Do you love Chipotle’s organic chicken burritos? Guess how many calories the total meal has. If you guessed a reasonable 300, you’re right — assuming you’re referring just to the organic tortilla! Eat the chicken and the rest of the tasty innards of the burrito, and you’ll have consumed 970 calories! After all, Chipotle’s burrito weighs in at 21 ounces — compared to the USDA’s standard 5-ounce burrito.

That weighty news comes courtesy of Nutrition Action, a newsletter from the Center For Science in the Public Interest. In an article called “Still Supersized,” the Center points out that while the “super size” option has technically disappeared from fast-food menus, many meal options are still extremely heavy in calories, fat, sugar and sodium.

“Since when is a cookie the size of a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder patty? Since Americans started growing bigger buns,” write the authors, who point out that even our “healthy” muffins and frozen yogurt treats are super-sized, oversweetened and fatty. Along with snarky commentary like “When did we go from one slice to one pizza per person?”, the article provides handy photos of overweight fast-food items — along with a visualization of the fraction of the food that would be considered a “normal,” USDA size.

So what’s an eater on the go to do? Many MNN readers already avoid McDonald’s Happy Meals, but must they also shun Starbucks, California Pizza Kitchen and the organic Chipotle? Not necessarily — just know what you’re getting and plan accordingly. In fact, one handy tip may be to go for the food items with diminutive names. Starbucks’ “treat-sized” chocolate chip cookie has just 130 calories, making it a reasonable indulgence, versus the Starbucks’ Chocolate Chunk Cookie with 360 calories.

Otherwise, make your lunch your dinner too and save half for later. Half a Chipotle chicken burrito would still let you enjoy a 10.5-ounce organic lunch with a livable 485 calories! Write the authors: “Repeat after us: half is the new whole” — which gave me a brilliant marketing idea for Chipotle. Why not simply rename the chicken burrito the “perfect-for-two chicken burrito” or “the two-meal burrito” to show people they’re getting two meals for the price of one AND that just a half burrito should be enjoyed per meal, thereby making peace with the health watchdogs?

Unfortunately I don’t think my healthy and frugal idea would fly with the Chipotle people, partly because the revamped names would imply that the fast-food chain’s current customer base has an overeating problem….

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Super-sized is the new normal
'Regular' meals at fast food restaurants are really supersized meals loaded with calories. But can you stop eating after just half a Chipotle burrito?