Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New Nutrition Facts Labels: here's the facts

Another day, another regulation.  But this time the changes are not targeted at restaurants, but instead at food manufacturers.  Here at FoodCalc we have been busy reading up on the regulations to understand the who? the what? and most importantly: the when? 

For the first time in 20 years, the Nutrition Facts Label will be getting a makeover! Is this the black swan we've all been waiting for?    

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing to amend the current Nutrition Facts 
Label.  There are many changes to this proposed format, but the most important are: 
  1. Define a single-serving container.
  2. Dual-column labeling on certain products.
  3. Increase font size for the Calorie nutrient. 
  4. Actual amount of Calories. 
  5. And 'Servings per Container.' 
Package Size:
FDA is also proposing to change the criteria for labeling based on package size.  With the new requirements, more food products previously labeled as more than one serving would now be required to be labeled as just one serving because people are more likely to eat or drink them in one sitting. Examples include a 20-ounce can of soda, and a 15-ounce can of soup. 

To eliminate confusion, certain larger packages that may be consumed in one sitting or more than one sitting, must be labeled both per serving and per package in the proposed update.  Some examples would be: a 24-ounce bottle of soda, a 19-ounce can of soup and a pint of ice cream. Currently, manufacturers are only required to provide the calorie and nutrient information per serving.
This dual column format—per serving and per package—would be required if a package contains at least two times the serving size and less than or equal to four times the serving size.

Proposed Effective Date:
The proposed effective date is set currently at 60 days after the date of the final rule's publication in the Federal Register with a compliance date of 2 years after that effective date.

So while you may want to run out and pull your products off the shelf or cover-up your Nutrition Facts, not so snappy.  We still have 90 days for public comment to finish, then another period of time for the FDA to reflect and respond, and then we have another 2 years for the effective date.  

So for now it's labels-as-usual.  And for any clients reading, don't worry we'll update your LabelCalc account with the new formats. 

What do you think?  Are these changes a long-awaited move from the FDA good or bad?  

For more details, here's the Federal Register.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Utilizing Online Ordering Sites to Capture the Grab-n-Go Diner

We love hearing about new ways technology is positively affecting the restaurant industry.  The current surge in online ordering sites and mobile apps is certainly no exception:  busy diners everywhere are relying on takeout and delivery to fill their stomachs, and if they’ve never heard of your restaurant, they won’t be ordering from you.  Enter sites like, and other online directories of restaurants that hungry, hurried diners visit to find local restaurants that provide takeout and delivery services in their area. 

GrubHub has over one million users searching its database for restaurant menus in over 500 cities nationwide.  Users create a free account and log on to instantly access reviews and menus and place their order with a few clicks. is another big player in the online ordering phenomenon.  Seamless works with over 12,000 restaurants (covering over 80 different types of cuisine) to meet the one-stop-shop needs of those hungry and in a hurry.  Both GrubHub and Seamless also offer hugely successful mobile apps to truly capture diners while they’re on the go.

Who is using these apps?  From busy moms (GrubHub has been named one of the top 11 time-saving sites for busy moms by Good Housekeeping) to corporate lunch-goers (Seamless’ app was recently awarded a coveted space as one the World’s Greatest Apps by Business Insider), customers everywhere are increasingly turning to the convenience of the web.  With the ability to get coupons, leave restaurant feedback, and even track their orders, they have little reason to check the Yellow Pages to search for their next bite. 

Restaurants of all sizes can instantly cast a wider net by making their menus available through these apps.  Small establishments that don’t have the resources to create an online presence on their own can now make themselves known to customers that would be in too much of a hurry to find them otherwise.  According to Grub Hub, 89% of their customers have tried out a new restaurant using the Grub Hub service.  And in the last year, over 1.6 million diners used Grub Hub to find food.    That’s a lot of sales!

To sign up to be listed in these directories is FREE to restaurants; most will ask you to pay a small fee from the orders they direct to your business.  To get started, check out the links below.

·       Get featured on Grub Hub
·       Join Eat24  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The 30 Most Popular Ingredients in Restaurant Kitchens

FoodCalc customers share more than a love for creating and sharing delicious recipes.  In fact, after ten years of analyzing thousands of recipes, our data shows a few key ingredients that are most likely to make an appearance in a restaurant's kitchen.  Thirty, to be exact.  Can you guess an ingredient in the top 5?  If so, you must be one of our many savvy recipe creators!

From the bottom up, here are the 30 most commonly used ingredients in restaurant recipes:

30.  Mushrooms, sliced
29.  Black olives
28.  Whole milk
27.  Heavy whipping cream
26.  Vanilla extract
25.  Sweet green peppers
24.  Cumin
23.  Spinach
22.  Sour cream
21.  Honey
20.  Cayenne pepper
19.  Soybean oil
18.  Cheddar cheese
17.  Butter, salted
16.  Butter, unsalted
15.  Basil, fresh
14.  Lemon juice
13.  Parmesan cheese
12.  Iceberg lettuce
11.  Cilantro
10.  Water
9.  Egg, raw
8.  Parsley, fresh
7.  Tomatoes, chopped
6.  Sugar

...and the top 5 most popular restaurant ingredients are:

5.  Onions
4.  Olive oil
3.  Garlic
2.  Black pepper
1.  Salt

Are you surprised?  What is the most commonly used ingredient in YOUR kitchen?

*All data courtesy of MenuCalc.

Friday, April 12, 2013

That’s a Wrap: Three Reasons Why We Love the Latest Trend in “To Go” Foods

From McDonald’s, to Starbucks, to your local corner cafe, you’ve probably noticed a food trend taking over lunch menus everywhere: wraps.  In the MenuCalc system alone, over 560 wrap recipes have been created and analyzed for their nutritional content.  Our sources tell us the trend is only set to continue.  Here are three reasons why we love them, and why you should, too.

1.    They’re portable.  Wraps can be eaten on-the-go easier than almost any other lunch food.  Unlike a salad, they don’t require a fork.  Unlike a sandwich, they don’t require a plate.  And unlike soup, there are no concerns about keeping the temperature right.  They’re perfectly designed to eat single-handedly and with very little mess. 
2.    They’re healthy.   Think of them as the burrito’s lighter, fitter cousin.  Wraps are a lower-carb, higher protein option for the ever-growing segment of diners looking to lighten up their lunches. 
3.    They’re fun.  Southwest, teriyaki, or just a classic turkey club…it’s hard to get bored with such endless variety! 

Get inspired to try some new flavor options with the top wrap combinations from the MenuCalc system:  Chicken Caesar, ham and cheese, spicy chicken, turkey and avocado, or Thai chicken.

Tell us, has your restaurant joined the wrap revolution?  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Serving Diners with Special Dietary Needs

I have been reading a lot of articles and blogs about the great responsibility that a restaurant assumes when serving a diner with special dietary needs.  I remember a time a when it was quite rare to encounter someone with a food allergy, especially a life threatening one; nowadays we serve tons of people with specific food intolerances and sensitivities, or just intense preferences.  It’s kind of a lot for the restaurant/hospitality industry to handle; not all servers and line cooks have a vast knowledge of what foods contain gluten, or what a food allergy even is. 

A lot of the frustration from the food industry comes from the vast quantity of diners who claim to be “allergic” to this or that, which seems to be much more than the 6% of the population who actually are.  Here are some of the specific problems that diners may cite when placing a special order, and what these terms actually mean:

Food Allergies – A food allergy is a chemical response to a food on the body that generates an anaphylactic response.  These reactions can be quite severe and can be life threatening if not treated immediately. 

Food Intolerances – The most common food intolerance these days is to lactose, a sugar found in dairy products.  When someone is intolerant to a food, that food will not digest properly in their system and will flush through the body too quickly without being broken down, causing extreme discomfort and usually diarrhea.  Celiac Disease is very similar to an intolerance, and has a similar reaction when those affected consume gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, oats, and barley).  Unlike lactose intolerance, the food does not simply pass through the system undigested, it actually damages the digestive tract which can lead to other food not being digested and absorbed properly. 

Food Sensitivities – People with food sensitivities can generally consume small amounts of the food that “bugs” them.  The reactions to sensitivities can range from illness similar to an intolerance to a general “icky” feeling.  Common reactions include swelling of the hands and feet, nausea, and fatigue. 

Of course your diners probably won’t go into deep detail about which issue they will have with the food in question, but it may help to know what some of the outcomes may be.  Some restaurants have chosen not to take on the liability, for these special needs diners because the risks are so high, but no one likes turning away business.  It doesn't look like the discussion about allergens will be going away any time soon, so it might be helpful to train your staff on the differences between these terms, so they can better help diners and protect the restaurant operator.

How does your operation handle special dietary needs? 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Facts Up Front: More discussion on food labeling

In another move toward making nutrition information readily accessible to consumers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) have announced the relaunch, if you will, of the Facts Up Front (formerlly known as "Nutrition Keys") labeling system.

The new nutrition icons are part of a voluntary program designed to clearly showcase calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar per serving.  Read more about these changes here

Clearly these changes, in addition to the proposed changes to the FDA's Nutrition Facts Panel, are a sign of the times: America is moving toward a more educated consumer audience.  What are your thoughts on this movement?  Weigh in in the comments section, or post your thoughts on our company Facebook page!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

American Barbecue: Delicious AND Nutritious?

Summer has come to a close, but in many regions of the country, it is still warm enough to host one more outdoor barbecue.  It doesn’t take a nutritionist to discern that most barbecue fare is not traditionally seen as the picture of health.  Creamy coleslaw, buttery cornbread, cheesy macaroni, and fatty meats come to mind when most diners picture this beloved culinary treasure.

Don’t get me wrong, I love barbecue.  I really do.  I love it so much that I refuse to accept it’s bad reputation for expanding summer waistlines.  Instead, it is my heartfelt contention that barbecue is actually one of the easiest cuisines to modify to be healthier without sacrificing the taste or experience of the original. 

For one thing, barbecuing is, by nature, a very healthy way to prepare food.  The dry heat means that no oil or butter is required, and marinades and spice rubs can take center stage for flavoring the food.

For those who are gluten intolerant, barbecue is a great option.  With the exception of bread, most traditional barbecue dishes are meat or vegetable based, which is good for the carb counters out there, too.

Here are some other tips for preparing a healthier homestyle meal:

·       Choose leaner cuts of meat, and remove the skin when possible.  Rotisserie chicken is a great option with the skin removed, as it retains its full flavor.  Skinless breasts and thighs are another smart poultry choice.  When cooking ribs, choose baby back over spare ribs, as they are leaner and just as tasty.  Center-cut pork chops and lean cuts of red meat, like skirt steak, are all protein-packed, lower fat options.
·       Be carb-conscious.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to forgo carbohydrates completely in the name of health.  I will, however, entertain the idea of a baked potato instead of potato salad, or a pasta salad instead of macaroni and cheese.  These swaps are simple and still satisfying.
·       Be your own BBQ.  Many bottled barbecue sauces are full of sodium and high-fructose corn syrup.  Consider creating your own house recipe with less sugar and more spices, and it could become your signature sauce.
·       Watch the extras.  Coleslaw itself is not a dietary disaster; it’s the mayonnaise often found as the coleslaw base.  Try a vinegar-based version and get all the crunchy satisfaction without the extra calories and fat.
·       Look again.  Certain classic barbecue dishes get a bad rap for no reason.  The first example that comes to mind is baked beans.  Sure, the combination of brown sugar and molasses is not ideal, but these indulgences are balanced by all the protein, fiber, and antioxidants in the beans.
·       Veggies.  Fruit.  More veggies.  Another feature of homestyle cuisine that often gets overlooked is the overwhelming options for incorporating produce!  What could be healthier than that?  The best part is that so many of your barbecue favorites already fall into this category and you don’t even realize it.  How about some grilled corn on the cob with salt and pepper?  Or perhaps some fresh-cut chunks of watermelon for dessert?  Don’t forget the classic southern dish of collard greens, which are essentially one of the healthiest foods you could possibly eat.  For vegetarians and omnivores alike, make a substantial main course by stacking vegetable chunks on a kabob and grilling them as you would grill the meat.

Classic barbecue dishes are a national treasure and should be enjoyed by those who want it.  The beauty is that as with almost every cuisine, with just a few small tweaks, barbecue can also be served to even the most health conscious diner.      

Now what are you waiting for?  Get grillin’!