Worst Fast-Food Meals in America

As a kid growing up in the early '80s, I made every mistake in the book. I ate fast food instead of smart food. I played video games when I should've been playing outside. By the time I reached age 14, I was carrying 212 pounds on a 5'10" frame. (I wanted to be built like a basketball player, but instead was shaped more like a basketball.) 

But I got lucky when I graduated from high school, enlisted in the Naval Reserve, and had the tenets of fitness pounded into me, day after day. Soon after I graduated from college, I joined Men's Health and learned the importance of proper nutrition and—just as important—the health threats inherent in carrying around too much fat in your gut. If you have a bulging belly, it means your internal organs, including your heart, are literally packed in fat.

My biggest lesson: Ordering dinner from a teenager in a paper hat can be like renting a room to an arsonist. (That's one of the reasons Cook This, Not That! came about. The goal was to prove that quickly prepared food doesn't have to be terrible for our health, so we created scores of delicious recipes that can be built in less time than you spend in the typical drive-thru line.)

In the past few years there's been some progress on the fast-food front. Many chains have answered our calls for healthier, lower-calorie options. Thing is, these efforts are almost always undermined by the rest of their menus. Show me a laminated menu (or plastic menu board), and I'll show you a meal that will absolutely obliterate your waistline. To wit: These five caloric calamities—among the worst fast-food meals in America.

Long John Silver’s Fish Combo Basket
750 calories
42 g fat (10.5 g saturated, 12 g trans)
1,930 mg sodium

Holy deep-fried mackerel! That’s one gnarly fish. In terms of calories we’ve seen worse, but nothing compares to this unruly load of trans fat. According the American Heart Association, you should cap your trans fat intake at just 1 percent of total calories, which is around 2 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet. So with nearly six days’ worth, this plate is—ahem—swimming in trans fat. Blame Long John’s fryer. Because it’s filled with partially hydrogenated oil, everything it touches comes out wearing a greasy jacket of dangerous oils. Do your heart a favor and order off the Freshside Grille menu.

Eat This Instead!
Long John's Grilled Salmon Platter
380 calories
8 g fat (2 g saturated)
1,270 mg sodium

And remember: Just because a food sounds healthy, doesn’t mean it is. Case in point: salads. Check out this shocking list of The Worst Salads in America, and learn which ones from your favorite restaurants can keep you lean and healthy.  

Hardee’s Loaded Biscuit and Gravy with Large Hash Rounds
1,530 calories
110 g fat (26 g saturated)
3,020 mg sodium

Biscuits and gravy falls pretty low in the hierarchy of healthy breakfast options, and the two hockey pucks of sausage that Hardee’s throws on top certainly don’t boost its standing. Add another shot of sausage in the gravy and a big sack of tater tot–like Hash Rounds on the side and you’ve got three-fourths of your day’s calories and well over a day’s worth of saturated fat. If this is how you start the day, expect it to be a rough one.

Eat This Instead!
Frisco Breakfast Sandwich
400 calories
18 g fat (7 g saturated)
1,350 mg sodium

For a better way to jumpstart your morning and your metabolism, and burn more fat, check out our list of Best and Worst Cereals. Those high in fiber and low in sugar will put your body in the sweet spot.

Dairy Queen Chicken Strip Basket (6-piece w/Country Gravy)
1,640 calories
74 g fat (12 g saturated, 1 g trans)
3,690 mg sodium

New rule: Once it becomes a “strip,” it no longer qualifies as chicken. That’s because chicken has a reputation for being relatively healthy, and although that reputation is often abused by food processors, no other abuse in the fast-food kingdom comes close to approaching the egregious numbers in this basket. Snarf this thing down for lunch and you’ve just consumed nearly as many calories as you’d get in five Crispy Chicken Sandwiches from Wendy’s.  

Eat This Instead!
Grilled Chicken Wrap and an All-Beef Hot Dog
490 calories
30 g fat (10.5 g saturated, .5 g trans)
1,350 mg sodium

Nutrition tip: Did you know that white chocolate isn't technically chocolate, since it contains no cocoa solids? (It's mostly fat and sugar.) For other free health, fitness, and nutrition secrets that will improve your life instantly, follow me on Twitter here.

Wendy’s Triple Baconator Combo Meal with small fries and small coke
1,850 calories
106 g fat (43 g saturated, 4 g trans)
2,790 mg sodium

Combo meals are a dangerous breed. The standard pairing at most fast-food joints is a burger with a side of fries. Oh, and that “free” beverage? Fill that cup with soda, even if it’s a small like this, and you’ve just tacked on as much sugar as you’d find in two-and-a-half Hershey’s bars. So here’s a better plan: Skip the combo meals altogether and order what you know will fill your belly up without filling it out. Then drink water—the world’s healthiest beverage—instead of soda. Chances are you’ll save more money, and in this case, you’ll also save more than 1,300 calories while still enjoying a delicious meal. 

Eat This Instead!
Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger and Small Chili
540 calories
23 g fat (9 g saturated)
1,520 mg sodium

Liquid calories are the most overlooked culprit behind America’s weight gain. See how many of these you’ve gulped down without realizing the damage it might be doing to your waistline: The 20 Worst Drinks in America.

Quiznos Tuna Melt (Large) with Cheetos
1,900 calories
145 g fat (29 g saturated, 2 g trans)
2,230 mg sodium

Don’t blame the chips. They contribute a paltry 160 calories to this meal. And at 110 calories, even the melted cheese is relatively innocuous. The real culprit here is the bucketload of mayonnaise that Quizno’s uses to convert its tuna into tuna salad. That’s how it winds up carrying more fat than two people should eat in an entire day. Best plan at Quizno’s: Skip the large subs. Nearly all eclipse 1,000 calories. Instead, stick to bullets and Sammies, and don’t let the sandwich crafter get too carried away with the sauces.

Eat This Instead!
2 Roadhouse Steak Sammies and Baked Lays
620 calories
14 g fat (8 g saturated)
2,140 mg sodium

Sandwiches have tremendous potential for loading you up with nutrients and keeping you slim. Unfortunately, too few actually deliver. Check out this handy list of The Worst Sandwiches in America to find out which ones make you large and which ones make you lean.

Domino’s Chicken Carbonara Breadbowl Pasta
1,480 calories
56 g fat (24 g saturated, 1 g trans)
2,020 mg sodium

Domino’s may not boast many drive-thru windows, but its food is most certainly made with speed in mind. This edible bowl is just one extension of that. It allows busy customers to simply gobble up the whole meal, bowl and all. No dishes. (Next thing you know, restaurants will be giving you edible menus and serving you soda from an edible cup. When you’re done, maybe you can just eat the table and chair, too.) This pasta-filled bowl has two days' worth of fat and still manages to squeeze in 1,500 calories of pure carbohydrates! 

Eat This Instead!   
Hand Tossed Pizza with Grilled Chicken, Green Peppers, and Shredded Parmesan Cheese (2 slices, medium pie)
300 calories
6 g fat (2 g saturated)
500 mg sodium


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