By law, chain restaurants with 20 or more locations must now list calorie counts on their menus. If you haven’t eaten out in a while, be prepared for calorie sticker shock. “It’s a wake-up call when you see that a healthy-sounding entrée like eggplant parmigiana has over 1,000 calories,” says Joan Salge Blake, R.D.N., Ed.D., a clinical associate professor in Boston University’s department of health sciences. “That’s more than half a day’s calories for many folks.”
Diners who pay attention to the numbers benefit. They choose lower-calorie dishes and take in an average of 167 to 180 fewer calories over the course of a day, according to a 2018 USDA study.
But calories are just one factor to consider. Chain restaurants must also provide written nutrition information on menu items that includes total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein. If you don’t see this information on signs, counter cards, handouts, and the like, ask for it or check the company’s website.