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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.

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Create Your Best Thanksgiving Menu Yet

Healthy Thanksgiving Recipe MenuIt’s finally here! Although Thanksgiving is rolling in a little later this year, if you’re like me, it still found a way to sneak right up. It’s pretty easy to cook the same foods that you’ve been cooking for the last 20 years. Even though you keep thinking that one of these year’s you’ll lighten up your Thanksgiving meal, time gets away and looking up new recipes just gets pushed off until next year… again! So, to make it a little easier, we’ve pulled together our list of favorite sites to find lighter versions of your favorite Thanksgiving classics.

It’s important to remember that the key to a healthy Thanksgiving plate is still portion control. Although adding lighter, healthier ingredients to your foods is a great addition to a healthy diet, portion control is still very important. TIP: Fill your plate with your favorite fruits and vegetables. Then, fill in the holes with those other foods that you wait all year to enjoy. And, remember, don’t be too hard on yourself. Enjoy your favorite Thanksgiving foods on Thanksgiving. Just remember to get back to your healthy daily eating habits quickly after the holiday!

Mayo Clinic: As a trusted professional in health and medicine, the Mayo Clinic is a great place to turn when looking for health information. They have incorporated some great healthy Thanksgiving recipes in to their site. Sorted by dish, they are easy to search and find.

Simply Organic: Offering a full line of organic seasonings, Simply Organic has created a website chocked full of healthy renditions on many holiday classics. Plus, you can bank on the fact that the recipes will be full of flavor!

Eating Well: There motto is “Where good food meets good health” and they aren’t kidding! These guys have put together a great resource for healthy cooking with recipes, menus and news. Thanksgiving is no exception… you’ll find some great recipes. Including a healthy spin on one of my favorites, green bean casserole.

Readers Digest: We’ve been turning to Readers Digest for everything, including the best holiday recipes for years. Now, you can get healthy recipe ideas from them too! If you’re looking for a side dish, this is the place to go!

EatRight.org: Of course the dietitians over at the Academy have great resources for every holiday, event, age and topic. They’ve also put together a little shopping guide for Thanksgiving. It’s not a lot. But, it’s got a few tips for shopping with a healthy Thanksgiving meal in mind.

Pinterest: Of course, every recipe imaginable can be found on the new super recipe book… Pinterest. I’m a huge fan of this Healthy Thanksgiving board by Brittany Mullins though. If I had the time, I would try EVERY single one of these recipes. Maybe if we split it up, we can cook through this board together!

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Top 3 Summer Super Foods

Were you able to stay out of the hospital this 4th of July? For many, this hot summer holiday is an excuse to act crazy and forget all the rules! Unfortunately, our bodies are still paying attention to all the rules! Not only are the fireworks themselves dangerous, but the heat that always accompanies the 4th of July can pose its own health hazards if we don’t pay attention to our bodies signals and take necessary precautions to keep our bodies healthy. This year, it’s no different! In fact, many portions of the country are facing record-breaking heat this summer.

We have spent some time this morning discussing our 4th of July party menus and chosen the top 3 foods that we were glad we included on the menu! As we all know, there is a major heat wave sweeping the entire U.S. So, it’s extremely important this year to pay attention to the food and drinks that we’re consuming! Here’s a list of our Top 3 super foods to include on your summer party menu.

  1. Water is the #1 super food on our list because your body needs it! Did you know that our bodies are made up of about 60% water?  This means that when you start to get dehydrated, over half of your body begins to go in to shock… It can’t function correctly without this water. So, while you’re out enjoying your summer activities, remember to drink plenty of water! The daily recommendation is 64 oz. But, if you’re going to be out in this heat, our dietitian recommends you drink 8 oz. of water for every 30 minutes you spend outside. Drink up!

Tip: Are you struggling to drink all the water that is recommended? Try adding some light flavor, in the form of fresh fruit, to your water. The light, sweet flavor should help you enjoy your water!

  1. Summer is here and the produce is fresh! So, take advantage of it and be sure to set out plenty of green, leafy vegetables! These vegetables help provide the vitamins and nutrients that help our bodies stay strong. Plus, they are heavily composed of water. So, they won’t dehydrate our bodies by eating them.

Tip: Looking for a fun way to serve leafy greens? Serve a spinach salad with a fresh sliced apple and dried cranberries. Top it with a sweet, fruity dressing like strawberry vinaigrette… your guests will be singing your praises for weeks!

 

  1. As we’ve alluded to in the previous two tips, fresh berries are an extremely popular superfood this time of year. Fresh fruits, like blueberries and blackberries, make great snacks and are a much better choice than chips or candy. They are great for adding flavor to recipes as well. Plus, making desserts using fresh fruits usually eliminates any need for added sugar. Just remember, the possibilities are endless when it comes to adding fruit to any part of your menu.

Tip: Most berries are currently in season, so there is no better time to start building them in to your menu. Try visiting your local farmers market for the freshest, most flavorful berries.

What are your summer super foods? As always, we love to hear from you, our readers! So, leave your comments here on the blog or visit us on Facebook or Twitter! We look forward to hearing from you!