Thursday, June 27, 2013

How menu labeling can help you detect good food gone bad

Last night I ate dinner out with a dear friend at a local Applebee's.

   This particular Applebee's had calorie information for a few items on its print menu.  It had comprehensive nutrition information on its website.  You can see that information here.  I accessed (and assessed) the information prior to my visit, but I could have seen it from my smartphone while at the table.  Not everyone can do either of those two things.
  While dining, I told my friend that I saw some items on the menu that had over 2000 calories.  This was in reference to the research articles I talked about here, which showed the average restaurant meal has over 1000 calories, more than half a days worth for many of us.
   She asked me which items, but I could not remember at the time.  I looked again today and it was the appetizer sample and two dishes with riblets.
   My friend and I both ordered the blackened tilapia meal which had a very reasonable 410 calories (as opposed to the fish and chips which had 1690!).  My meal had less than 410 calories because I asked the chef not to use butter and I replaced the potatoes with steamed broccoli (great service from the wait person and manager, Winston Salem, NC).  My friend and I ate similar volumes of food but I had fewer calories (I make these choices because I like to eat many times a day).  
   The tilapia looked like a good choice and it was a good choice. I can't say the same for the grilled chicken salad which had 1290 calories.  There was also this great find on the children's menu.  The item was titled 'Kids Celery Side with Dressing."  In case you didn't know, 3 whole cups of chopped celery has less than 50 calories.  This 'low calorie' vegetable side item had 220 calories - I am guessing that about 200 of those calories were from the dressing.  To be fair, the celery - even with this dressing - had half the calories of the kids french fries.
    Speaking of kids meals, remember this post regarding the nutrition in children's meals at certain restaurants.  Applebee's did make it to the low end of the upper half of the list with 4 to 8 % of its children meals meeting expert nutrition standards.  It paled in comparison to Subway and even Red Lobster and IHOP.

Oh and btw - I just started a twitter feed so if you want to follow me there you can. I expect I will mostly tweet photos of volumetric meals and maybe an occasional research update, esp related to diet quality and public health policy.  @DeirdreDingman

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