0

Restaurant Menu Labeling Complicated

carolynoneilmsrdnby Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RDN

The countdown to provide calorie counts and other nutrition information for menu items is in full swing for more than 250,000 restaurant locations nationwide.  Faced with a December deadline set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restaurant chains with more than 20 outlets are busily crunching the numbers to provide nutrition facts on their menus, websites and in-store signage.

“Menu labeling is the biggest advance in providing nutrition information to consumers since the law that required Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods was implemented 20 years ago,” said Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director for The Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In addition to calories, written information on total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, sugar, fiber and protein must be available upon consumer request. The intent of the new law is to guide diners toward healthier choices on the menu.

Joy Dubost, registered dietitian with the National Restaurant Association says, “Many restaurant patrons have stated that menu labeling is important to them when dining out, and we also know that based on trend data consumers are demanding more healthful options.”

Nutrition by the Numbers

Seeing the facts right up front can help diners avoid calorie bombs or at least be forewarned of the waistline busting cost of indulgent dishes and drinks.

“What I like about the new legislation is that it holds restaurants accountable,” says registered dietitian Nicole King of the website Healthy Dining Finder.com.

How do restaurants come up with the nutrition numbers? The FDA allows several methods including the use of software programs based on nutrient data bases designed to calculate nutritional analysis for recipes, using nutritional information already calculated for recipes in published cookbooks or the more costly but most accurate laboratory analysis of individual items. King says, “And restaurants have to show their work when they provide documentation to the FDA so it’s clear what method was used.”  From doing the math to making sense of ways to best present the nutrition numbers on menus, registered dietitians are finding opportunities to consult with restaurant companies. Some national restaurants groups employ full time dietitians for many services including marketing and menu planning.  Many others are enlisting the professional services of dietitians as part time and project based consultants to help them follow the new federal regulations for nutrition menu labeling. For the restaurant consumer it’s a win-win of taste and health.

It’s Complicated

Presenting the information to consumers is not always a simple task.  Take a pizza restaurant for example. How do they list the nutrition numbers for all of the combinations of toppings and different kinds of crusts? King says, “It’s complex and cumbersome.”

Staff training is part of the new labeling law too to ensure that cooks follow the recipes. A liberal hand with the salt or mayonnaise in the kitchen will mean the numbers on the menu won’t match the dish being served.

“We have to remember this is hand crafted food not made to specs such as an Oreo where every cookie is exactly the same size. There are going to be slight variations,” says King.

Other challenges behind the scenes are happening behind the bar. From pina coladas to cosmopolitans, alcoholic beverages are included in the menu labeling law even though they weren’t part of the packaged foods labeling laws.  That’s why you don’t see calorie counts on a bottle of vodka. “The alcohol piece was not regulated at all. But now cocktail menus have to list nutrition information,” says King.  So now when you say ‘make mine a double’ don’t forget to double the calories too.

Advertisements
0

Get Your Portions in Control

Portions, Portions, Portions! If you are plugged in to nutrition at all, you probably read a different article about portions every day. But, do you pay attention? Or, for you dietitians, do you struggle to get your clients to pay attention? Portions are a very important part of any diet. However, for most of the fad diets that exist today, it’s the element that is given the least amount of attention. Or, for many, the expectations on portions are so completely unrealistic that it’s impossible to continue to practice what you’ve learned once you’ve reached your goal weight and stop ‘dieting’ in the literal sense of the word.

Between the common plate sizes in America growing as fast as our waistlines and restaurant portion sizes increasing in size to try to get ahead in their competitive market, we’re paying the price with rising obesity and diabetes rates. Did you know that the average household dinner plate has grown to 12 inches? Yet the appropriate size is 9 inches. So, here’s a tip that can make bringing your portions back under control very simple: instead of serving dinner on your dinner plates, serve them on your smaller salad plates. These plates present a much more realistic size for serving up correct portions for your family. You’ll be amazed at how satisfied you can be when you eat your dinner on these smaller plates. You’ll still get the satisfaction of cleaning your plate. However, you most likely won’t have eaten larger portions than you should.

So, we’ve made it easier to serve the correct portion sizes at home, now what are you supposed to do when you’re out to eat? I’m sure you’ve heard this tip before; cut your meal in half and put it in a take-out box before you even begin your meal. This is a great tip and can really help you control your portion sizes when eating out. But, it’s not always a great “across the board” kind of rule. There are some restaurants that serve appropriate portions. So, how are you supposed to gauge your portion size here? (BTW – This tip is great at any restaurant… whether you think the portion sizes are correct or not) Start by asking the server to bring an empty salad plate out with your meal. When you get the salad plate, visualize the MyPlate image sitting on your plate. Begin moving the meal from your dinner plate over to the salad plate, making sure to consider your portions in reference to MyPlate. By doing this, you’re fixing two big problems in restaurant servings; 1) the size of plate that your food is served on, and 2) the skewed proportions of grains and protein compared to fruits and vegetables served. Once your salad plate is full and closely reflects MyPlate, then you know you’ve got a correctly portioned meal while you’re out to eat. Take the rest and set it aside or put it in a to-go box to enjoy later.

Don’t feel like guessing? NCES has created Right-Size Portion Plates for Kids and Adults. So, whether you’re looking to take control of your own health or your entire family, we’ve got the plate for you! These plates are great for use at home. Or, they can be used as an easier tool than the salad plate while you’re out to eat. Use the links above to view each plate.

Image