Red Lobster takes the, er, cake for serving the highest calorie chain-restaurant meal — including cocktail — in America, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest's annual survey of chain-restaurant meals, the Xtreme Eating Awards.
The seafood chain's "Create Your Own Combination" meal delivers 2,710 calories and four days' worth of sodium (6,530 milligrams), if you choose the Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp, Walt's Favorite Shrimp and Shrimp Linguine Alfredo to go with the Caesar salad, French fries and one Cheddar Bay biscuit (and who can eat just one cheddar biscuit?).
You will, of course, need a big drink to wash down all of that salty food. The Lobsterita — the chain's trademarked 890-calorie, 24-ounce margarita — will do the trick and will bring your meal up to a grand total of 3,600 calories, enough calories for today and most of tomorrow.
"This nutritional shipwreck exemplifies the kind of gargantuan restaurant meal that promotes obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases," said CSPI registered dietitian Paige Einstein. "If this meal were unusual, that would be one thing, but America's chain restaurants are serving up 2,000-calorie breakfasts, 2,000-calorie lunches, 2,000-calorie dinners and 2,000-calorie desserts left and right. Abnormal is the new normal."
However, a Red Lobster rep told the "New York Post" that customers would need to go out of their way to pick such a high-calorie combo, and that the Xtreme Eating Awards list focuses on "just one atypical combination and as a result inaccurately portrays the nature of this menu item."
CSPI counters that "it's not easy to win an Xtreme Eating Award … most restaurant meals pack around 1,000 calories."
Other 2015 "dishonorees," as CSPI calls them, include:
IHOP's Chorizo Fiesta Omelette. The omelette itself, "loaded with spicy chorizo sausage, roasted peppers, onions and pepper jack cheese, then topped with a citrus chili sauce and sour cream, and served with a fresh grilled serrano pepper," has 1,300 calories. But it also comes with three buttermilk pancakes (or hash browns, toast or fruit). With pancakes and four tablespoons of syrup, this breakfast has a day's worth of calories (1,990) and two days' worth of saturated fat (42 grams).
Dickey's Barbecue Pit's 3 Meat Plate. CSPI "researchers" chose Polish sausage, pork ribs and beef brisket and sides of fried Onion Tanglers and mac and cheese, plus the free roll, pickles, onions and a 32-ounce (the only size offered) sweet tea. This chain also invites diners to consume as much free soft-serve ice cream as they want. With just one half-cup of ice cream in a cone, this 2,500-calorie meal has 49 grams of saturated fat, 4,700 mg of sodium (two-and-a-half to three days' worth of each), plus 29 teaspoons of sugar. That's equivalent to eating three Big Macs with five vanilla cones, according to CSPI.
Louisiana Chicken Pasta from the Cheesecake Factory is "Parmesan-crusted chicken served over pasta with mushrooms, peppers and onions in a spicy New Orleans sauce." At 1½ pounds, this plate from the Xtreme Eating mainstay chain has 2,370 calories (more than a day's worth), 80 grams of saturated fat (a four-day supply) and 2,370 mg of sodium. It's equal to two orders of fettuccine Alfredo plus two breadsticks at Olive Garden.
A large Pineapple Upside Down Master Blast from Sonic is a 32-ounce cup filled with vanilla ice cream, pineapple and "salted caramel and pie crust pieces" topped with several inches of whipped cream. It has 2,020 calories, 61 grams of saturated fat (three days' worth), 4½ grams of trans fat (more than two days' worth) and about 29 teaspoons of added sugar. It contains the calories of about four Dairy Queen banana splits.
Steak 'n' Shake's 7x7 Steakburger 'n' Fries consists of seven beef patties and seven slices of cheese, plus a side of fries, for 1,570 calories and more than two days' worth of saturated fat. With a 960-calorie Chocolate Fudge Brownie milkshake, the grand total comes to 2,530 calories, 68 grams of saturated fat, more than 5,000 mg. of sodium and 26 teaspoons of added sugar. It's like sitting down to four 9-ounce Outback Steakhouse sirloin steaks, each topped with two scoops of Breyers chocolate ice cream.
"It's not enough to have one or two patties on a burger, or one or two slices of cheese; now we're seeing seven patties and seven slices of cheese on a burger," Einstein said.
One thing that might put a damper on would-be gorgers: Rules finalized by the Food and Drug Administration requiring calories to be listed on chain-restaurant menus are scheduled to take effect in December.
Until then, CSPI suggests avoiding "xtreme" entrées by ordering from "light" menus, where available, such as the Simple and Fit menu at IHOP or the SkinnyLicious menu at the Cheesecake Factory. With about 600 calories, those meals aren't exactly Lean Cuisine, but they are far better than what you'd find on the rest of the menu.
Other ways to cut calories: CSPI recommends ordering thin-crust pizza over hand-tossed or pan; a small filet or sirloin over a New York Strip, ribeye or sirloin; and broiled, steamed, baked or grilled seafood over fried.