by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Restaurants

Feb 15 2011

Healthy kids’ meals: the default

Margo Wootan, the nutrition policy director at  Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), sent along CSPI’s new materials on its Default Project—making healthy kids’ meals the default.

This is a really good idea.  Plenty of evidence shows that customers typically take the default whenever it is offered.

The idea is that if parents order a “happy meal” for their kids, the meal is automatically a healthy one.  Parents can always order junk food for their kids if they want to, so the choice is theirs.

I’ve been telling restaurant chain owners to do this for years.  It’s great to have the rationale explained and substantiated.  Thanks Margo!

Sep 18 2010

Restaurant safety grades: creativity in action

I haven’t said anything to date about New York City’s new safety grades for restaurants.  Their purpose is to encourage restaurants to do a better job on safety procedures so customers don’t get sick.

As the Health Department explains, the grades are awarded on a point system.  Points go to violations of food safety regulations.  The fewest points get an A.  Those with the most get a C.  The B grade is someplace in between.

Wall Street Journal blogger Aaron Rutkoff discovered a restaurant with an exceptionally creative method for dealing with its embarrassing B grade.

Enjoy the weekend and watch out for those grades!

Apr 6 2009

Can restaurants do healthier food?

The editor of the San Francisco Chronicle magazine invited me to write about what restaurants could do to make it easier for customers to make more healthful choices.  Here’s what I said:

As a nutritionist who cares deeply about the effects of food on health, I am often asked to speak to groups of owners of restaurants and restaurant chains. I accept such invitations whenever I can because I have an agenda for restaurant owners. I want them to make it much easier for customers to make healthier food choices.

Yes, I know. Restaurants are in the business of selling food. Restaurants must offer choices and give customers what they want. But restaurants bear some responsibility for encouraging people to eat too much and, therefore, contributing to obesity and its consequences.

As someone who loves to eat and eats in restaurants several times a week, I am all too aware of efforts to get me to eat more than I ordinarily would. Rather than resisting those efforts on my own, I’d appreciate some help.

Here’s what I wish restaurants would do:

Give a price break for smaller portions. Larger portions are a huge barrier to healthful eating. Larger portions have more calories, of course. But they also encourage people to eat more, and they fool us into thinking that we aren’t eating so much. Controlling weight means eating smaller portions. I’d like restaurants to offer half-size servings for, say, 70 percent of the price of “normal” size. That would work better for me than taking home a doggie bag.

Make healthy kids’ meals the default. Why not put tasty and healthful meals on the menu as the only options for kids’ meals? If parents want their kids to eat junk food, they can always order it, but restaurateurs do not need to aid and abet that choice. Kids should be eating grownup food anyway – restaurant meals offer a chance to expand their food experience.

Cook with less salt. Put salt shakers on the table. If customers don’t think your food is salty enough, they can always add their own. But those of us who are trying to keep our blood pressure under control would appreciate food that did not already have so much added salt.

Notice that I’m not asking restaurants (other than fast food chains) to post calories or nutrition information, to label meals as heart-healthy or to do anything else to turn customers off. I’d be happy with just these three changes. Other suggestions, anyone?

Mar 12 2008

San Francisco votes nutrition labeling

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is requiring chain restaurants to post nutrition information on menu boards–not just calories, as in New York, but also fat, carbohydrates, and sodium. Carbohydrates but not sugars? All that? It will be interesting to see how this works in six months when the rule goes into effect.

Feb 4 2008

Mississippi does what?

So many people have sent me news about the proposed legislation in Mississippi to ban overweight people from eating in restaurants that I must say something about it. I thought it was a joke, but no such luck.  The bill truly exists.  Nobody expects it to get anywhere but I still think it’s bad public policy.  For one thing, I still remember lunch counter sit-ins during the civil rights movement, plenty of them in Mississippi.  For another, this won’t fix the environment to make it easier people to eat more healthfully.  Here are some alternative suggestions: How about requiring restaurants to give a price break for smaller portions or making smaller portions and healthy kids’ meals the default?

Jan 14 2008

Low-calorie restaurant meals: really?

I’m just getting caught up with the Wall Street Journal’s report on calories in “low-calorie” meals served in chain restaurants. It’s worth a look. The reporter sent meals to a laboratory to test for calories. The good news: most calorie contents were as advertised. The not so good news: the calories are as advertised if–and only if–you don’t eat side dishes or additions like bread, cheese, or salad dressing. If you do, the calories go way up. And calories count. Alas.

Nov 3 2007

Calories galore, American-Italian style

Center for Science in the Public Interest has just done calorie counts on meals served at Olive Garden and Romano’s Macaroni Grill. Pretty impressive! I don’t think you need complicated arguments about fat vs. carbohydrates to explain why people gain weight when they routinely eat meals like these. While I thoroughly agree that 50 or 100 extra calories a day do not really add up to pounds a year (because metabolism compensates for small differences), we are talking here about thousands of extra calories a day. Italians in Italy don’t eat this much, or at least they didn’t used to.