Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Does Nutrition Have a Place on the Menu?

In recent months the restaurant industry has been up in arms over the talk and passage of menu labeling laws that have begun to sprout up all over the country. What started in New York has now spread to 8 other cities, counties, and states across the country, and has caused quite a rift between restaurants and health advocates.

On the one hand health organizations like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the American Cancer Society argue that something has to be done about the American obesity epidemic. With people eating out more than they are eating in, and the average restaurant meal providing more fat and calories than the average home cooked meal, these health enthusiasts are looking towards restaurants to help educate consumers about healthier choices. And, with costly health conditions like diabetes and other obesity-related diseases on the rise, who wouldn’t want to nip the issue of obesity in the bud?

Some restaurants on the other had argue that America’s obesity epidemic is not their fault, and not their responsibility; and that providing nutrition information may not have any impact on people’s ordering habits. They argue that people go out to eat to enjoy a delicious prepared meal, and to forget about the calories; after all people already know that double cheeseburger isn’t that good for them.

The arguments for both sides are continuous. I can sympathize with both sides: as a dietitian I am concerned for the consumers’ health, but at the same time worried that upon receiving this information, they will still make the cheesier and deep fried decision even with calorie counts. I also understand that turning a kitchen into a calorie counting laboratory is not at all convenient for operators, but at the same time, wonder if it’s the consumer’s right to know.

So fellow FohBohers, what’s your take on the menu labeling situation? Should restaurants see providing nutrition information as a competitive advantage, and an opportunity to innovate their menus, or as a business a threat to their signature items?

As your resident nutrition expert FohBohist expect more nutrition-related posts and discussions from me.

Boun Appetit!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Countdown to Menu Labeling, What you need to get Started

With the deadline to comply with California’s menu labeling law less than a month away (July 1, 2009) many restaurants are scrambling to get their recipes analyzed and their nutrition information printed and ready for distribution.

To someone who is new to the nutrition analysis process the work and details needed for generating nutrition information may be a bit of a shock. Here are a few helpful hints to help you prepare for a nutrition analysis project:

1.) Get up close and personal with your scale – many restaurants write their recipe specs by volume measurements (i.e. 1 cup, #20 scoop, fluid oz,…etc). Nutrition analysis by calculation is most accurate when ingredients are entered by weight, having corresponding weights for your volume measurements will help speed up the process as well as increase accuracy.

2.) Get Recipe Specs – If you don’t already use standardized recipes this is the perfect opportunity to write them. Having and following standardized recipes will not only improve the accuracy of your nutrition results, but will also help with forecasting, reduce waste, and improve consistency.

3.) Gather your Facts – If you have specialty ingredients that are not likely found in a database (i.e. Alyson’s bakery ciabatta rolls), start to gather the nutrition labels from your packaging or request them from your vendors. Having these together and on hand will save you scramble time at the last minute.

4.) The Name Game – Make sure you have consistent names for your recipes and ingredients. When using a system to calculate your nutrition information you don’t want to confuse things for each other (i.e. “buffalo sauce” from the bottle vs. “buffalo sauce” prepared with butter).

5.) No Exclusions – In the world of nutrition every little bit counts. Make sure that your recipes and the ingredients that you enter into the system reflect everything that the consumer is being served. Some hidden ingredients that are often overlooked/forgotten include: butter or spread on buns/rolls, oil absorbed during frying, marinade absorbed during marinating, garnishes (if edible), side dishes/items (i.e. dinner rolls served with salads).

While technology continues to innovate new ways to make nutrition analysis easier there is still a lot of manual work that needs to be done before you get started. Paying attention to the tips listed above will help you get prepared to that you get the most accurate results and a speedier turnaround.

Happy Counting,

Please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestion

Alyson Z. Mar, RD