Menus Without Labels

Once upon a time, when a gentleman would take a lady to a restaurant, the lady would get a menu without prices. The idea is clear, the lady should enjoy her meal without worrying about the price. Today, almost all menus are printed without labeling the calories of the meal. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a campaign to change this.

There are 3500 calories in a pound, and 365 days in a year. Eating an extra 9.6 calories a day, puts a pound on you every year, which is the average amount of weight gain in a recent study. So, if your diet calls for about 2000 calories, you have to be accurate to about 0.5% in your caloric estimates to only gain about 1 pound a year. Unfortunately, people underestimate the calories of meals, and are particular bad at estimating the calories of big meals. Further, only 11% of consumers could identify which choices had the most calories at McDonalds or Denny’s and 9 out of 10 underestimate the number of calories of less-healthy choices by an average of more than 600 calories. You can try your hand at it: take the online quiz! (I got 2/5 correct).

Let’s look at this thing from the other direction. Why not pass a lady’s menu to everyone? You guess the calories and the cost. Clearly steak is more expensive than chicken! They don’t need to tell you that do they? To make it even easier for the restaurant, they don’t even tell you the price at the end. You just give them your credit card/checking account number and they take the money. At the end of the year, you get a report on how much you owe for food. This might help with obesity. At the end of a few years, when you overeat, you’re not only obese, you’re bankrupt. Maybe that will improve the consumer’s powers of estimation.

I don’t think the obesity problem is a lost cause. I do think the secret is pretty simple:don’t eat too many calories. Here are some simple tips: don’t drink sugar sodas. Don’t eat mega-calorie desserts like Dairy Queen Blizzards (1000), Cheesecake Factory Cheesecakes (1050), or Chick-fil-a milkshakes (790). Never ever ever eat an Awesome Blossom (2710 calories!). If you want dessert, try a cup of strawberries (77 calories) or other fruits. Fruit has carbs (gasp!) but it also has a lot of fiber and water and is very filling. On the other hand, chocolate is not very filling and it’s pretty easy to eat 1000 calories of it. If you are out to eat and must order dessert, try the mini-desserts some restaurants offer. These weigh in at 200-300 calories. WebMD has some tips on cutting calories.

I hope my state of Florida follows San Francisco and New York City to require menu calorie labeling. Here are some examples of menu labels including pictures from NYC Starbucks.

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One Response to Menus Without Labels

  1. It’s true that nutrition analysis can never be 100% accurate, but providing people with guidance to make more informed decisions will hopefully lead to healthier decisions. These new menu labeling ordinances only apply to larger restaurant chains, so for the most part we can still enjoy blissful ignorance in most fine dining establishments.

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