Home Fast Food Should A 2,500 Calorie Plate of Pasta Be Illegal?

Should A 2,500 Calorie Plate of Pasta Be Illegal?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) offered up the “Xtreme Eating Awards,” where they shine a white-hot light on the dishes in our favorite restaurants with the most absurd offerings in terms of calories or… basic common sense.

Take my favorite example – at Friday’s, you’ve got the “Three-For-All.” For Applebee’s, it’s the “Sampler.” Olive Garden offers the “Tour of Italy.” All for the eater who “can’t choose what they want, so let ’em eat ’em all!”

CSPI also talks about the ridiculous appetizers and add-ons offered at most restaurants that are little more than slightly smaller versions of full-course entrees. Adding half a rack of ribs to your dish for $6.99,

Taken from the press release:

Keep in mind that most people should limit themselves to about 2,000 calories, 20 grams of saturated fat, and 1,500 mg of sodium per day. And the envelopes please…

  • Red Lobster Ultimate Fondue: This retro item is also making comebacks at Olive Garden, Uno Chicago Grill, and at a chain that sells nothing but fondues, The Melting Pot. Red Lobster’s Ultimate version, “shrimp and crabmeat in a creamy lobster cheese sauce served in a warm crispy sourdough bowl,” is crammed with 1,490 calories, 40 grams of saturated fat, and 3,580 mg of sodium. That’s two days’ worth of both artery-clogging fat and blood-pressure-spiking sodium.
  • Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger: Here Applebee’s inserts a bacon cheeseburger into a quesadilla. Two flour tortillas, two kinds of meat, two kinds of cheese, pico de gallo, lettuce, and a previously unknown condiment called Mexi-ranch sauce, plus fries, gives this monstrous marriage 1,820 calories, 46 grams of saturated fat, and 4,410 mg of sodium. Bonus heart-stopper: Applebee’s actually invites customers to top the fries with chili and still more cheese.
  • Chili’s Big Mouth Bites: This is four mini-bacon-cheeseburgers served on a plate with fries, onion strings, and jalapeno ranch dipping sauce. (“Mini” is relative: each one is like a Quarter Pounder.) Like the “sliders” available at other chains, Chili’s Big Mouth Bites can be an appetizer or an entrée (these numbers are for the latter). 2,350 calories, 38 grams of saturated fat, and 3,940 milligrams of sodium.
  • The Cheesecake Factory Chicken and Biscuits: Nutrition Action calls it “discomfort food.” If you wouldn’t eat an entire 8-piece bucket of KFC Original Recipe plus 5 biscuits, you shouldn’t order this. But unless you live in a city with menu labeling, you wouldn’t know that this dish has 2,500 calories. The rest of the winning—or rather, losing—appetizers, entrées, and desserts are in the June issue of Nutrition Action.

Because of all this, I was asked if I thought these kinds of offerings should be deemed illegal. And I’ve got to admit, I’m kinda torn about this.

No… actually, I’m not.

There’s no denying the fact that these numbers are bananas, and these dishes are disgusting looking. Having said that, the only question I have left to ask is…

…so what?

I mean, let’s look at CSPI’s findings for what they are. I’m a firm believer in the idea that if these restaurants are going to serve these gut-busting atrocities and pass them off as meals, then they should also be forced to make the nutritional information for those dishes available to the public… just like the processed food manufacturers. Not as an obscure link on a website. As a part of their menu. To me, it just makes sense – if the FDA says that food manufacturers have to put the nutritional info on the side of the box, then restaurants should be forced to have the information equally readily available. Kudos to CSPI for helping bring to the forefront the issue of hidden calorie counts.

However, to say that because CSPI uncovered these heart-stopping (literally) findings means that we should all campaign to have the dishes banned by law? I think that’s quite a reach. I mean, complaining about high-calorie appetizers that are supposed to, by definition, whet the appetite… you’d probably do better to talk to the person who orders the appetizer as their meal and remind them that “this dish is intended to serve 4… not one.”

I look at it like this – the reality of it all is that for the past 50 or so years, we’ve had someone assume the “responsibility” of leading the American diet. Not the various cultures from which we came (regardless of how connected some of us were allowed to be to our cultures), not the traditions of our respective nations… but… the government. The charge has always been led by someone who could develop/has developed ulterior motives or a fundamental incapability to properly rule on these most serious of matters. (Would you trust the entity responsible for protecting the longevity of an industry to tell the public how to safely enjoy said industry? Have you met the USDA?)

Do I have a problem with the dishes? You know I do. I find them disgusting, especially since I could probably duplicate that 2,500 calorie pasta dish in my own kitchen for mayyyybe 600 calories. But to tell people that they shouldn’t be allowed to order them is excessive. I’ve simply had enough of people trying to assume the responsibility of telling us what to eat. They either get it wrong – repeatedly – or they start getting drunk on their own power and abuse their privilege… trading in our health for their own personal favors. Unacceptable.

In reality, I’m a much larger proponent of forcing restaurants to post calorie counts of their food items than I am anything else. That would compel those who care to make better, more knowledgeable choices and force franchises who want that money to create healthier dishes and compete for those dollars fairly. The hypothetical question of banning certain foods is just excessive, I think.

The point of all this, really, is to underscore the fact that the responsibility for my eating habits should solely rely upon me. No one is going to look out for me and my health the way I can… especially when there is money to be made off of me. Don’t rely on others to make these kinds of decisions for you, leaving yourself open to poor health. Take charge! Some things, we can’t rely on a magic button, pill, garment, organization or law to do for us. Some things are important enough for us to take charge of ourselves, and that includes our health.

Your thoughts? Let’s hear ’em!

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Rhonda Green June 3, 2010 - 10:41 AM

As you stated I think nutritional listings should be a staple on all menus, no matter the restaurant. When I visted NY a couple years ago, I loved the fact that the nutrional information were listed on the menus right next to that cinammon pretzel that I WAS gonna get. Hopefully we will see a day when its manditory for everything.

Tonda June 3, 2010 - 1:30 PM

I recently visited Philly and dined at a restaurant that posted the calorie/fat/sodium content on the menu under each item and it made a big difference in my meal choice. Knowing beforehand what you’re considering putting into your body helps to persuade you to do better.

Erika June 3, 2010 - 1:33 PM

See, now I’m curious. I knew about NY, but Philly? Interesting. Do you think it made an impact on what the restaurant offered its patrons? As in, was there more “healthier” dishes than indulgent ones?

Bannef May 22, 2011 - 3:07 PM

I do think it affected what the restaurants serve, at least in NYC. Starbucks started selling mini treats advertised as “all under 200 calories.” Now for all I know they do that in all their restaurants, but I haven’t seen it in Chicago…

Ben Hyrman June 3, 2010 - 1:34 PM

Totally agree. I’m generally in favor of a well-informed populace making decisions versus a nanny state telling me what’s acceptable and keeping me safe. Clear (that is readily available with the menu) nutrition labeling would go a long way towards that.

Erika June 3, 2010 - 1:37 PM

EXACTLY – ESPECIALLY when you can’t trust the nanny to always act in your best interest? Oh, naw. I’ll monitor my own fridge and my own choices, thank you very much! LOL!

Dr. Ayo June 3, 2010 - 2:31 PM

Thanks you for bringing it back to …”the responsibility of my eating habits should rely upon me” — that is it exactly. The fact remains, if I choose to eat junk today, then I choose to be fat tomorrow. We all have to make the choice. I would love to see nutrition labels on restaurant menus..it would make a lot of us think twice about what we are putting in our mouth!

Erika June 3, 2010 - 5:21 PM

It IS a personal responsibility issue! And every time we let someone skate by on a “magic solution” to fixing their poor choices, we only allow the “obesity has a quick fix” myth to perpetuate. Seriously!

Eunice @ Food4Fit June 3, 2010 - 4:39 PM

Great post! This reminds me of something I wrote about the Retire Ronald campaign against McDonald’s. They want Ronald McDonald to retire because he markets to children “who don’t know any better”. I think the responsibility falls on the parents, who can research that nutrition information for these meals, and teach their children about making healthy choices and moderation with junk/fast food. As adults, we should definitely take charge when it comes to what we eat! The example that parents set will influence their children’s decisions now and in the future.

Erika June 3, 2010 - 5:26 PM

You know what, Eunice, I actually saw this entire situation played out in a documentary – why parents complain about advertisements that market directly to children. The complaint was “On one end, I have the sexually precocious teenage model doll that looks like a street walker. On the other end, I have a big giant psycho clown offering my kid french fries. I’d rather fight the sexually precocious doll battle than the darn fries.”

Actually, this just inspired a post… I had to erase like four paragraphs, here. LOL!

Rita June 3, 2010 - 9:20 PM

I totally agree that restaurants should in fact offer the calorie count and nutritional info next to the items listed on menus. It would make clean eating a little easier and allow me to still enjoy dinning out with friends and family. I want to make the appropriate food choices and still enjoy my time as I’m a fan of eating out. So far my only options have been the fresh items or the vegetarian items and “to-go boxes”. I’d love for it to be a national mandate and hopefully Atlanta won’t be slow to catch on.

Tonda June 7, 2010 - 2:43 PM

Sorry for the late response, but the restaurant in question did not offer many healthy choices, even the salads were starting off at 300+ calories. But it was my first time there so not sure what the menu looked like beforehand.

Megan August 10, 2010 - 12:14 PM

I guess I’m a little skeptical. I don’t know if I believe that posting calories and saturated fat on the menu is going to deter people from ordering. If you want a double down, you want a double down. Two pieces of fried chicken with cheese in between is going to be ridiculous. You HAVE to know that. When I order my Louisiana Chicken Pasta from the Cheesecake Factory, I definitely know how unhealthy it is. One of the reasons people go out to eat is to treat themselves, otherwise they would just save money and stay home. I just can’t believe anyone would order any of the aforementioned meals thinking that they were even remotely healthy. With that said I think if nutritional information were posted for every menu item, people could benefit from seeing that the “perfect portions” or “under 550 calorie” options that these restaurants are pushing may not be as healthy as they originally thought.

Another issue this brings up is the idea of taxing certain foods that are unhealthy kind of like the proposed tax on tanning beds or the tax we already have on cigarettes. Do you think that would deter people?

Erika August 10, 2010 - 12:50 PM

If you promise to come back, I promise I’ll answer your comment directly in a post. LOL It’s too long to be a comment, here. LOL

Eva November 30, 2011 - 12:58 PM

Well I did stop smoking when cigarettes went up to $1. I’ll stop doing anything if it’s costing me more money, I’m cheap like that.

huny September 5, 2010 - 2:33 PM

Dr. Ayo said: “The fact remains, if I choose to eat junk today, then I choose to be fat tomorrow.”

not necessarily. there are people who eat junk food their entire lives and remain thin. I feel like a broken record repeating this over and over, but it’s just not accurate to assume that somebody’s size is an auto-indicator of their health or what they eat. I’d revise your statement to say “The fact remains, if I choose to eat junk today, then I choose to be unhealthy tomorrow.”

all new york menus have nutritional information and it does make a big difference in what I order. I would never in life order something that had 2,500 calories. I don’t even like to go over 800 in restaurants.

LBrooke February 18, 2012 - 10:49 PM

I seriously think that every place should have their calories in clear view. Wanna know why they don’t? Because no one would eat their SHIT! (I mean that as real shit). I came to this conclusion just a couple of months ago actually, when I was at a Panera Bread. I was looking and realized that the green super light faded numbers on the side were the foods calories. I even asked the manager (who happened to be the one taking my order) how a panini could possibly have over 900 calories in it. It was seriously eye opening for me, and that’s when I realized that through my journey, I really need to be my own ref and look out for myself, because obviously these food places don’t give a rats tushy what they’re putting in the food so long as it tastes good.

I said to him that people should have to order in calories. Like, “Yes, I’ll have the 910 calories w/ a side of 50 calories”. Because all that would be is a panini and some dressing to dip it in! Completely insane..

Ro September 2, 2012 - 9:00 PM

I think the key to health is really personal responsibility. It’s not a restaurants fault that you overate. You knew when that first fork-full of cheesy buttery pasta hit your mouth that you broke your diet and you kept eating it. You could have ordered it with a carry out box, you could have just ordered a salad, but you ate it and you ate the cheddar bay biscuits…that’s your fault not red lobsters.

So basically, I don’t think posting the calorie values are going to help much. Honestly, you don’t go to the Cheesecake factory if you’re counting calories. Cheese, pasta and bread have never been staple items for the person trying to watch their waist line for a reason. And the person who sits down to a “quesadilla burger” under the delusion that they are eating something even remotely healthy is…well delusional.

seejanesweat February 14, 2013 - 5:31 PM

Posting calories on a menu is a great help for me. It helps me make better well informed choices. Depending on my mood, I may want to splurge a little on the calories but I still want to make the best choice when I do.

Amber February 21, 2013 - 9:32 AM

It definitely helps. Does it mean that I will always go for the healthier option if the nutritional information is available? No. However, it forces me to think about what I’m putting into my body and makes me weigh just how much I want the item. Also it helps me plan the rest of my meals for the the day (or next couple of days).

I went to lunch with a friend last week and luckily we knew beforehand exactly where we were going. I had to look up online what the calorie count was for the items so that I knew the options that I had that would fit into the range of what I was willing to eat. And I really don’t think it should have to do that.

A previous poster said that once you take your first bite of some creamy greasy food, you know it’s unhealthy. I think the problem is not knowing just how unhealthy. There have plenty of times were I knew something was not a great food choice, but was dumbfounded when I found out it has 1/3 to twice more calories than I though. I mean 2,000 calories for one meal. That’s just ridiculous.

Crystal March 14, 2013 - 12:18 PM

Something that may not be considered when some us say that you should already know that it’s crap and not order it. Lbrooke’s comment is an indication of why restaurants need to list their nutrition facts. Why is a panini 900 calories? Of course it depends on the content but sheesh. I know that I will make better choices when I can see what I am getting, even when I am having a “treat” just a peek at the NI will make me say nope to one thing over another. Restaurants tend to have a lot of hidden calorie bombs, things that shouldn’t be so terrible end up blowing your mind when you do see the NI.

Lynaya June 6, 2013 - 7:45 PM

I agree that restaurants should provide nutrition facts. Unfortunately, for MOST Americans, it won’t make a difference. Taste buds rule.

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