Mega-popular fast-casual chain Chipotle Mexican Grill has run a brilliant public-image campaign that focuses on its responsibly raised meat and artsy packaging, fostering a goodwill among consumers that many believe spills over into the health department. But here's the thing, Chipotle fans: You're not eating healthy when you're there. The New York Times breaks down the caloric content of Chipotle's menu offerings, based on the frequency of which diners mixed-and-matched their own orders. The paper then charted each make-your-own meal from least to most calorie-filled — and discovers the average Chipotle customer consumes 1,070 calories when they dine at the chain. The majority of meals also contain a full day's worth of the FDA's daily recommended amounts of sodium, at 2,400mg, while NYT's numbers suggest one in 10 of Chipotle's meals contain a gut-busting 1,600 calories or more.
What do people actually order at Chipotle — and how many calories do those DIY meals contain?
For those looking to strategically order, Chipotle's crispy steak tacos, veggie bowl, and the carnitas burrito (with no sour cream or guacamole) all contained fewer than 545 calories. (Just five percent of the Chipotle meals in the Times' data set weighed in at the 545-calories-or-less mark, probably because a burrito's tortilla alone contains 300 calories.) On the opposite end of the spectrum, a sour cream and cheese-laden chicken burrito, served with chips and guacamole, packed in a whopping 1,795 calories and contained 119 percent of the daily recommended amount of sodium.
The Times stresses that its data was culled from just two Chipotle locations — one in Washington, DC and one in East Lansing, Michigan — using data culled from online delivery service GrubHub. But that data set, using only online orders, might be skewing the calorie content of the "average" order: Previous studies suggest diners are more likely to order appetizers and desserts when using a digital tablet. With the launch of its recent app, Taco Bell has reported app users are far more likely to tack-on caloric extras like sour cream and cheese.
But the Times might have a built-in counterbalance, pointing out that delivery and to-go orders rarely included a fountain soda, which could easily tack on an additional 200 calories or more. "If anything," it writes, "our estimates may be conservative."