Food Is Not Your Enemy

The Chain Restaurant Trap: 1,300-Calorie “Healthy” Choices

We’re all super busy. We have to juggle work, chores at home, maybe taking care of kids as well. Unfortunately, cooking often falls to the wayside. And with so many places to eat out, well, why not just eat out instead?

For many people, eating out means hitting a chain restaurant, like TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s, Cheesecake Factory, or P.F. Chang’s. These places are relatively inexpensive, often conveniently located, and have huge menus full of very tempting foods.

The problem? The dishes at these restaurants are making us fat.

It’s not surprising to anyone that bacon cheeseburgers with ranch dressing, fettuccine Alf redo, or brownie sundaes are high in calories. But what does tend to catch people by surprise is how many calories are in some of the dishes that sound “healthy,” like salmon, chicken, salads, and vegetarian fare.

So you walk into Cheesecake Factory, and maybe you feel determined to make a better choice than you did the last time you were here and walked out feeling like your stomach was going to explode. You winnow down your list to the following items, which all sound pretty healthy: the grilled portobello on a bun, grilled turkey burger, miso salmon, orange chicken, grilled eggplant sandwich, and the Caesar salad with chicken.

Now here are the calorie counts for these foods:

  • Grilled Portobello on a Bun = 1,377 calories
  • Grilled Turkey Burger = 1,331 calories
  • Miso Salmon = 1,670 calories
  • Orange Chicken = 1,790
  • Incredible Grilled Eggplant Sandwich = 1,020
  • Caesar Salad With Chicken = 1,510

These dishes hardly seem healthy now, right? And if you also get an appetizer and/or dessert, you’re looking at way more calories than you should consume for the whole day, or maybe even for two days. Eat a meal like this once a week and don’t be surprised if you put on 10 pounds a year. I invite you to look at Cheesecake Factory’s full list of nutrition facts for more eye-opening info.

Cheesecake Factory is certainly not the only offender when it comes to high-calorie “healthy” foods. Boston Market’s Rotisserie Chicken Salad Sandwich has 1,050 calories. Cosi’s Tuna Melt has 774 calories. P.F. Chang’s Chicken Chopped Salad With Ginger Dressing has 940 calories. Romano’s Macaroni Grill’s Seared Sea Scallops Salad has 1,170 calories.

Why do these dishes have so many calories? Portion size is certainly a contributing factor–these restaurants are notorious for serving enormous amounts of food. And fat and sugar are the other big issues. The goal at these eateries is to get you to keep coming back, and piling on lots of butter, cream, mayo, and sugar certainly ups the pleasure factor when you’re dining.

So the next time you’re thinking of heading out to a chain restaurant, think twice. An entire week’s worth of healthy eating at home can be undone by this one meal.

Chicken: Safe or Scary?

We’ve been hearing for years that we should cut down on the amount of red meat we eat. Since these exhortations began, Americans have largely been plunging their forks into chicken instead — to the tune of 8 billion birds a year — because it’s healthier, right? Well, that depends. Read my latest column on AOL’s ParentDish to find out.

Seven Restaurant Dishes Too Embarrassing to Order by Name

Loved this list, courtesy of the Consumerist. And in case you were wondering, here are the calorie counts for these cleverly named items:

Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad: 1,270 calories

Applebee’s Chicken Parmesan Tanglers: 319 calories

Cheesecake Factory’s Weight Management Asian Chicken Salad: 571 calories

P.F. Chang’s Hot Fish: 960 calories

Cracker Barrel’s Uncle Herschel’s Favorite: n/a

Friendly’s Super Sizzlin’ Sausage Sunrise: 690 calories

Outback Steakhouse’s Chocolate Thunder From Down Under: 1,220 calories

Xtreme Eating Awards 2009

Would you like an entrée with your entrée?

“Xtreme appetizers, entrées, and desserts at America’s chain restaurants are making Americans fatter and sicker, and the trendy thing for chains to do is to make already bad foods even worse. Bacon cheeseburgers come nestled inside quesadillas. Half racks of ribs are promoted as side orders to steak. Golf-ball-size blobs of macaroni and cheese are tossed in the deep-fryer and served with creamy marinara sauce and even more cheese.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has just come out with its Xtreme Eating Awards 2009, in which the advocacy group “honors” the chain-restaurant dishes with the most calories, fat, and salt. And let me tell you, it is completely shocking just how many calories some of this stuff has. The Cheesecake Factory Chicken and Biscuits? 2,500 calories. That’s more calories than you should be consuming all day.

These awards make it very clear why posting calorie counts on menus is a good thing–would you really order the chicken and biscuits if you knew it was that much of a calorie bomb?