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Jan 13, 2010 09:58 AM

Posting calories on menus

I believe we'll see laws requiring calories be posted on menus. Do you think this will effect what and how often people will eat out?

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  1. Just so people know heading into this discussion: caloric information for individual ingredients are actually rounded averages that have a fairly wide tolerance for error, an error that scales significantly over large quantities. I write this as someone whose has used my own copy of Bowe & Church's Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, the bible of US nutritional data, for many decades (it's what feeds so many databases) for a food diary and to create portion-based nutritional info for recipes I craft (it's not rocket science in that regard - just a spreadsheet with open data fields and embedded formulas), and has learned how the nutritional info on packages of even something as simple as dried beans can be off by as much as 50%.

    When you consider that fact, and also consider that only very integrated food production enterprises - those that have standardized recipes, standardized procurement, and standards to reduce waste by monitoring the use of ingredients and the dishing out of uniform portions in the most efficient way - are even in a position to produce caloric values on menus that bear a vaguely approximate to a reality still fraught with high tolerance for error. In other words, chains. (This is why chains can be somewhat friendlier terrain for calorie counters than non-chains; but only to a certain degree.)

    I would looooooooove to see how a calorie count on a menu would really capture all that oil that saturates Chinese and Indian buffet dishes, keeping them glistening, while people wonder why they want to eat more and more of it (hint, folks: if it really appeals to you, it probably has more fat than you'd want to know). But I am not holding my breath waiting for that happy day. In the meantime, I just know to avoid most buffet food and order certain items a la carte that are easier to deconstruct by eye for caloric ballpark.

    By the way, eating out is one place where simply prepared cuts of flesh are the calorie-counters best friend - it's a helluva lot easier to estimate calories of a piece of steak (adding 100-200 calories for melted butter or oil if it's glistening or juicy uncut, as it usually is) than for, say some vegetable-grain concoction that is hiding an enormous amount of oil.

    1. I like it when the chain restaurants have calorie counts on menus (Fridays, Cheesecake Factory, etc.) Sometimes the photos/descriptions of the foods being offered sound or look better than they are. Seeing a calorie count helps me step back and say, "That crap has over 1000 calories. Look for something else."

      If I'm going to a special occasion restaurant, I don't want to know! Usually when I'm at a place that's special and upscale, it's not a common occurance, so having some extra calories feels okay.

      1. I was recently in Grand Central Station in NYC, where calories are required to be posted in chains. I got a coffee in Starbucks, but chose to get my baked treat ( can't remember what I got ) at a bakery across the way where calories did not need to be posted. I know how many calories that piece of cake has, but I did not need to see it posted as large as day!!! Of course, what I got was a thousand times better than the Starbucks stuff.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Leslie

          We were in NYC this past 9/11. The weather was miserable and we sought shelter in an Outback Steak House. I had never been to one but it was lunch time and wet out, so we stayed. The calories were indeed posted on the menu. Despite all the apparent healthy choices and various apps, the lowest calorie meal was the strip steak.

        2. Wouldn't laws requiring calories to be posted on menus put an end to daily specials (or frequently updated menus, even)? It takes time to get the nutritional information processed in a lab.

          1 Reply
          1. re: bluemoon4515

            There are myriad software apps that you enter recipes into and they give you the analysis, some with extremely detailed USDA nutrient data as well.

          2. Here in New York City, as other posters have mentioned, chain restaurants are required to post calorie counts. How accurate they are, I do not know. Theoretically they should be, since the menus are so standardized. I rarely eat at chain restaurants but I like having that information when I do.