Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Total Menu Makeover

Photo courtesy of Michelle Loy. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

I've noticed some interesting and exciting changes on the menu boards and menus in restaurants least in California.  Have you?  Menus are beginning to get a total menu makeover since our governator approved a bill in 2008 that made California the first state to require larger restaurant chains to post the caloric price tag of their offerings on menus and menu boards by January 1, 2011, which is just around the corner.  After July 1, 2009, brochures listing calorie and nutrition information were required to be available at the point-of-purchase or ordering.  While that has been a fantastic start towards helping consumers make more informed decisions about their food intake while eating out, I think that is still a passive strategy since the consumer still must make the choice to pick up the brochure and evaluate it.  And while there's more to food than calories, I think that it will be interesting to see how these environmental policies affects consumers' behaviors, including overall daily caloric consumption, and ultimately their long-term weight status. In my opinion, these environmental strategies will serve as simple tools to help consumers make wiser selections when eating out (at least in terms of calories).  And {hopefully} as a result, restaurants will respond by offering more nutritious options.  I think these data will be an eye opener for many.  I work in the trenches, and I find that a number of people are shocked by the caloric price tag of the restaurant foods they consume.  For example, one very nutritionally savvy client ordered a "light breakfast taco with turkey sausage" from a restaurant's so-called "light menu" thinking it was her best option only to find later that it contained 1110 calories! Light?  More recently, I went to a popular breakfast establishment and eagerly browsed the calorie content of their menu items, and I would estimate that 90% of the menu items were in the range of 750-1500 calories! (And that doesn't include beverages, sides, or appetizers.)  That's about half or more of many people's daily caloric needs. 

Similar laws have been in effect in New York City for at least a couple of years now, and there's been quite a bit of controversy over it.  Some argue that labeling the caloric content of foods on menus will make those foods more appealing, therefore, causing more people to want to eat them or to opt out of ordering anything at all only to head home and go overboard in response.  Despite the controversy, some preliminary research suggests that this type of menu labeling could be effective at helping consumers reduce the caloric value of their order.

Are you on board with calories going on the menu board?  Well, hang on tight as the total menu makeover is about to take over the nation since a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that President Obama signed into law in March 2010 will require that all larger chain restaurants post calories on menus and indoor menu boards.

So, what do you think of these changes?  Will they help? 


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