On average, it turns out, people require about 2,000 calories per day -- usually a little less for women, sometimes a little more for men. But the dent that these options put into that daily figure is often large.
"Maybe if they knew the calories in the entrees they'd order differently -- or maybe they wouldn't. People do make some kind of choice when they choose to go these restaurants."
Another factor in the popularity of such dishes may be the illusion of value -- a throwback to the idea that the more food -- and hence more calories -- that we can get for our buck, the better. So noted Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Ct.
"The dishes profiled by CSPI offer the very opposite of value; they are the kind of purchase no well-informed shopper would make," Katz said. "They are like measuring the value of a car by tonnage in an era when what matters far more is fuel economy."
The following pages detail the nine foods spotlighted by the CSPI report -- and, in some cases, what you can do to limit the damage if you find them in front of you.
For those who can't decide, the Tour of Italy doesn't disappoint. Ordering this entrée treats diners to one serving each of lasagna, lightly breaded chicken parmigiana and creamy fettuccine alfredo.
It also packs 1,450 calories and 33 grams of saturated fat, as well as 3,830 milligrams of sodium, according to the CSPI's findings.
It's a tour that Ayoob said diners would be wise to cut short.
"Instead of going to three places in one day, go to a different place each day for three days," he said. "Order this dish and eat one item today and take the rest home -- you have a main course for two more days."
Doing this, Ayoob said, makes for three main courses for 500 calories apiece -- a much more manageable figure.
Sodium content may still be an issue; the United States Department of Agriculture recommends that most Americans limit their intake of sodium to less than 2,400 mg daily. Even divided by three, this entrée would add up to more than half of this daily amount.
But Ayoob said that the caloric cut achieved by dividing the entrée into three separate meals might even allow diners to indulge in a breadstick and a salad with low-fat dressing.
Numerous restaurants these days offer "sliders" -- small burgers often meant to be enjoyed as appetizers before the real meal arrives.
But when it comes to many of these sandwich plates, diners are striking out.
CSPI included in its list Chili's Big Mouth Bites -- four burgers that each pack a little less than 400 calories. Eat them together, and you will ingest 1,580 calories and 28 grams of saturated fat. By comparison, for a 2,000-calorie diet, the USDA recommends that an individual eat no more than 20 grams of saturated fat per day.
The burgers also pack 2,930 milligrams of sodium.
If you really need your mini-burger fix, Ayoob said the philosophy of divide and conquer still applies.
"If you want to eat sliders for real, cut this 'appetizer' in half -- that's about 800 calories," Ayoob said. "And tell them you don't want fries with that. You want a side salad instead."
If you do opt for the fries, fried onion strings, and jalapeño ranch dipping sauce, be prepared to ratchet up to 2,350 calories, plus 38 grams of saturated fat and 3,940 mg of sodium.