Know Before You Go: 10 Chain Restaurant Meals You Should Always Avoid

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When it comes to eating healthy when dining out, it helps to use these smart strategies. But avoiding ridiculous calorie bombs at all costs is a wise decision, even when you're treating yourself. Creamy pastas and cuts of meat piled high mean big calorie numbers — you may be surprised to find out that your favorite indulgence is well over a day's worth of calories! Here are 10 of the worst offenders at popular chains like Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Outback Steakhouse to strike off your list, along with simple swaps that let you save calories while still enjoying a special meal or healthier options that are just too good to pass up.

Claim Jumper
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Claim Jumper

Avoid: The meat-heavy Ore Cart combo (2,724 calories).

Instead: Opt for a different combo so you can still enjoy options without maxing out on your daily calorie count. The tri-tip and shrimp combo, for example, is 763 calories.

Calories saved: 1,961

Outback Steakhouse
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Outback Steakhouse

Avoid: The No Rules Parmesan Pasta, served with grilled chicken and shrimp (2,227 calories).

Instead: Opt for something on Outback's under 600-calorie menu, like the lobster tail with mixed veggies (520 calories)

Calories saved: 1,707

Yard House
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Yard House

Avoid: The Gardein Orange Peel Chicken with rice may be on the vegetarian menu, but it still clocks in at a whopping 1,943 calories. The non-vegetarian version isn't that much better, at 1,802 calories (check out a PDF of all of Yardhouse's nutritional information here).

Instead: Go for the cilantro lime shrimp, served with brown rice sundried tomato tabbouleh (557 calories).

Calories saved: 1,386

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Avoid: The riblets platter (with honey BBQ sauce), which clocks in at 1,870 calories. You can see a PDF of the chain's nutritional info here.

Instead: Choose something from Applebee's under-600 calorie Have It All menu, like the Steakhouse Bruschetta Sirloin, served with red potatoes and a mushroom cap filled with creamy artichoke dip (530 calories).

Calories saved: 1,340

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Avoid: The bacon ranch beef quesadilla (1,800 calories).

Instead: Anything on the restaurant's Lighter Choices menu, like the six-ounce classic sirloin served with steamed broccoli (250 calories). Add a healthy side or appetizer, and you're still on track to save big.

Calories saved: 1,550

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Avoid: This fried-filled Jack Daniel's ribs and shrimp combo, which will run you 1,730 calories, and that's before adding sides.

Instead: Go for the Jack Daniel's chicken and shrimp combo (530 calories without sides). No matter what plate you order, choose healthier side options like steamed broccoli (50 calories), ginger-lime slaw (80 calories), or tomato mozzarella salad (110 calories, full nutritional PDF here).

Calories saved: 1,200

Red Lobster
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Red Lobster

Avoid: The creamy Crab Linguini Alfredo (1,610 calories for the full portion).

Instead: If you want pasta, go for a half portion or box up half for later; you can even save a few more calories if you opt for a different pasta altogether: the shrimp liguini alfredo (630 calories for a half portion). Ask for a side of steamed veggies if you want to bulk up your plate.

Calories saved: 980 calories

Black Angus
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Black Angus

Avoid: A special night out calls for a special dinner, but even if you do opt for an indulgent meal, avoiding the prime rib and lobster tail Seafood Roundup combo (1,561 calories without sides) is a good idea, especially considering the sides can add about 500 calories to your plate.

Instead: While still a high-calorie option, switching out the prime rib with filet mignon saves calories on a special meal; the lobster and filet mignon Seafood Roundup combination is 970 calories without sides.

Calories saved: 591

Olive Garden
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Olive Garden

Avoid: The Tour of Italy plate, which clocks in at 1,500 calories.

Instead: Go for an option on the restaurant's Lighter Fare menu, like the Lasagna Primavera with Grilled Chicken (470 calories).

Calories saved: 1,030

El Torito
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El Torito

Avoid: The gargantuan Macho Combo, featuring a pork tamale, chili relleno, chicken, sour cream, enchilada, and taco (1,360 calories without sides).

Instead: Choose the Shrimp Mazatlan Enchiladas (540 calories without sides). When choosing your sides, go for sauteed vegetables instead of rice and beans.

Calories saved: 820