Kitchen Think: Top 5 Most Unhealthy Chain Restaurant Dishes


The Golden Globes kicked off awards season on Sunday so, not to be left out of the mix, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is ready with its “Xtreme Eating Awards.”

The nutritionists at CSPI have been out scouting America’s chain restaurants in search of the worst meals… but not from a “taste” point of view. No. I’m sure all of these meals are amazingly delicious because they are loaded with saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

Some of the components of the meals do have nutritional value (like the eggs), but it’s just the massive combination of food that makes this, well, obscene. (Ever seen the TV show “Man vs. Food”? Those are the kind of meals we’re talking about here.)

These “Awards” present the best argument yet for requiring calorie-labeling rules for all chain restaurants.

Here’s the list, in no particular order of extreme-ness. What do you think?

  • Johnny Rockets: Bacon Cheddar Double Burger, Sweet Potato Fries and Big Apple Shake (which actually contains a slice of apple pie). 3,500 calories. Nearly two days worth of total calories in one meal.
  • Uno Chicago Grill: Deep Dish Macaroni & 3-Cheese. Cheddar, Parmesan and Romano Cheese, Alfredo sauce with a Ritz Cracker Topping. 1,980 calories. That’s like eating an entire Stouffer’s Family Size Mac and Cheese with a half a stick of butter melted on top. Yum.
  • The Cheesecake Factory: Bistro Shrimp Pasta (shrimp, mushrooms, tomato, arugula). 3,120 calories. You might think you were “eating healthy” if you ordered this, but there’s enough saturated fat in there to equal three orders of Olive Garden’s Lasagna Classico AND a Tiramisu for dessert.
  • Maggiano’s Little Italy: 18 oz. Veal Porterhouse, drizzled butter sauce, half pound roasted, fried and garlic buttered Crispy Red Potatoes. 2,710 calories. Add a slice of Zuccotto Cake, and you can tack on an additional 1,820 calories. And that doesn’t include the Ciabatta Roll that comes with the meal.
  • Chili’s: A Full Rack of Baby Back Ribs with Shiner Bock BBQ Sauce and Homestyle Fries with Cinnamon Apples. 2,330 calories… and more than a 4-day supply of sodium.

If restaurant menus had calorie labeling, would that help you make wiser choices? Or would you fall back on the “Well, I’m eating out and it’s a special occasion” excuse? Remember, the choice, ultimately, is YOURS!


Kitchen Think: Have (a bit of) A Guilt-Free Thanksgiving


At this time every year, I promise myself I’m not going to do it… and then, of course, I do it anyway.

That little statement could go in so many directions… but in this instance, I’m talking about over-indulging at Thanksgiving.

Did you know that the average Thanksgiving plate, piled high with deliciousness, could come in at more than 3,000 calories? And that’s not even taking into account the snacking before the main event. Yikes!

If you’ve ever tried to be more conscious of what you’re eating, you know you should pile on the veggies, use a smaller plate, and skip the gravy… blah blah blah blah. We all know this isn’t going to happen.

So… what’s the answer?

Have a little of everything you’ve been waiting all year to eat. Don’t deprive yourself… but don’t pig out. Be conscious of your portions and of what you’re eating.

Yep, I’m talking about moderation. (Such a good word… but so hard to put into practice).

Here are a few suggestions to help you along the way:

• How much stuffing/sweet potatoes/mashed potatoes do you usually put on your plate? When you’re standing there getting ready to scoop it on, cut the amount in half AND THEN serve yourself. Just try it.

• Look at the palm of your hand and put that amount of turkey on your plate… that’s anywhere from 5 to 6 ounces. Try to eat the lean, white meat. Don’t eat the skin. (I know that’s a tough one.)

• Drizzle on about 2 Tablespoons of gravy. Yes, you can have gravy, but remember this is one of the most fat/sodium/calorie packed items on the menu. Remember the key word is drizzle, not ladle.

• Have some pie, especially if it is a pumpkin pie, but make it a small piece. That way you won’t feel bad when you sneak back into the kitchen for another piece! (But, make that one small, too!)

If you are doing the cooking, have some celery and hummus (or cut up apples) nearby, so you can munch on that while you work. If you’re going to someone’s house, don’t starve yourself beforehand… eat breakfast and lunch. In other words, have something to eat or you’ll over-eat when you get there.

When it comes to eating at Thanksgiving, don’t worry about making big promises to yourself…or anyone else. That’s a recipe for failure…

It’s all about moderation. Keep that in mind and you CAN do it!


Kitchen Think: The Most Interesting Food News This Week


You already know this week’s big food news… they’ve banned oversized sugary drinks in New York and the makers of pink slime have brought a libel suit against ABC News.

But here are a few other interesting items you may have missed…

I’ve eaten live eels, fried grub worms and lamb eyeballs… but I think I’ll take a pass on Candy Corn Oreos. Thank goodness my pal Mike Sula at the Chicago Reader took the bullet for me. 

The Food Network’s neon-coiffed Guy Fieri just opened the latest celebrity restaurant in New York. One of the appetizers: “Guy-talian Nachos,” which include pepperoni, ricotta crema and something called “fried pasta chips.”


Letting us know how many calories each item contains isn’t going to stop most of us from ordering that Double Cheese Burger and Biggie Fries at McDonald’s… we want what we want.

And this woman claims she lost more than 80-lbs eating exclusively at Starbucks. Right.

Have a great weekend!


Extra Helpings: Asparagus


Gary asks: “How do I pick out the best asparagus? Sometimes I’m lucky, but most of the time the asparagus I buy are dry and woody.”

Happy First Day of Spring! Vivid green fresh asparagus, with its subtle grassy taste, has always reminded me of the promise of the coming season…. like a big bouquet of flowers (which is exactly how you should treat it).

The stalks should be smooth, firm and straight, not dry and fibrous. Look for tips that are closed, pointed, compact and bright green (a little purple in the tips is okay). The greener the asparagus, the more tender it will be.

When you get the asparagus home, cut off the elastic band and trim a little off the bottom. Wrap the freshly cut stalks in a wet paper towel. Slide the asparagus into an unsealed plastic bag. You can also store asparagus in an inch of water in a jar or vase in the fridge after trimming them.

If you are lucky enough to find white asparagus, buy ’em. White asparagus is actually green asparagus that is grown underneath a cover of soil or hay so the sun can’t green it. Store white asparagus in a paper bag in the fridge because light makes the color change. Don’t forget to peel the stalks (this is optional with green asparagus). Treat purple asparagus as you would green asparagus. Some say purple asparagus are sweeter.

Try to buy asparagus that is the same size so it will cook up evenly. When you’re ready to prepare it, bend the cut end gently until it breaks off (this is the tough, inedible part). Mama loves to grill or oven-roast them with a little olive oil.

Asparagus is packed with antioxidants: Vitamin C and beta-carotene (most of the nutrients are found in the tips). It’s also low in calories (if you don’t dip them in butter or smother them in hollandaise sauce!).

And remember: it’s okay to eat asparagus with your fingers (if it isn’t in a sauce)!



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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: