Apr 09 – Do you want to count calories when you eat out?

How many calories?

How many calories?

The Food Standards Agency has announced that eighteen major catering companies, including many high street names, are to introduce calorie information on their menus for the first time.

These include workplace caterers, sit-down and quick-service restaurants, theme parks and leisure attractions, pub restaurants, cafes and sandwich chains.

Each company has agreed to:

  • display calorie information for most food and drink they serve
  • print calorie information on menu boards, paper menus or on the edge of shelves
  • ensure the information is clear and easily visible at the point where people choose their food

The FSA believes that the move will benefit individuals and families trying to choose a healthier diet. They see it as the first step towards more clarity for people when eating out.

But is it too small a step? Would it be more useful to have the same information on the salt, fat and sugar content of meals when eating out as many supermarkets give on the food you take home with the traffic light labelling scheme?

Or is it a step too far? If it became compulsory would it place an unwelcome burden on small businesses? Food analysis is not cheap and content labelling can only work if products are absolutely consistent. This may be all very well for the big players with their strict ‘portion control’ but would it stifle the creativity of smaller producers?

What do you think?

Rob says….

I am delighted that the Food Standards Agency and a number of companies have agreed to sign up to the profiling of their menus. This is so important for us as customers to make better choices about the food we eat. I remember though nearly 10 years ago a discussion about such a scheme and that is was going to be too difficult, ‘Nanny state’ was mentioned at the time and yet here we are! I think it will mean that smaller food outlets and restaurants who are independent will need to come on board with a similar ( all be it probably smaller) scale system for their customers if they are going to want to compete and offer what many customers are asking for.
The big test though is if it really changes people’s habits – we will wait a long time for those results. This is a good start though. Many parts of the USA have been doing this in various states. New York is a pioneer of such schemes also introducing bans on trans fatty acids and other products. I hope that here in the UK regional schemes will take off that remain relevant to local people. I know that as part of Tewkesbury’s ‘Count Me In’ project there is a team working on helping small business caterers develop skills to reformulate their menus and make them as healthy as they possibly can )without pushing up prices.
As time goes on I believe it is harder to keep Healthy Eating as a stand alone campaign – its time to make it simply integral to our loves and choices. Wouldn’t it be great to aspire to have confidence that when eating out every meal has been prepared to be as healthy as it possibly can be?