Life is too short to eat a salad at every meal. Stay focused and be smart.

  18. Avatar Joseph says:

    The caloric amounts indicated in the article are way over board . using the caloric numbers found in MFP , 6 oz of 90/10 ground beef is less than 300 cals , 2 slices of American cheese are 105 cals , the hamburger bun 110 cals . That’s 415 total . 44 grams protein , 27 grams fat , 23 grams carbs . Perfect amounts of each for 1 meal . Limit the fries to a few and it’s fine . No sugary soft drink . Absolutely fine to eat this . As an indulgence meal 500 cals at one sitting isn’t excessive at all . The macros are balanced and if counted into ones daily caloric and macro intake , I believe it’s just fine .

  19. Avatar robinbishop34 says:

    The total calories listed for the various meals are actually pretty accurate when you consider it is a total of the entire meal. For instance, a 12 oz Ribeye is about 700 calories, but when you factor in a loaded baked potato, another side, and a sugary/alcoholic drink or two you can EASILY reach 1700+ calories. MOST people, even when they weigh and track their food (essential), underestimate the calories they consume, and overestimate calories burned.

    I have a bag of frozen french fries in my freezer right now. A 3 oz. serving is 190 calories. Any 12+ y/o boy could easily shove the entire serving in his mouth and have it down in 20 seconds. In other words, it looks and feels like a small serving but is still very calorie dense. Now imagine the huge servings you get at Applebees or TGIF and it hits 600-800 calories FAST.

    Like others have mentioned on this post, you can certainly enjoy this type of meal by using healthier substitutes, eating half, avoiding loaded drinks, etc. What isn’t addressed however is how common it is for both restaurant AND boxed/processed food to contain MORE calories than labeled.

    A good rule of thumb is to always add 10% to the listed calories on these foods. So if a Lean Cuisine lasagna meal or BK burger is listed as 250 calories, add an additional 10% (0.10 x 250 = 25) to the total (250 + 25 = 275 calories) and register that.

  20. Avatar Get real says:

    This is another example of silly journalism today, based on nothing in the way of fact giving. Just a little ditty too try and catch the silly publics attention and read it. Just like most media today.

  21. Avatar Rhetta Jack says:

    Get rid of the Focaccia, the chips, and the Naan. That would help a lot!

  22. Avatar Dave Raver says:

    This “article” is completely absurd. A cheeseburger at 1410 calories? General Tso’s chicken at 2,100 calories? The author essentially took the “worst case scenario” and presented it as one-size-fits-all fact. This is a disservice to those readers who do not know any better. A McDonalds cheeseburger is 300 calories, that’s quite different from the 1500 calorie triple-patty, 4 slice of cheese with bacon, calorie bomb.

  23. Avatar Gina Baggio says:

    I was surprised about the chicken fajitas being so much…and here I thought I was making a good choice! Wow, is there any healthy dinner option at a Mexican food restaurant?

  24. Avatar Miss_Montana says:

    This could have been a good article if it was more transparent. For example, all the Mexican meals included chips and salsa. How many calories were chips and salsa and how many were the actual meal? Also would have been nice to have it broken down further with values for protein, fat, carbs, sodium, fiber, etc. As it stands, it’s pretty much worthless information.

  25. Avatar Ralloh says:

    I think the best advice in the whole article is to cut your meal in half and take it home for the next day. That solves the calorie problem.

  26. Avatar DLB says:

    I eat grilled chicken sandwich from my local restaurant and the total = approximately 400 calories.
    The sandwich is a kaiser roll, 4 – 6 oz chicken, 2 slices tomato, 2 iceberg lettuce leaves, and I put on 1 TBSP light mayo. Sometimes I will sprinkle tumeric and cumin on just for flavor (and because I was vegetarian for 20 yrs and really don’t like the flavor of chicken), but that only adds another 6 calories.
    I’ve been losing weight steadily using MyFitnessPal regularly since the beginning of May, and I’m disabled/sedentary, so I know my calorie intake is correct.

    Can’t imagine what they’re putting on a grilled chicken sandwich to bring it up to 1200+ calories. Yikes!

    Other than that, I did find many useful tips in this article. Thank you for sharing!

  27. Avatar Kim Go says:

    I signed in just to say, thanks to Ms. Trinh Le, MPH, RD, I have learned that the My Fitness Pal newsletter I have been getting in my inbox is not worth reading. They allow people to put up worthless junk articles like this. A whole meal plus side dishes includes lots of variables but the information is very unspecific and people learn nothing helpful from it. I will be unsubscribing.

  28. Avatar Srini says:

    This is too foggy, Eating anything above the required portion is a calorie bomb. I cant resist but eat all these foods listed in here in normal portions without much weight gain.

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