The Center for Science in the Public Interest, always the first to ruin your lunch by telling you how many calories it contains, is at it again: They're handing out Xtreme Eating Awards for restaurant meals that go over and above the call of caloric duty. Here are a few items from their hit list:
1. Olive Garden Tour of Italy: This entree has three food items on one plate: lasagna, fettucine alfredo, and chicken parm. That adds up to 1,450 calories and 33 grams of saturated fat (before the breadsticks or salad).
2. The Cheesecake Factory's Chicken and Biscuits: This meal's chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, mushrooms, peas, carrots, and gravy add up to about 2,500 calories, CSPI says. There's also the chain's fried mac-and-cheese appetizer platter, at 1,570 calories and 69 grams—more than three days' worth—of saturated fat.
3. Chili's Original Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs: This is advertised as a $6.99 add-on to a full entree, but CSPI points out that at 490 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat, that's the equivalent of ordering a Quarter Pounder with Cheese as a side dish. (The honey-chipotle version brings the added calories up to 730.)
4. Applebee's Quesadilla Burger: Put a burger inside an already-stuffed quesadilla and what do you get? Not counting the fries that accompany it, 1,380 calories and 46 grams of saturated fat.
5. Red Lobster Ultimate Fondue: Offered as an appetizer, this combo of shrimp, crabmeat, lobster cream sauce, and sourdough bread bowl adds 750 calories and 20 grams of saturated fat—but only if you split it with your date.
Not on the list, but perhaps a candidate for next year's lineup, are the Domino's Bread Bowl Pastas now being heavily advertised on TV. Nutrition information for those isn't on the company website, but the Yum Yum Yucky blog contacted Domino's and got the deets: between 1,340 and 1,480 calories per bowl, and as much as 28 grams of saturated fat and 194 grams of carbs. (Each bowl is supposed to serve two, but the ads I've seen don't seem to show people sharing.)
While the CSPI's list makes for entertaining reading, as a very, very occasional treat, one of these blowout meals is not going to kill you. (And I'd love to know the fat and calorie content on expensive, nonchain restaurant entrees, which I'd predict are as bad as or worse than the less expensive chain offerings.) But just be aware that restaurant food in general, whether at the high or low end of things, can go down very easy, but with a ton of calories. If you're trying to watch your weight, avoid dining out entirely and stay home (and save money to boot), or split entrees, duck desserts, or take other measures. Have a look at these dieting tips from the author of The Wall Street Diet.