Think of them next time you settle into a booth at your favorite restaurant. Most sit-down chains offer a wide selection of egregious appetizers, “starters” that ought be called “stoppers” because they’ll stop your weight-loss plans dead. Unlike, say, a midafternoon candy bar or buttered popcorn at the movie theater, an appetizer isn’t a stand-alone indulgence. It’s a pre-game meal, the food you eat before you eat your food. And if you suck down 1,000 calories before dinner arrives, you’ll blow past your entire day’s calorie needs in one sitting. A thousand calories in just an appetizer? Oh, read on, innocent eater. . . .
Now, I’m not saying you should never indulge in an app. In fact, a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that by eating an appetizer before your meal, you could reduce your total calorie intake by 12 percent. But you have to be smart. The appetizer in the study weighed in at a mere 100 calories. The oversized appetizers now served at most chain restaurants are 10, sometimes 20 times that size. That’s no exaggeration. If you want to avoid a calorie hangover (that’d be the one drooping over your belt), then you’d be wise to eliminate these 8 starters from your life.
89 g fat (42 g saturated)
2,875 mg sodium
Shame on Outback. This is the chain’s second appearance on this list. Not only does it bludgeon you with more than a day’s worth of calories, but the Alice Springs Chicken Quesadilla also manages to stuff three days’ worth of saturated fat between its tortillas. The house salad is your best option, but select the Tangy Tomato dressing—it’s by far the tastiest, healthiest dressing on the menu.
Red Lobster Crispy Calamari and Vegetables
97 g fat (11 g saturated)
3,050 mg sodium
“Crispy” is nothing more than a polite way of saying “covered with oil-saturated breading.” That puts the tariff for this meal at nearly 100 grams of fat, which is more than you’d find in eight McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Fortunately, Red Lobster also carries one of the world’s healthiest starters: shrimp cocktail. It’s loaded with protein and health-promoting minerals, and it’s naturally low in calories. You’d have to suck down 76 jumbo shrimp to equal the 1,520 calories in Red Lobster’s Crispy Calamari and Vegetables.
P.F. Chang’s Spare Ribs
96 g fat (28 g saturated)
1,344 mg sodium
Notice anything unusual about this appetizer? It’s a full meal! That would be forgivable if either of these were the least bit lean, but they’re not. Far from it. The ribs deliver a deathblow of saturated fat and the Asian slaw bolsters the total fat count by 17 extra grams. The ribs’ antithesis is Chang’s Steamed Vegetable Dumplings. They’re low in calories and high in micronutrients. Unfortunately, sodium’s hard to avoid at Chang’s, so go easy on the Potsticker Sauce to minimize the salty impact.
Applebee’s Chili Cheese Nachos
107 g fat (40 g saturated, 2.5 g trans)
4,270 mg sodium
Talk about customer disservice. Applebee’s has saddled these nachos with twice as much saturated fat as you should consume in an entire day, and a day and a half worth of sodium. The culprit here is the train wreck of fats: the oil in the chips, the beef fat in the chili, and the dairy fat in the cheese sauce and sour cream. The only Applebee’s app with fewer than 600 calories also contains more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium, so you’re better off sticking with soup. The warm broth will take the edge off your hunger, and that’s all you need from a starter.
Chili’s Skillet Queso with Chips
101 g fat (37 g saturated)
3,490 mg sodium
This orange, processed sludge supplies more calories and fat than a medium-sized Pizza Hut Pepperoni Pizza. Switch to a cup of the Chicken and Green Chile soup instead. You could eat more than a gallon before matching the Skillet Queso’s whopping calorie content!
Outback Steakhouse Aussie Cheese Fries
133 g fat (60 g saturated)
2,766 mg sodium
At 60 grams, Outback’s Aussie Cheese Fries has the dubious honor of delivering more saturated fat than any other appetizer on this list. Add to that more than a day’s worth of sodium and a hefty load of carbohydrates, and you have one of the world’s worst meal starters. Alternatively, the Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie delivers not only protein, but also tryptophan, an amino acid that increases serotonin production to improve mood.
Uno Chicago Grill’s Pizza Skins
140 g fat (45 g saturated)
3,000 mg sodium
The good news? For a restaurant credited with inventing deep-dish pizza, Uno Chicago Grill’s starter menu has some surprisingly decent options. The bad news? Pizza Skins isn’t one of them. Unless you plan on running a marathon—roughly the distance it would take to burn off one of these plates—avoid these skins at all costs.
Applebee’s Appetizer Sampler
167 g fat (48 g saturated; 2.5 g trans)
6,150 mg sodium
Here’s a rule you can live by: Never order an appetizer sampler. Most restaurants use them to unload cheap fats and oily dips and sauces. Case in point: This abominable appetizer from Applebee’s. It combines spinach artichoke dip, mozzarella sticks, bacon quesadillas, and boneless buffalo wings for an absurd amount of fat and roughly three days’ worth of sodium. Your better option is to order a platter of wings and split it. Remember: You still have dinner coming. All you need are a few bites to get you started.