If you dine out a lot, you have probably noticed that thanks to the new Health Care Legislation, chain restaurants are now required to show calories right on the menus.
Unhealthy food choices are now hard for restaurants to hide and difficult for consumers to ignore. This is a welcome change as for nearly 20 years consumers have benefited from nutrition labels on packaged food, but have remained in the dark about the nutritional quality of their restaurant meals.
At a recent lunch at California Pizza Kitchen in Santa Monica I was surprised to find many of the salads had more calories than the pizzas. Seeing the calories listed definitely changed the way I viewed the menu since instead of just deciding what I felt like eating, my order was restricted by my conscious desire to make a healthy decision. Although it does take away some of the joy of eating, I am pleased overall with the new option. I have already noticed a positive effect as many restaurants are now offering healthier options. In a country where many people are overweight, I think this will have a great long term effect.
Of course there are always ways around the new laws – rumor has it Houstons in Santa Monica recently changed their name to Hillstone to avoid being classified as a chain and therefore not having to include the calorie count on the menu. Even though we still don’t know how many calories those delicious desserts have, I’m sure the restaurant will continue to be packed. Perhaps it can be one of the places to dine when you want to splurge without the guilt.
In order to optimize healthier options, I believe there still needs to be a few additional changes:
- Accuracy of the calorie counts – How will restaurants be accountable for accuracy, will the FDA be in charge of monitoring this?
- Other nutritional info such as fat grams and carbs should also be included on menus.
- Smaller portion sizes should be offered based on how many more calories average meals at restaurants contain vs. how many calories we actually burn per day.
I’m curious to know what your experiences have been with the change so far. Do you think it is a good mandate overall? What affect (if any) do you think calorie labeling will have? What additional healthy changes would you like to see? Please share your comments and get the conversation started.