Traditional recipes

The 10 Unhealthiest Chain Restaurant Salads

The 10 Unhealthiest Chain Restaurant Salads

It happens all the time: A group of people are at a restaurant, deciding what to order, when someone proudly proclaims that they’ll ‘just have a salad.’ So they go ahead and order their Grilled Chicken Winter Brie Salad, completely unaware of the fact that what they’re eating contains 200 more calories than the half-pound cheeseburger. But that’s the story at Longhorn Steakhouse, where that salad contains a whopping 990 calories and 51 grams of fat. And that’s on the lower end of the chain salad calorie spectrum! We tracked down the salads with the most fat and calories at 10 chain restaurants, and you might be surprised by just how unhealthy some of these salads really are.

The 10 Unhealthiest Chain Restaurant Salads (Slideshow)

When we think of a salad, many of us think of the run-of-the-mill variety: some lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and maybe a couple other vegetables, tossed with some sort of dressing. And while those are certainly still commonplace, if you head to a chain restaurant those simple salads are usually offered only as a side, and a dinky one at that. If you want a main-course salad, expect to consume just as many calories as plenty of other, non-salad menu items.

But why is that? Isn’t a salad just vegetables and dressing? Well, not really. Fat is flavor, and chains are pumping their salads full of unhealthy stuff in order to make them taste as good as possible. So they add in fried chicken, cheese, nuts, and all sorts of other calorie-rich stuff to boost the flavor and variety. When it comes to dressings, one tablespoon can contain up to 14 grams of fat and 100 calories, and they certainly don’t skimp on that, either: many entrée salads can contain up to 7 tablespoons of the stuff, which can also be full of sugar.

Another major reason why chain salads contain so many calories is portion size. These salads are gigantic, served in bowls that are comically large, and diners want to make sure that each bite contains all the good stuff, like fried chicken and cheese, so the kitchens make sure to load it up.

We used the restaurants’ online listings to find our totals, but interestingly enough, chains like Cheesecake Factory and Cracker Barrel choose to not post their nutrition info online, and some, like the Hard Rock Café, only list calories, so don’t be surprised if Cheesecake Factory salads pack in even more calories than you might expect.

So the next time you’re at a chain restaurant and you think you’ll go light and just have a salad, take a minute and think about what’s actually in your bowl. If there’s anything fried, any cheese, and sugary little things like dried cranberries, and a full-fat dressing, you might want to think again. Ask them to exclude a couple of the heavier items, and see if they can substitute grilled chicken for fried, or low-fat dressing (an even better option is straight balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the side). Click here to learn what the unhealthiest chain salad in America is; the answer might surprise you!

Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.


25 Unhealthiest Restaurant Salads in America

We love fast food burgers, and we bet you do, too. However, it's an indulgence—and everyone knows it. Just as you wouldn't order a Whopper or a Big Mac because you're trying to watch your waistline, you'd probably order restaurant salads for the same reason: it sounds like the healthiest item on the menu. Sadly, that's not always the case as there are plenty of restaurant salads that are high in calories.

More often than you realize, that salad is actually the worst choice on the menu. Restaurants across the country have learned that "nutrition" sells, so they smack these salad calorie bombs onto the "lighter fare" portion of the menu, encouraging you to think you're making a healthy selection. To clear up the confusion and call these offending high-calorie salads out, we've rounded up the most prominent examples of unhealthy salads. These restaurant salads are so bad, you'd be better off ordering that Whopper, after all. Or maybe one of these best restaurant salads instead!

In fact, the 25 unhealthiest restaurant salads have thousands of calories, unhealthy trans fats, and more sodium than you should eat in a whole day, all served over a bed of lettuce. Check out the worst offenders from some of the most popular restaurants in America.


California Pizza Kitchen Waldorf Chicken Salad

California Pizza Kitchen

If you wouldn't shove three Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes into your mouth in one sitting, then you'd best steer clear of this super sweet salad. Ordering the half instead of the full will get you down to 27 grams of sugar, but you'd be better off just having the half portion of the Roasted Veggie salad instead. Keep your calories and fat under lock by asking for dressing on the side and only using a few spoonfuls. For even more calorie-saving hacks, check out these 25 Ways to Cut 250 Calories!


Just Salad's custom option

Calories: 970
Calories from fat: 470
Fat: 53 g
Saturated fat: 14 g
Trans fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 105 mg
Sodium: 2330 mg

This is an example of how you can go totally wrong when you're at the salad bar. Using Just Salad's interactive nutrition menu, we came up with this salad comprised of mesclun lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, carrots, dried cranberries, croutons, avocado, olives, Bleu cheese, buffalo chicken, olive oil and vinegar.


Celebrate Spring with These Harvest Salad Recipes

The word alone makes me clutch my chest. I defy anyone to use "fun" and "salad" in the same sentence.

Clicking the will recommend this comment to others.

While not actually me, it certainly could be.

9. Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad

possibly the grosses menu item I have ever seen - it has been years - maybe decades since i set foot in a Chilis and I am very clearly reminded why

who comes up with this stuff?

Join the conversation! Sign up to comment on posts and users' comments

You don't make friends with salad either.

My mistake..you don't WIN friends with salad.

If you need to be clued in that cheese, fried food, and nuts are high in fat and contribute to increased calories/fat.

Yahoo.com is not exactly known for their insightful reporting.

I hate getting suckered into looking at any Yahoo ad page – oops, I mean "news item." In the first place my long-obsolete iMac takes forever to place all the streaming ads onscreen, and then after I've read the one paragraph of actual information I've got to reload. Of course Chowhound has gotten damn near as bad …

This is a junk article about junk food. Anyone expecting actual low-calorie nutrition in anything from any fast-food chain has simply gone to the wrong place. This does not stop me from getting the occasional sausage-and-egg McMuffin and scarfing it with a hashbrown cake stuffed inside, but I'll sure as hell have a salad for lunch, homemade.

beevod, I used to consider even the making of a salad as the most boring thing a cook could do. Now that my bod has been pretty much on the skids for a while I'm surprising myself with how much fun compiling a good salad can be, and how satisfying they can be to eat. None of them ever looks anything like any of these, either!

Quick Links

Latest Discussions
Cookbook of the Month
Dish of the Month
Weekly Menu Planning

9 of the Unhealthiest Chain Restaurant Meals

Before scarfing down these dishes, ask yourself if you&rsquore up for a long, long run.

It&rsquos no secret that runners love their postrun meal. But the just-released annual Xtreme Eating roundup from the Center for Science in the Public Interest reminds us how easy it is to overdo it. The report details the worst chain restaurant meals in terms of calories, fat, sodium, and sugar. Hate to break it to you, but an easy three-miler won&rsquot even begin to cover the damage.

&ldquoWe have not seen a shortage of extremely high calorie foods from restaurant chains,&rdquo Lindsay Moyer, M.S., R.D.N. and senior nutritionist of CSPI, told Runner&rsquos World. &ldquoWe&rsquore in the middle of an obesity epidemic and restaurants just keep piling it on.&rdquo

While these restaurants have certainly taken eating to the extreme, dining out often means overeating.

Related: Eat healthier with the Runner&rsquos World Meals on the Run Cookbook&mdash150 recipes that take 30 minutes or less, from the RW Store.

&ldquoYou usually get at least 1,000 calories for an appetizer, entrée, or dessert,&rdquo said Moyer. &ldquoIf a restaurant offers a healthy or lower-calorie menu, order from it. It&rsquos absolutely the only way to know what you&rsquore getting.&rdquo

In an effort to help people better understand what they&rsquore consuming, the FDA has ruled that by May 2017, restaurants with more than 20 locations will be required to list the caloric content of their menu items.

To make your meal healthier, skip out on appetizers and start with a salad instead (go easy on the dressing), and look for dishes packed with veggies and whole grains. And ask your server: restaurants will often make healthy substitutions like cutting back on cheese or making a burger into a lettuce wrap.

Below, we've listed the CSPI&rsquos worst meals, along with the number of miles you'd need to run in order to burn them off. One mile burns, on average, about 100 calories (fewer if you&rsquore smaller). For a more personally accurate calculation, check out the Runner&rsquos World Calories Burned Calculator. Spoiler: most of these dishes would require marathons, or even ultramarathons, to run off.


Hooters Chicken Caesar Salad

Courtesy of Hooters

Back in the early 2000's, Hooters refused to disclose their food's nutritional information—and now that the info is in the public domain, it's easy to see why. This dish is so gross, in fact, that you'd be better off getting a 6-piece order of wings (750 calories) than sitting down to this dish. To learn more about protein-packed fare that can actually help you trim the fat, check out these 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss.


9 Unhealthiest Meals You Order At Chain Restaurants

Most of us reward ourselves with a big post-workout meal every now and then. But the just-released annual Xtreme Eating roundup from the Center for Science in the Public Interest reminds us how easy it is to overdo it. The report details the worst chain restaurant meals in terms of calories, fat, sodium, and sugar. Hate to break it to you, but a 3-mile run won't even begin to cover the damage.

"We have not seen a shortage of extremely high calorie foods from restaurant chains," says Lindsay Moyer, MS, RDN and senior nutritionist of CSPI. "We're in the middle of an obesity epidemic and restaurants just keep piling it on."

On top of that, dining out often means overeating. "You usually get at least 1,000 calories for an appetizer, entrée, or dessert," said Moyer. "If a restaurant offers a healthy or lower-calorie menu, order from it. It's absolutely the only way to know what you're getting."

MORE: Eat healthier with the Runner's World Meals on the Run Cookbook&mdash150 recipes that take 30 minutes or less, from the Prevention Store.

In an effort to help people better understand what they're consuming, the FDA has ruled that by May 2017, restaurants with more than 20 locations will be required to list the caloric content of their menu items.

To make your meal healthier, skip out on appetizers and start with a salad instead (go easy on the dressing), and look for dishes packed with veggies and whole grains. And ask your server: restaurants will often make healthy substitutions like cutting back on cheese or making a burger into a lettuce wrap.

Below, we've listed the CSPI's worst meals, along with the number of miles you'd need to run in order to burn them off. One mile burns, on average, about 100 calories (fewer if you're smaller). For a more personally accurate calculation, check out the Runner's World Calories Burned Calculator. Spoiler: most of these dishes would require marathons, or even ultramarathons, to run off.


The 10 Unhealthiest Salads You Can Order

Salads are good for you, right? Sure, if you make them at home. Head to these fine establishments, and it’s a whole ‘nother story. These ridiculous excuses for salads are loaded with fried chicken, refined carbs and sugar, tons of cheese and nuts—and they’ve got the fat and calorie counts to prove it. If you’re trying to eat clean, avoid them at all costs.

1. Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad
Caesar salad is known for being bad for you. And when Wendy’s says that its Spicy Chicken version is the way Caesar salad is supposed to be, you can totally take the chain’s word for it: This behemoth rolls in at 780 calories, 51 g fat, and almost a day’s worth of sodium.

2. Cheesecake Factory Grilled Chicken Tostada Salad
How do you pack a grilled chicken salad with almost 1,200 calories, 15 g saturated fat, and more than a day’s worth of sodium? Load it up with strips of deep-fried corn, avocado cream, and sour cream.

3. Taco Bell Fiesta Taco Salad With Beef
Seasoned beef, white rice, cheese, beans, and a smattering of lettuce and tomato—this is Taco Bell’s definition of a salad. But at 770 calories and 41 g fat, it’s actually almost five tacos’ worth of fatty filling piled in a giant crispy shell.

4. Burger King Chicken Apple & Cranberry Garden Fresh Salad With TENDERCRISP
TENDERCRISP is Burger King-speak for the kind of fat-laden, breaded chicken fingers that you haven’t eaten since you were 12. Throw 'em in a salad, and you’ve got yourself a 680-calorie meal with 42 g fat and 7 teaspoons of sugar.

Related: 6 Fast-Food Veggie Burgers That Are Worse Than A Big Mac

5. TGI Friday’s Strawberry Fields Salad With Chicken
You might think fruit, chicken, goat cheese, pecans, and greens can’t be that bad for you. But this diet derailer boasts 860 calories and 58 g fat—nearly as much as half a rack of baby back ribs. Strawberry fields forever? Hopefully not.

6. Subway Chicken & Bacon Ranch Melt Salad
You might be surprised to learn that a salad containing the words “bacon ranch melt” is actually only 510 calories. But it’s still got 38 g fat, half a day’s worth of sodium, and 1 g trans fat—so don’t eat it.

7. California Pizza Kitchen Thai Crunch
This salad is more fried noodle sticks than it is vegetables (plus an insane amount of avocado), so you know it’s gonna be bad. But 1,460 calories and 97 g fat? That’s just beyond. Seriously, you could eat an entire pizza instead.

8. Applebee’s Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad
You definitely won’t be eatin’ good in the neighborhood if you order this monstrosity of pecan-crusted chicken, mandarin oranges, honey-glazed pecans, dried cranberries, blue cheese, and honey balsamic dressing. (Oh, and some lettuce.) It’s got 1,340 calories, 80 g fat, more than a day’s worth of sodium, and 16 teaspoons of sugar. In other words, an appetizer, dinner, and dessert all rolled into one.

9. Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad
The name “salad” is a little deceptive, since the greens/chicken/creamy dressing combo is actually served on a bed of cheese- and starch-laden quesadillas. (Points for creativity, though!) The total damage? 1,430 calories, 96 g fat, more than a day’s worth of sodium, and 4 teaspoons of sugar. Explosion indeed.

10. Hardee’s Chicken Taco Salad
A crispy tortilla shell, cheese, chicken, sour cream, and a few veggies thrown in for good measure. At 900 calories and 48 g fat, you might as well have just splurged on a cheeseburger and fries instead.


These Are the Best and Worst Chain-Restaurant Foods For Your Waistline

So, what should you order when you’re watching your waistline? Eat This, Not That! magazine rated (and graded) America’s top chain restaurants putting each under a “nutritional microscope” and came up with the healthiest and unhealthiest option on the menu.

According to the magazine, 43% of a person’s yearly calorie intake comes from eating outside of the home (restaurants, catering companies etc.), so it’s best to plan ahead.

Subway came out with an A grade calling the sandwich company 𠇊merica’s healthiest chain,” while KFC and McDonald’s marks were more of a surprise, each scoring a B+. At the lower end of the spectrum, Applebee’s took home a D+ for its “meal-wrecking appetizers, pastas, and fajitas” and the Cheesecake Factory scored an F for entrees with “quadruple-digit calorie counts.”

So how did your favorite restaurants fare? See the list of 10 top chains below.

RELATED: What 5 Dietitians Order at The Cheesecake Factory

1. Applebees: D+
Best: Northern Walleye, 690 calories, 36 g fat (13 g saturated), 1,770 mg sodium
Worst: New England Fish & Chips, 1,970 calories, 136 g fat (24 g saturated), 4,180 mg sodium

2. Burger King: C-
Best: Bacon Cheeseburger Deluxe, 290 calories, 14 g fat (6 g saturated), 720 mg sodium
Worst: Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger, 810 calories, 49 g fat (22 g saturated), 1,400 mg sodium.

3. Cheesecake Factory: F
Best: Herb Crusted Filet of Salmon, 700 calories, N/A g fat, 380 mg sodium
Worst: Grilled Chicken and Avocado Club, 1,400 calories, N/A g fat, 2,100 mg sodium.

4. Chipotle: C
Best: Soft Corn Tortilla Tacos with Steak, Cheese, Lettuce, and Fresh Tomato Salsa, 530 calories, 14 g fat (7 g saturated), 750 mg sodium
Worst: Burrito with Steak, Black Beans, White Rice, Cheese, Sour Cream, and Roasted Chili-Corn Salsa, 1,090 calories, 40 g fat (15 g saturated), 2,165 mg sodium.

5. Domino’s: B
Best: Thin Crust with Grilled Chicken and Roasted Red Pepper Pizza (2 slices, large pie), 430 calories, 20 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 900 mg sodium
Worst: Hand Tossed Crust Buffalo Chicken American Legends Pizza (2 slices, large pie), 680 calories, 34 g fat (16 g saturated), 1,700 mg sodium

6. KFC: B+
Best: Original Recipe Chicken Breast with Cole Slaw, 490 calories, 24 g fat (4.5 g saturated), 1,310 mg sodium
Worst: Chunky Chicken Pot Pie, 790 calories, 45 g fat (37 g saturated), 1,970 mg sodium

7. McDonald’s: B+
Best: McChicken, 370 calories, 17 g fat (3.5 g saturated), 650 mg sodium
Worst: Premium Grilled Chicken Bacon Clubhouse Sandwich, 610 calories, 26 g fat (9 g saturated), 1,720 mg sodium

8. Pizza Hut: C
Best: Buffalo State of Mind Thin ‘N Crispy Pizza (2 slices, medium pie), 400 calories, 14 g fat (7 g saturated), 1,420 mg sodium
Worst: Buffalo State of Mind Original Stuffed Crust Pizza (2 slices), 660 calories, 24 g fat (12 g saturated), 1,940 mg sodium

9. Subway: A
Best: Steak and Cheese Toasted Sandwich (6″) and Veggie Delite Salad, 525 calories, 11 g fat (4.5 g saturated), 1,105 mg sodium
Worst: Turkey Italiano Melt (6″) and Veggie Delite Salad, 794 calories, 26 g fat (9 g saturated), 1,565 mg sodium

10. Taco Bell: B
Best: Beef Gordita Supreme and Fresco Chicken Soft Taco, 530 calories, 16.5 g fat (6 g saturated), 950 mg sodium
Worst: Fiesta Taco Salad with Beef, 770 calories, 41 g fat (10 g saturated, 1 g trans), 1,590 mg sodium