14 Unhealthiest Chain Restaurant Chicken Dishes

Sometimes you just might not feel like risking your hard-earned money on a restaurant you've never heard of before. In these moments, turning to a familiar chain makes all the sense in the world. But what about making a health-conscious choice when it's time to order? A plate of chicken may seem like the better option, especially compared to chowing down on a greasy burger or steak, but that's not always the case.

Unfortunately, many chicken dishes on restaurant chain menus are high in sodium. Most of the sodium that Americans consume comes from restaurant meals and processed foods. You may be surprised to learn that chicken ranks in the top 10 sources of sodium we eat daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Are you getting thirsty yet?

To make matters worse, the chicken served at chains is often high in calories, carbohydrates, and sugar. Sometimes, you may be better off just ordering the steak (or skipping the meat altogether). Craving poultry but trying to stay healthy? Steer clear of these unhealthy dishes the next time you visit your favorite restaurant chains.

1. The Cheesecake Factory's Chicken Katsu

The Cheesecake Factory is famous for its extensive menu and decadent dishes, drinks, and sweets. Truthfully, a good number of its meals could have made this list, but one is particularly egregious. Breaded, drizzled with a spicy miso sauce, and laid over rice and veggies, the Chicken Katsu doesn't seem all that bad. After all, it's not drenched in heavy cream like some of the chain's iconic pasta dishes

However, the Hawaii-exclusive dish contains 2,520 calories. Keep in mind that the general nutrition advice for adults is to consume 2,000 calories a day. Although this number can change depending on age, gender, and lifestyle, for many people, the Chicken Katsu has more than their daily recommended caloric intake in just one meal. The dish also contains 201 grams of carbs, 142 grams of fat, 40 grams of sugar, and an astounding 4,610 milligrams of sodium. The federal recommendation for sodium stands at less than 2,300 milligrams per day. At more than double that amount, the Chicken Katsu is a salt-induced nightmare. You're better off opting for a grilled chicken entree instead, or pretty much anything else for that matter.

2. P.F. Chang's Crispy Honey Chicken Bowl

P.F. Chang's is known for Americanized Chinese classics and Asian fusion creations. While its large menu has several options that cater to dietary restrictions and health-conscious customers, it still has its fair share of not-so-healthy dishes. The wok-fired Crispy Honey Chicken Bowl is the worst of the worst when it comes to poultry meals. Served on a choice of white, brown, or fried rice, the chicken is battered and coated in a sweet honey-based sauce.

At 590 calories per serving, the dish contains 24 grams of fat, 580 milligrams of sodium, and 38 grams of sugar. This does not include the rice, which can add anywhere between 250 to 500 calories depending on the type. While you can find meals with a greater calorie content on the menu, the Crispy Honey Chicken Bowl has some of the highest amounts of sugar in any one dish. 

The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily added sugar intake to 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women. Eating 38 grams of sugar in one sitting certainly leaves no room for dessert. In comparison, the restaurant's Chocolate Souffle has 36 grams of sugar per serving. P.F. Chang's bowls are part of the lunch menu, so expect a mid-day sugar rush 一 and crash 一 if you order the Crispy Honey Chicken.

3. KFC's Famous Bowl

Whether you love it or hate it, KFC has long had a hold over the chicken business. If the Kentucky-based chain conjures up images of seemingly bottomless tubs of fried chicken and wacky creations such as the pizza-inspired Chizza, you may not know that KFC has also ventured into bowls. Clocking in at 590 calories, the Famous Bowl has all your finger-lickin' favorites in one place: mashed potatoes and chicken nuggets topped with gravy, sweet corn, and cheese. 

What you don't see is that the bowl comes with a staggering 2,160 milligrams of sodium 一 almost reaching the recommended daily limit. It also has 67 grams of carbs and 23 grams of total fat. In comparison, the Classic Chicken Sandwich has 1,260 milligrams of sodium. Both values are high, but you may be better off with the sandwich since it still contains fewer carbs. If you're looking for a healthier meal at the chain, you could check out one of the grilled chicken options — they exist! If you'd rather stick with fried chicken though, consider adding a veggie side such as green beans.

4. TGI Fridays' Chicken & Broccoli Cheese Tortelloni with Breadstick

Known for its mismatched, eclectic decor and classic American bites, TGI Fridays is a chain restaurant staple. While decently healthy meals exist on the menu, the restaurant's pasta dishes tend to be high in calories and sodium. The Chicken & Broccoli Cheese Tortelloni takes the gold medal here, with 2,020 calories and 5,330 milligrams of sodium. This is well over the recommended daily intake of sodium. Why is this a problem, you ask? The CDC warns that excessive sodium consumption can lead to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the U.S. 

The seasonal dish consists of chicken, broccoli, and pasta stuffed with cheese and doused in a rich Alfredo sauce. As if the tortelloni wasn't enough, the meal comes with a breadstick, totaling 167 grams of carbs. The plate also contains 114 grams of fat and 16 grams of sugar, which doesn't help its cause. Luckily, TGI Fridays has several grilled and crispy chicken meal options that are much lower in calories, carbs, and sodium.

5. IHOP's Nashville Hot Chicken Melt

If you're in the mood for chicken, IHOP probably isn't the first restaurant that comes to mind. After all, the International House of Pancakes is famous for its sugary stacks. Nonetheless, the breakfast spot also carries a wide selection of burgers, soups, salads, and entrees. Among these options is the Nashville Hot Chicken Melt. The meal combines pieces of buttermilk fried chicken, melted cheese, mayo, pickles, and a fiery kick of hot sauce, nestled between two slices of grilled bread. It's served with ranch and a side of fries, onion rings, mac and cheese, pancakes, salad, or fruit.

Sounds delicious, right? Just prepare yourself 一 the Nashville Hot Chicken Melt packs a hefty 2,100 calories. And that's without the sides. It also has 165 grams of total fat, 98 grams of carbs, 14 grams of sugar, and 4,030 milligrams of sodium. In comparison, the Cali Roasted Turkey Melt has 1,110 calories and 1,930 milligrams of sodium. That's roughly half of what the chicken melt has to offer. Depending on the side you choose, the meal can reach up to 2,670 calories, covering your daily intake in one plate.

6. Applebee's Quesadilla Chicken Salad

In a world of heart-taxing steaks, carb-loaded pizzas, and fried food galore, it might seem like the healthiest option at any given restaurant would be a salad. But at Applebee's, this is not the case. In fact, the beloved chain has concocted a salad so decadent that it rings in at 2,040 calories. That's right, the Quesadilla Chicken Salad has more calories than a whole platter of chicken tenders or any of the restaurant's pasta dishes.

While this is certainly one deceptively unhealthy salad, it makes more sense when you account for the ingredients. Chipotle lime chicken, salsa, cheese, greens, Mexi-Ranch dressing, tortilla strips, and of course, cheese quesadillas, make up the contents. The meal contains 137 grams of total fat, 4,540 milligrams of sodium, 91 grams of carbs, and 15 grams of sugar. Thankfully, customizations are easy; removing the extra cheese and tortilla strips or holding off on the dressing can help improve the dish's stats. Alternatively, consider the Grilled Chicken Salad or the Chicken Caesar Salad 一 both have less than half the calories and sodium.

7. Olive Garden's Chicken Tortelloni Alfredo

While Olive Garden is well-loved for its deliciously indulgent menu, it's important to be mindful of individual dietary needs. For instance, take the Chicken Tortelloni Alfredo, which is higher in calories than any other item on the menu. The 1,980-calorie dish features cheese-stuffed pasta baked in a creamy Alfredo sauce and topped with grilled chicken, toasted breadcrumbs, and more cheese. It also boasts one of the highest sodium contents on the menu, at 3,720 milligrams. That's not all 一 expect to consume 131 grams of fat and 95 grams of carbs when you order this dish. All entrees include two breadsticks and a choice of sides, adding another 110 to 230 calories.

To put things into perspective, the regular Chicken Alfredo (with grilled chicken) sits at 1,570 calories. You'd be hard-pressed to find something on the menu that isn't loaded with sodium, but the Fettuccine Alfredo is certainly a more moderate alternative, at 1,210 milligrams.

8. Red Robin's Buzz-Style Clucks & Fries

With waves of new competition in the gourmet burger arena, gone are the days when seemingly every mall housed a Red Robin. The American comfort food chain has never been known for serving healthy meals, and its chicken entrees are no exception. Red Robin's Buzz-Style Clucks & Fries contains 1,610 calories, which is more than other chicken options on the menu. The dish consists of fried chicken tenders dressed in a spicy Buffalo-style sauce, accompanied by fries and blue cheese dipping sauce.

In addition to the calories, you also get 4,870 milligrams of sodium 一 over twice the recommended daily amount. The total fat value is also off the charts. The Food & Drug Administration recommends consuming no more than 78 grams of total fat per day. Eating this plate of crispy chicken tenders will put you way past this recommended limit, at 112 grams of fat. To compare, the regular Clucks & Fries contains 1,340 calories, 2,530 milligrams of sodium, and 84 grams of fat. This leaves us wondering what exactly is in the Buzz sauce.

9. Ruby Tuesday's Chicken Parmesan

Ruby Tuesday outposts may be few and far between these days, but many still flock to the family-friendly restaurant chain in search of burgers, salads, steaks, and more. One popular item is the Chicken Parmesan. It may not have the highest calorie count on the menu, though it's still up there at 1,740 calories. However, the pasta dish's sodium levels are unmatched. With 6,080 milligrams, the Chicken Parmesan accounts for 264% of the daily recommended value for sodium.

How is this possible? The truth is in the sauce 一 and the chicken. The dish includes not one but two buttermilk-breaded chicken breasts served on a bed of pasta. This is all covered in shredded cheese and three different sauces: basil tomato, garlic parmesan, and parmesan cream. You then have a choice of two sides, ranging from 20 to 750 calories each. To play a dangerous game for a minute, let's say you choose the loaded french fries and loaded tater tots as your sides. Your totals would then come out to 3,240 calories and 11,000 milligrams of sodium. This won't kill you, but you probably won't feel great afterward.

10. Cracker Barrel's Southern Fried Chicken

Cracker Barrel dishes up comforting, homestyle classics in a nostalgic setting, but you may want to think twice before ordering the Southern Fried Chicken. It's probably no shock to anyone that a plate of fried chicken isn't the most nutritious meal you could eat, and indeed, it's one of the unhealthiest items on the menu. At 1,640 calories, the meal includes four pieces of chicken and your choice of corn muffins or buttermilk biscuits (not included in the dish's nutritional values). These are of course served with butter. The order also comes with two sides, which can add another 40 to 530 calories each.

The chicken alone carries a substantial 100 grams of fat and 4,730 milligrams of sodium. That's more than twice the recommended daily intake for sodium. Getting one of the grilled chicken items is definitely a healthier choice, but if you have your heart set on fried, the Chicken Tenders are better on all counts.

11. Bonchon's Buldak

Korean fried chicken has been taking the world by storm for several years, and it's not stopping any time soon. Leading the way in the U.S., Bonchon offers Korean street food essentials that go beyond basic fried chicken. One of Bonchon's menu items stands above the rest in terms of total calories and sodium. The Buldak (or Bull Dak) is a signature South Korean dish that features chicken, rice cakes, and onions cooked in a spicy pepper sauce. Scallions and sesame seeds serve as garnish, and a generous sprinkle of mozzarella tops it all off with a side of white rice.

While this might sound all right, the dish has 2,610 calories and 3,780 milligrams of sodium. That's nothing to laugh at. The sugar content is also up there at 45 grams, which is well over the recommended daily limit. For a lighter option, consider picking up Bonchon's spicy wings: 10 small pieces contain 922 calories and 1,054 milligrams of sodium.

12. California Pizza Kitchen's California Club Pizza

California Pizza Kitchen has given the world many unique ingredient and flavor combinations over the years, exploring international cuisines slice by slice. One striking innovation is CPK's California Club pizza. Keeping the traditional red sauce and mozzarella, this pizza features both grilled chicken and bacon as sources of protein. After everything is baked, a mix of lettuce, basil, sliced tomato, avocado, and mayo completes the look.

If you stick with the classic hand-tossed crust, each slice of this flavorful creation packs 240 calories. What's the big deal? The pizza has six slices total, meaning the entire meal comes to 1,440 calories. Individual appetites vary, but many people may choose to enjoy all six slices in one sitting. The California Club contains more calories than any other pizza on the menu, chicken or otherwise. It's also heavy on the sodium, with 3,300 milligrams total. Anyone wanting to make the meal a bit healthier can opt for the thin crust, which has slightly fewer calories. The gluten-free cauliflower crust offers even lower calorie, sodium, and carb values.

13. Marie Callender's Chicken & Broccoli Fettuccine

Marie Callender's has long been famous for its sweet pies and selection of frozen dinners available at grocery stores nationwide. Actual sit-down restaurants are no longer as ubiquitous as they once were, but the remaining locations still serve up the chain's familiar American fare. Not every dish is created equally, and one plate of pasta manages to include more sodium than any other chicken entree on the menu. The Chicken & Broccoli Fettuccine carries 2,030 milligrams of sodium, almost reaching the maximum recommended daily value. Calorie-wise, it totals in at 1,090.

As you might expect, fettuccine pasta, broccoli, and grilled chicken make up the heart of the dish. The Alfredo sauce that brings everything together is a blend of three different cheeses. The pasta comes with a side of cornbread, adding 340 grams of carbs and 540 milligrams of sodium. The Shrimp & Chicken Carbonara may be a better pasta option if you're looking to lower your sodium intake, though it contains slightly more calories.

14. Buffalo Wild Wings' Traditional Lemon Pepper Wings

Buffalo Wild Wings sets itself apart from other wing spots with its endless menu options, meaning that you'll never go hungry no matter what type of flavors you're craving. If you order the 10-piece Traditional Wings, you'll discover that over 20 signature sauces and rubs await you. Out of all of these, the Lemon Pepper sauce takes the crown in terms of being the most unhealthy. This mild sauce brings a citrusy, tangy kick to your wing-eating experience. However, the sauce adds more calories than any other topping, raising the total count to 990 calories for the meal. You'll also get 1,330 milligrams of sodium and 69 grams of fat.

You can't have wings without the dips and veggies. These add-ons aren't included in the meal's nutritional values, even though the order comes with two at no extra cost. If you skip the veggies and pick the ranch and blue cheese dips, your total calorie count shoots up to 1,440. Both dips are also high in fat and sodium. Consider the carrots or celery instead, or maybe just pick a different sauce.