Servings on Steroids


by Jayne Hurley & Bonnie Liebman, September 2010

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In 2004, McDonald’s phased out its super size fries and drinks. The decision was widely attributed to “Super Size Me,” an independent film that documented the filmmaker’s “growth” as he ate nothing but McDonald’s food for a month. A company spokesperson claimed at the time that the decision had “nothing to do with that whatsoever.” Yeah, right.


In fact, super sizes are alive and well, not just at fast-food chains, but at restaurants of all stripes. Of course, menus don’t call them super-sized. They’re just the typical servings we now think of as normal.


Here’s how a sampling of restaurant foods (the left photo of each pair) compares to the government’s official serving sizes (the right photo). The government servings are supposed to reflect what people actually eat. Yeah, right.

Information compiled by Danielle Hazard.


If you ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a typical sandwich weighs 5 ounces. Maybe that would work if you stuck two 1 oz. slices of meat on two 1 oz. (smallish, Wonder-type) slices of bread and if your garnishes (cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, etc.) added up to only 1 oz.

Panera Smoked Ham & Swiss.
Left: 14 oz. (700 calories)
Right: 5 oz. (250 calories)

But at many restaurants, 5 oz. is closer to half a sandwich. At Panera, for example, a Smoked Ham & Swiss (ham, Swiss, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, mayo, and mustard) served on Stone- Milled Rye weighs about 14 oz., according to the company.

That’s why it delivers 700 calories along with half-a-day’s worth of saturated fat (10 grams) and a 1½-day supply of sodium (2,350 milligrams). (Nearly 300 of the calories and 900 mg of the sodium come from the sandwich’s 4 oz. of bread.)

It’s not just Panera. At Au Bon Pain, a Ham and Swiss on Country White Bread hits 11 oz. and 530 calories (make it 600+ if you add mayo).

On the plus side, Panera offers half a sandwich (7 oz. and 350 calories) plus soup or a half salad. And Au Bon Pain sells a “Demi” (about 8 oz. and 400 calories).

Repeat after us: half is the new whole.


A muffin weighs 2 ounces, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Not according to restaurants.

Dunkin’ Donuts Blueberry Muffin
Left: 5 oz.* (480 calories)
Right: 2 oz. (190 calories)

At Dunkin’ Donuts, the blueberry muffins we bought weighed about 5 oz. They’re in the same ballpark as the muffins at Panera, Starbucks, and Au Bon Pain.

No wonder a single blueberry muffin can leave anywhere from 360 calories (Starbucks) to 490 calories (Au Bon Pain) for your fat cells to store. Other kinds of muffins do about the same damage.

Where do the 480 calories in Dunkin’s Blueberry Muffin come from? You get about 180 from the roughly 11 teaspoons of added sugar (a two-day supply for women), around 150 each from the white flour and oil, and about 10 from the blueberries (assuming Dunkin’ uses, say, 10 or 15 berries per muffin).

Dunkin’s Reduced Fat Blueberry Muffins trim the calories w-a-a-y down to 430 (and the added sugar to around 10 teaspoons). Wow. Thanks.

The only way to really trim a muffin: eat half. Better yet, skip the muffin—and Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks and Panera and Au Bon Pain—and find yourself a handful of berries.

* Estimate.


When did we go from one slice to one pizza per person? Pizza Hut’s (610-calorie) Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizza weighs 2 ounces more than the USDA’s standard serving size of 5 oz. But it’s puny next to the individual pepperoni pizzas at California Pizza Kitchen (about 13 oz.) or a Thin Crust at Uno Chicago Grill (15 oz.). What aren’t puny are the calories: roughly 1,000 in each pizza. Other individual pizzas at sit-down restaurants range from 700 to 1,200 calories.

California Pizza Kitchen Pepperoni Pizza
Left: 13 oz.* (1,140 calories)
Right: 5 oz. (440 calories)

But there are exceptions. Uno’s (19 oz.) Deep Dish Prima Pepperoni Pizza, for example, smacks 1,830 calories and 3,120 milligrams of sodium (a two-day supply) down your gullet. Mmmm.

Why does the pizza appear to have only 610 calories on Uno’s Web site? It’s as obvious as the “Servings Ind:3 Reg:6” that’s tucked into the corner of the Web page. Translation: multiply 610 by 3 to get the calories, etc., for an individual pizza and multiply by 6 to get the numbers for a regular. How convenient. * Estimate.


At Smoothie King, a serving ranges from 20 to 40 ounces. So much for the FDA’s official 8 oz. serving. But who cares? Smoothies are mostly fruit, right?

Smoothie King 20 oz. Pomegranate Punch
Left: 20 oz. (460 calories)
Right: 8 oz. (190 calories)

Wrong. At Smoothie King, even a 20 oz. Stay Healthy Pomegranate Punch Smoothie packs a 460-calorie punch. And two-thirds of the calories come from juice concentrate, not fruit, which means that they won’t curb your appetite like the calories from solid foods do. Needless to say, stay away from the 930-calorie, 40 oz. Pomegranate Punch unless you’re hoping for a Smoothie King-size middle.

At Jamba Juice, the servings range from 16 oz. (“Sixteen”) to 30 oz. (“Power”). So you walk away with, say, 370 calories in a 22 oz. (“Original”) Pomegranate Pick-Me-Up. Not too smooth.


The Web sites of the larger frozen-yogurt chains list calories and other numbers for a ½-cup serving (the FDA’s standard). But the chains typically serve up 1 cup or more. Nice.

TCBY regular Old Fashioned Vanilla
Left: 1 1/3 cups (300 calories)
Right: ½ cup (110 calories)

At TCBY, for example, a small measures about 1 cup and a regular about 1¹∕ ³ cups. So if you order an Old Fashioned Vanilla, that means either 240 or 300 calories, not the 110 calories shown on the Web site. A Red Mango regular or Pinkberry medium also measures 1 cup, and each will set you back 200+ calories.

And some snackers are so proud of their “low-cal” yogurt that they go heavy on the toppings. Unless it’s fresh fruit, don’t.


A burger weighs 5 ounces, says the USDA. That would work if the bun were 2 oz. and the meat were 3 oz. Other than a Burger King Whopper Jr. (5 oz.) or McDonald’s Quarter Pounder (6 oz.), good luck finding one of those babies.

Chili’s Oldtimer Big Mouth Burger
Left: 11 oz.* (880 calories)
Right: 5 oz. (400 calories)

A McDonald’s Big Mac or Big N’ Tasty weighs about 7 oz. An Angus Burger weighs 11 oz. That’s closer to what you’re likely to get at most sit-down restaurants.

If you can even find a burger with no cheese or bacon, like Chili’s Oldtimer Big Mouth, you’re still talking a 5 oz. (cooked) patty and a 4 oz. bun. That explains the Oldtimer’s 880 calories. (Make it 1,260 if you eat the fries that come on the side.)

If 1,200+ calories for a sit-down-restaurant burger plus fries seems unusually steep, it’s not. The other Chili’s Big Mouth Burgers (with fries), for example, clock in at 1,500 to 2,140 calories plus 21 to 44 grams of saturated fat and 3,330 to 6,710 mg of sodium.

Big Mouths eventually turn into Big Bellies...and Big Coronaries. * Estimate.


A bagel weighs 2 ounces, says the FDA. But a typical bagel (at a place like Starbucks, Einstein Bros., Au Bon Pain, Panera, or Bruegger’s) clocks in at about 4 oz.

Starbucks Bagel
Left: 4 oz. (300 calories)
Right: 2 oz. (150 calories)

That means you get around 300 calories’ worth of (usually) white flour before you add another 90 calories from the 2 Tbs. shmear of cream cheese at Starbucks (or the 150 calories in Dunkin’ Donuts’ 3 Tbs. or the 180 calories in Panera’s 4 Tbs.). Reduced-fat cream cheese knocks off 30 percent of the calories. Thanks a lot.


A typical serving of steak (like all other meats) is only 3 ounces cooked (or 4 ounces raw), says the USDA. Really?

Outback Steakhouse 14 oz. Ribeye Steak
Left: 11 oz. cooked (1,190 calories)
Right: 3 oz. cooked (330 calories)

On mid-priced steakhouse menus (which list raw weights), a ribeye is typically 14 oz. That cooks down to 11 oz., nearly four times the USDA serving. That’s why a 14-ouncer from Outback, LongHorn, or Lone Star brings about 1,000 calories to your plate. Most New York strip, sirloin, and other boneless steaks range from 8 to 14 oz.

The good news: many chains now offer 6 oz. sirloin steaks, which cook down to 4½ oz. That’s within sight of the USDA’s elusive 3 oz. serving. Now you’re talking around 350 calories.

Think of it this way: cowboys aren’t supposed to be chubby.


A burrito weighs 5 ounces, says the USDA. At Chipotle, a Chicken Burrito weighs 21 oz. and delivers 970 calories (and 2,120 mg of sodium). Why?

Chipotle Chicken Burrito
Left: 21 oz. (970 calories)
Right: 5 oz. (230 calories)

The tortilla starts you off with nearly 300 calories of white flour. Fill it with rice (130 calories), beans (120), chicken (190), cheese (100), sour cream (120), and tomato salsa (20), and you’re there. Guacamole? Add another 150 calories.

It’s not just Chipotle. You can expect 1,000 calories in a (17 oz.) Qdoba Grilled Chicken Burrito. And it’s not just chicken. Just about any burrito—chicken, pork, beef, veggie—is going to set you back some serious calories. Ay caramba!


A serving of pasta with sauce is 1 cup, says the FDA. At Olive Garden, the dinner-size Capellini Pomodoro (thin spaghetti with Roma tomatoes) measures about 3½ cups. That’s why you end up with 840 calories, plus whatever the free breadsticks (150 calories a pop) or dressed salad (350 calories per fill-up) add. Our advice: get a (480-calorie) lunch-size order.

Olive Garden Capellini Pomodoro
Left: 3½ cups* (840 calories)
Right: 1 cup (240 calories)

At California Pizza Kitchen, the Tomato Basil Spaghettini measures about 3 cups...and 1,040 calories. In fact, CPK’s pastas almost always come in at 1,000 calories or more.

Pasta packs 200 calories per cup before you add any sauce. How many cups can you afford?



A serving of cookies is 1 ounce, says the FDA. That’s equal to three ordinary Chips Ahoy! Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Starbucks Chocolate Chunk Cookie
Left: 3 oz. (360 calories)
Right: 1 oz. (120 calories)

How 1950s. At Starbucks, the 3 oz. Chocolate Chunk Cookie delivers 360 calories’ worth of white flour, chocolate, sugar, butter, and eggs. That’s more than Corner Bakery’s Old Fashioned Chocolate Chip (300), equal to Dunkin’ Donuts Triple Chocolate Chunk (360), and less than Panera’s Chocolate Chipper (440).

Starbucks does sell a 1 oz. (130-calorie) Double Chocolate Cookie. They call it Treat-Sized. We call it sensible.

Since when is a cookie the size of a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder patty? Since Americans started growing bigger buns.

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