Healthy Choices

Sometimes it feels as if all I do is eat and exercise. It isn’t exactly the case, but as a restaurant critic responsible for a weekly review and multiple weekly blog posts about my city’s dining scene, I have to eat out a lot. And because I have no desire to fall on the wrong side of the statistics in our nation’s obesity epidemic, I also think a lot about all the calories I’m consuming while eating out.

Even so, despite my personal plight, I’m conflicted about the current push (both governmental and societal) to have restaurants offer healthier alternatives.

Personally, I would appreciate less-fattening food, and in the fast-casual world it makes a lot of sense to give consumers a choice about what they’re eating. I rarely eat fast food, but when I do (say, while on a long road trip), I gravitate to healthier options and hate it if there are none available. I also know that fast food is an easy and affordable way for many folks to feed their families—and in that regard, it has a responsibility to offer some healthy options.

But what about in full-service restaurants? Especially those that are more likely to be special-occasion destinations?

I eat in these places four or five times a week, but most people aren’t indulging in fine dining that often. If you’re out for your one special meal of the week, or month, or year, are you really thinking about healthy choices?

Next year, new rules will require any restaurant with more than 20 units to post calorie counts on menus. And yet, studies have shown that those calorie counts do very little to change the way customers order. This is partly just common sense—few people walk into a burger shack looking for health food. And I’m about as likely to order from the “healthy choices” section of a full-service restaurant’s menu as I am to order from the kid’s menu. Dining out is supposed to be about being pampered and indulging, not about being virtuous.

Yet, I appreciate it when I leave a restaurant feeling well-fed but not overstuffed. And despite the research stating that consumers basically don’t care about calorie counts, the pressure is only going to increase for restaurants to provide healthy menu options.

I don’t want to get all conspiracy theory here, but it’s unlikely the calorie-counts law will be the end of regulation and legislation regarding restaurant food and health.



Gosh, I feel sorry for you. Having to eat at restaurants all the time. (Actually I do sympathize a bit.) Three thoughts to your dilemma.1) Bag lunches and salads in between. Even though I work in the restaurant industry, I make most of my meals myself. It gives you control over your diet that can never be achieved when someone else cooks. Even "healthy" restaurant meals are going to have three or more times the calories and multiples of the salt necessary to a consistently healthy diet. It seems a better plan to limit these meals, but when they happen not to torture oneself with health guilt and calorie balancing. Obviously you have a more complicated situation.2) Non-chain restaurants are conceived as pleasure sources rather than wellness centers. You don't go to your doctor for a good burger. Food is fun. High calorie food is generally more fun. Moderation remains an option. In qsr's you don't need to order the biggest meal or finish the Big Bulp. When Baja Tacos was an emergency stop in hectic days, I noticed that while I ate the 125 calorie soft taco, I was surrounded by hefty folk with the whole combination plate and a side of chips. (Baja Joes wasn't great, but they had calories posted.) 3) Calorie postings work, just not for those for whom they are apparently intended. California's state requirement for calorie postings has severely limited the places I allow myself to grab a bite in a pinch. If I have fifteen minutes to get back to an interview, I am starving and I stick my head into Burger King just to pick up a xxxx, see the chart, and grab a yoghurt and a banana from the bodega next door instead. I'm not the only one. Make that national, and I will bet you dollars to apple slices that the corporations take note and alter their menus accordingly. Good luck with your burden.

I am in agreement. I am a former restaurant reviewer who would have appreciated more healthy offerings. While it is nice to indulge sometimes, it also feels good to eat well and know I am not harming myself myself in the process. Chefs- challenge ON!


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