8 Worst Restaurant Starters

A funny thing has happened to America's restaurant appetizers, starters, and sides: They've started growing bigger than the main meals. It's now common for a diner to wolf down 500 or 600 greasy calories before even starting on the entree, or to find that amount sitting alongside an already-giant burger.

One might wonder where all the calories end up. The answer: our collective belly-fat supplies. Last year, obesity rates stayed constant in only 13 states, while the other 37 states saw an increase. This big fat growth—which stretches over 75 percent of America—is due in no small part to our propensity to eat full meals before we eat full meals. (It's not uncommon anymore to take in 2 days' worth of calories in a single meal at one of our favorite restaurants.)

To help you wrap your arms around the problem, the writers of the bestselling Eat This, Not That! series have gathered the most gluttonous starters and side binges in America. If this list doesn't make you hungry, then you're already ahead of most of us.


Worst Seafood Appetizer
Long John Silver’s Breaded Clam Strips
320 calories
19 g fat (4.5 g saturated, 7 g trans fat)
1,190 mg sodium

The restaurant industry began to shift away from frying in partially hydrogenated oil 10 years ago. Now, Long John Silver’s is one of the few places left clinging to their trans-fatty fare. The word that should have set you off was “breaded”—it implies that the dish has been fried in oils, and in this case, those oils are packed with potentially heart-harming trans fats. Who wants to order fried seafood through a squawk box anyway? Luckily, Long John also serves up a number of dishes that boost good cholesterol, none better than the simple grilled fillet of salmon.

Bonus tip: Bad fats boost your cholesterol; too much sodium spikes blood pressure. Eat sparingly the foods on our list of the 30 Saltiest Foods in America.

Eat This Instead!
Lobster Stuffed Crab Cake
170 calories
8 g fat (2 g saturated)
390 mg sodium

Worst Kids’ Side
Bob Evans Smiley Face Potatoes
524 calories
31 g fat (6 g saturated)
646 mg sodium

These incessantly smiling potatoes are more than just creepy; they’re more fat-and-calorie-packed than Bob’s Sirloin Steak. Let this be a lesson to you youngsters: Just because they’re smiling, doesn’t make them nice.

Bonus Tip: Most restaurants’ kids’ meals are dietary disasters—but not all. See which one made our list at eatthis.com.

Eat This Instead!
Home Fries
159 calories
3 g fat (1 g saturated)
533 mg sodium

Worst Drive-Thru Side
Arby’s Large Mozzarella Sticks
637 calories
42 g fat (19 g saturated)
2,047 mg sodium

Fried cheese is never a good idea, but as a sandwich sidekick, it spells certain disaster. Anything with as much saturated fat as a Double Whopper should not be called an appetizer or a side. Arby’s menu presents a side dish conundrum, given that their entire roster of “Sides and Sidekickers” receives the deep-fried treatment. Best to skip over this section entirely. If it’s cheese you crave, order the French Dip ’N Swiss or Ham and Swiss Melt instead to save more than 300 calories.

Bonus tip: You don't have to remember all this information - download Eat This, Not That! to your iPhone, and have instant access to thousands of nutrition facts and tips! It's like having your own personal nutritionist in your pocket.

Eat This Instead!
Martha’s Vineyard Salad with Light Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
330 calories
14 g fat (5 g saturated)
923 mg sodium

Worst Chicken Appetizer
Denny’s Buffalo Chicken Strips (5)
730 calories
32 g fat (0 g saturated)
2,940 mg sodium

Another example of how two seemingly similar items can be worlds apart in terms of nutrition. We’ve seen worse strips, to be sure, but when you can have a basket of wings for less than half the calories, why would you choose these? We’ve never seen a leaner wing than the ones from Denny’s. But like any good wings, they should be shared (especially with that sodium count).

Eat This Instead!
Buffalo Wings (9)
300 calories
21 g fat (5 g saturated)
1,940 mg sodium

Yahoo_healthy_starter.jpgWorst “Healthy” Starter
P.F. Chang’s Chicken Noodle Soup
759 calories
24 g fat (4 g saturated)
4,135 mg sodium
92 g carbohydrates

Researchers from Penn State found that starting dinner with a bowl of soup can cut calorie intake over the course of the meal by up to 20 percent. But when you start dinner with 180 percent of your daily sodium allotment, why bother going on? It’s the best part about getting sick: the promise of chicken noodle soup yet to come. Studies have shown it works, too, but no study could have planned on the torrent of sodium that swirls among Chang’s noodles. Experts recommend capping your daily sodium intake at 2,400 milligrams. Any more than that can put you at an increased risk for heart disease over time, not to mention swell you up with retained water. Unfortunately, all Chang’s soups suffer a similar fate. Your only choice is to swap out your bowl for a smaller cup.
Bonus Tip: One of the biggest secret sources of calories in our daily diets comes in liquid form. For 12 terrifying examples, check out The Worst Beverages in the Supermarket.

Eat This Instead!
Egg Drop Soup (cup)
61 calories
2 g fat 
1,122 mg sodium

Yahoo_dip_appetizer.jpgWorst Dip Appetizer
Chili’s Hot Spinach & Artichoke Dip with Chips
930 calories
77 g fat (34 g saturated)
3,130 mg sodium

Sure, there are artichokes and spinach in this dip, but they are drowned in cheese and mayo. These nutrition numbers are just for one serving—the plate, which you may easily plow through, surely has more than one serving. Opt for an app that doesn’t test your self-control, like the eggrolls. With almost half the fat and 1/3 the sodium, they are one of the safest items on Chili’s appetizer menu.

Bonus Tip: Those post-meal calories are just as damaging to your diet as the ones you consume in appetizer form. Check out the 10 Worst Ice Cream Treats in America for a jaw-dropping list of dangerous desserts.

Eat This Instead!
Triple Dipper Southwestern Eggrolls with Avocado Ranch (2 each)
640 calories
42 g fat (10 g saturated)
1,370 mg sodium

Yahoo_potato_side.jpgWorst Potato Side
Dairy Queen Chili Cheese Fries
1,240 calories
71 g fat (28 g saturated, 0.5 g trans fat)
2,550 mg sodium

This is DQ’s real Blizzard. You can almost feel your blood pressure rise just looking at this catastrophe. Too bad it’s listed as a side, gobbling up an entire day’s worth of sodium and half a day’s calories before you move on to your burger. This one’s a no-brainer: chili, cheese, fried potatoes. But even a savvy eater couldn’t possibly anticipate how bad these three ingredients could be when combined by one heavy-handed fast-food company. Stick with classic ketchup and recapture 930 calories.

Eat This Instead!
French Fries (regular)
310 calories
13 g fat (2 g saturated)
640 mg sodium

Yahoo_worst_app_America.jpgWorst Appetizer in America
On the Border Firecracker Stuffed Jalapenos with Chili Con Queso
1,950 calories
134 g fat (36 g saturated)
6,540 mg sodium

Tex-Mex cooks are never shy with the salt, but this dish breaks even their reckless boundaries. Each little cheese-stuffed popper contains more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium. Appetizers are the most problematic of most chain-restaurant menus. That’s because they’re disproportionately reliant on the type of cheesy, greasy ingredients that catch hungry diners’ eyes when they’re most vulnerable—right when they sit down. Seek out lean protein options like grilled shrimp skewers or ahi tuna when available; if not, simple is best—like chips and salsa.
Bonus tip: To discover more deceptive dishes posing as health food imposters, check out this must-read list of 30 “Healthy” Foods that Aren’t.

Eat This Instead!
Chips and Salsa
430 calories
22 g fat (3.5 g saturated)
440 mg sodium

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