What to order at the country's most unhealthy restaurant chains

Aug 3, 2016 at 6:00 p.m. ET
Image: Michael Bergman/Getty Images

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has released its yearly list of the most unhealthy chain restaurants, and it's a doozy.

Taking a look at calories, saturated fat and sodium, CSPI is calling out the least healthy restaurant chains as well as their most decadent dishes.

My internal chain restaurant-loving mall goth is definitely shedding a tear over being forced to confront the fact that, no, spinach and artichoke dip isn't healthy just because it has vegetables in it.

So the next time you're hitting up one of these babies, remember: These are the worst of the worst (and some healthier options too).


Worst offenders: Cheeseburger egg rolls, brew pub pretzels and beer cheese dip, chicken quesadilla, boneless wings with classic Buffalo sauce, spinach and artichoke dip

Healthier options: Skip the appetizer, and opt for a simple garden salad instead (non-creamy dressing on the side, please). Then order an entrée from the Lighter Fare menu, which features lower carbs, less saturated fat, lean proteins and more veggies in each dish. But if you're on a low-sodium diet, beware — all of these dishes still pack at least 1,620 milligrams of the stuff.

More: Yes, it is possible to eat fast food without eating a bunch of crap

Buffalo Wild Wings

Worst offenders: Dessert nachos (they're fried in beef tallow)

Healthier options: The following options have lower calorie counts, lower saturated fat, less cholesterol and carbs and slightly less sodium, though again, the sodium counts in all the dishes are pretty scary. Choose from Naked Tenders, a snack-size portion of plain traditional wings, a grilled chicken breast or black bean burger sans bun, grilled chicken Buffalo wrap, garden side salad or Caesar side salad.

The Cheesecake Factory

Worst offenders: Fried chicken and waffles Benedict, among others

Healthier options: Stick to the SkinnyLicious menu, which offers small plates, appetizers, salads, entrées and cocktails under 590 calories. Look for dishes with lean protein and extra veggies, and ask for any cheeses or dressings on the side so you can control how much you eat.

Dave & Busters

Worst offenders: Short Ribs and Cheesy Mac Stack

Healthier options: Look for items on the 600-or-under menu. Make them lighter by asking for any dressings, sauce or cheese on the side, and look for items with lots of veggies.

Jersey Mike's Subs

Worst offenders: Giant chipotle cheesesteak

Healthier options: Try any of the salads, except for the tuna salad. Ask for dressing on the side, or opt for a squeeze of lemon juice and a splash of olive oil instead. Just be warned: The salads that contain cheese pack a heavy dose of sodium, and the Gorgonzola salads have a surprising amount of sugar too. However, they also are full of vitamins and protein.

Maggiano's Little Italy

Worst offenders: Marco’s Meal for Two, mozzarella marinara, Taylor Street baked ziti, fettuccine Alfredo, warm apple crostada, Mom’s lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs with meat sauce

Healthier options: Take a look at the Lighter Take menu, but split the meal into two portions, and eat half later — many of these "healthier" menu options still clock in at more than 600 calories. Also, if you get a salad, ask for dressing on the side, and skip the rolls and butter that are offered at the beginning of your meal.

More: 15 deceptively unhealthy restaurant salads

Romano's Macaroni Grill

Worst offenders: Cremini pork shank, rosemary peasant bread

Healthier options: Skip the complimentary bread, which clocks in at a heavy 480 calories. Try the soups, like pomodorina, minestrone and roasted mushroom, which are lower in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol (though still quite high in sodium). A fresh green side salad with dressing on the side keeps calories, saturated fat and sodium low while filling you with fiber- and nutrient-rich veggies. If you are going to get an entrée, eat half now, and save the rest for later, or you'll likely be consuming 1,000-plus calories in one sitting. Try a half portion of the butternut Asiago tortellacci, mushroom ravioli, lobster ravioli, penne rustica or pasta di mare. None of them are exactly a healthy choice, but a half portion will come in under 500 calories — much better than other items on the menu.


Worst offenders: RT 44 grape slush with rainbow candy

Healthier options: The healthy options here are far and few between. For food, opt for a veggie burger, apple slices or a chicken wrap. For drinks, stick to water — most of their slushies and ice cream concoctions are nothing but sugar.

Uno Pizzeria & Grill

Worst offenders: Whole hog burger (though much of the menu is kind of alarming when it comes to calories, carbs, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium)

Healthier options: The good news is that Uno's online menu allows you to search by specific dietary requirements, like fewer than 500 calories, less than 750 milligrams of sodium and less than 100 milligrams of cholesterol. Though its pizzas, pastas and many entrées are full of nutritional no-nos, Uno's has a lot of healthier options too.

Try the lemon-basil salmon, baked haddock, roasted vegetables, steamed broccoli, whole-grain brown rice, farro salad, garden salad or Power Salad Lunch. These dishes are lower in sodium, calories, saturated fat and cholesterol, so you can enjoy a meal out without suffering the consequences later.

These restaurants may have some entrées that are the worst of the worst, but healthier options do still exist. It's worth checking online the dishes' nutritional information of any restaurant you're going to visit so you can plan your healthy eating ahead of time. Fortunately this list proves that even though your favorite chain restaurant may offer a few entrées of which each bite is basically a mini death sentence, they probably offer something nutritionally sound enough that you can still justify stopping in for a bite to eat the next time you go to the mall to nostalgically peer into Hot Topic (or is that just me?).

More: Meals at restaurant chains with calorie counts you really shouldn't ignore