Do you Know About Calories in Restaurant Meals?

It’s not easy to win an Xtreme Eating award.

For starters, there are usually around 1,000 calories in restaurant meals, so anything in that neighborhood is a yawner. To stand out in the crowd, you’ve got to hit around 2,000 calories—an entire day’s worth of food—even if it’s just dessert.

But our winners have what it takes…a total disregard for the obesity epidemic and the coming diabetes tsunami. Of course, you can’t blame restaurants for that. That would be so unfair.



“Take a trip south of the border one bite at a time!” suggests the IHOP (1,564 locations) website. Its Chorizo Fiesta Omelette, which is “loaded with spicy chorizo sausage, roasted peppers, onions & pepper jack cheese, then topped with a citrus chili sauce & sour cream and served with a fresh grilled serrano pepper…will have you saying ‘excelente!’”

“Ay, caramba!” is more like it. Eating 1,300 calories in restaurant meals of just a sausage omelette alone would strike many as a tad on the heavy side. But this one comes with three buttermilk pancakes (or hash browns, toast, or fruit; but this is IHOP, after all). Remember when three pancakes alone was a big breakfast?

Add four tablespoons of syrup, and you shuffle out with a day’s calories (1,990), plus a bonus 42 grams of saturated fat, 4,840 milligrams of sodium, and 1,035 mg of cholesterol (two to three days’ worth of each). And don’t forget the passel of white flour and the 12-or-so teaspoons of added (refined) sugar—the kind that doesn’t occur naturally in fruit and milk. It’s your lucky day!

You might as well have ordered a McDonald’s Big Breakfast (scrambled eggs, hash browns, biscuit, and sausage) with three Sausage McMuffins and five packets of grape jam on the side.

extreme eating

Pit belly

As Dickey’s Barbecue Pit (416 locations) “continues to expand from coast to coast, customers are wooed by the home-style flavor and family friendly atmosphere,” says the chain’s website. And nothing woos like the 3 Meat Plate.

“Can’t decide?” asks Dickey’s. “This is the perfect plate to have everything you’re craving!”

We craved the Polish sausage, pork ribs, and beef brisket (saving the pulled pork, barbecue honey ham, spicy cheddar sausage, and turkey or chicken breast for next time).

For our two sides, we went with fried onion tanglers and mac & cheese (passing up sides like the chips, fries, barbecue beans, green beans with bacon, baked potato casserole, coleslaw, fried okra, and potato salad). And along with the free roll, pickles, and onions, we tossed in a Big Yellow Cup of Miss Ollie Dickey’s Famous Southern Sweet Tea. (It’s “only” 32 oz., but don’t worry: refills are free.)

Then we noticed the sign: “Help Yourself to Some ICE CREAM! Cold Creamy Delicious And It’s Free!” Yup. At Dickey’s, you can have free soft-serve while you wait for your order, for dessert, or whenever you feel the urge. Need a palate cleanser mid-meal? Have a cone! Take one for the road! Is this a great country or what?

With just a half cup of ice cream in a cone (and no refills), your meal comes to roughly 2,500 calories, 49 grams of sat fat and 4,700 mg of sodium (2 ½ to 3 days’ worth of each), plus 29 teaspoons of (mostly added) sugar. It’s like having three Big Macs with five Vanilla Cones.

What’s for dessert?

Crime rib

No matter your path, a delicious destination awaits,” says the Outback Steakhouse (767 locations) menu. If your destination is the Herb Roasted Prime Rib dinner, you may want to walk home…the long way.

The 16 oz. prime rib alone delivers 1,400 calories to your rib area. For sides, let’s say you get the dressed baked potato and the classic blue cheese wedge (it’s a “premium side salad,” so it’ll cost you a buck), and that you eat just half the loaf of bread and use just a light schmear of butter.

The tab: You get 2,400 calories in restaurant meals like this one, plus 71 grams of sat fat (3 ½ days’ worth), and enough sodium (3,560 mg) for today and tomorrow. It’s like eating three Outback 10 oz. Ribeye steaks with three sides of garlic mashed potatoes. How do people survive on just one?

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Blast off

All meals should be topped off with dessert: it’s the SONIC way,” suggests “America’s Drive-In” (3,522 locations). Take the Pineapple Upside Down Master Blast.

“SONIC’s real, vanilla ice cream perfectly mixed with pineapple, salted caramel & pie crust pieces” comes in a 32 oz. cup topped with several inches of whipped cream.

That’s for a large, which fires 2,020 calories at your midsection, and 61 grams (three days’ worth) of sat fat at your arteries. And it comes with some 29 teaspoons of added sugar.

One Master Blast has the calories of roughly four Dairy Queen Banana Splits. Sonic offers “heaping helpings of fun,” says its website. Wouldn’t the equivalent of one banana split be enough fun?

Restaurant survival tips

Order from the “light” menu. IHOP calls them Simple & Fit (under 600 calories in  restaurant meals from this menu). The Cheesecake Factory calls them SkinnyLicious (590 calories or less).

Skip the beef burgers & fries. Try a grilled chicken, turkey, or veggie burger. Get a green salad as your side…or main dish.

Want pizza? Go thin. To cut calories, order a thin crust or flatbread pizza. (Whole grain’s better than multi-grain, which is better than white.) To cut saturated fat, ask for less cheese and veggie, chicken, or seafood toppings instead of sausage, beef, bacon, salami, or pepperoni.

Forget fried seafood. Order it baked, broiled, grilled, or steamed. Ditch the complimentary bread (or biscuits) and dig into the salad instead.

5 Replies to “Do you Know About Calories in Restaurant Meals?”

    1. @Marilyn- I don’t disagree in principle- but I think that is misapplied to this topic.

      Being morbidly obese with the chronic health issues, not to mention the social and psychological problems that come with it for many, is NOT one of life’s great joys.

      What used to be a once-a-month restaurant dinner for our grandparents 40-50 years ago is now a once-a-week or even an every-other day occurrence for many people. I agree that being consumed with worry about calories is counter-productive or stressful. However, it is also fair to point out that restaurants today are serving two or three times as many calories in a sitting, or more. This is worth understanding and should not be dismissed. People need to be conscious and aware as consumers (in both senses), not drones. So we should enjoy a good meal on occasion, but we also need to burn some calories using our prefrontal cortex instead of blissfully shoveling food into our mouths on most every occasion.

      For instance: According to a 2007 paper published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, “portion sizes offered by fast food chains are two to five times larger than when first introduced. When McDonald’s first started in 1955, its only hamburger weighed around 1.6 ounces; now, the largest hamburger patty weighs 8 ounces, an increase of 500 percent.”
      … 1.6 ounces, easy to see that is a 1/10th pounder. Is that a slider now? Yes- grandpa used to eat ONE slider for dinner. It should be no surprise there is a link between portion size and widespread obesity.

    2. That’s true, once in a while. But we go out at least once a week and it’s important to know how much we’re packing on when we eat it all.

  1. Being older (72) I eat out at least once a week, maybe more. I try to, as soon as the dish comes, divide it into half or thirds and take the left over home. I find if I just start eating, before I do that, I eat everything before I know it. I also eat off the under 600 cal. menus if I can. Save me from a buffet! I also work out, in some manner, every day.

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