Restaurants have been moving forward with efforts to make meals healthier and provide guests with the nutritional information they need to make better food choices, despite the Food and Drug Administration’s ongoing delay in issuing final rules on exactly what nutrition information chains with 20 or more locations will need to put on their menus.

“Implementation of this portion of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 is now officially one year overdue, and may be another six months out,” wrote MenuTrinfo’s Betsy Craig in a QSRWeb blog post this week that detailed the delays, which most recently center on the debate over whether convenience stores should be held to the same standards as restaurant chains.

The post was one of several recent pieces that focused on restaurants, healthy dining and America’s obesity problem, including a Rand Corp. report that analyzed nutrition information at 245 restaurants from the top 400 U.S. chains. Researchers found that 96% of the dishes tested exceeded USDA recommendations for the amount of calories, sugar, fat and saturated fat people should consume in a single meal. The data were collected from menus and nutrition information posted on the restaurants’ websites from February to May 2010.

Those numbers probably weren’t such a big deal in the days when more of us enjoyed restaurant meals as special-occasion treats and we could balance a few indulgent meals with a more sensible diet the rest of the time. But balancing the diet became tougher as dining out evolved into an integral part of our lives.

T.J. Jacobberger, general manager of The Tavern at Lark Creek and a San Francisco Chronicle blogger, concluded that his industry bears part of the responsibility for the nation’s expanding waistlines by virtue of the role it plays in people’s daily lives.

“We have created a culture around the consumption of food and beverage,” he wrote last week. “…Whether it’s a business lunch or dinner with friends, people are dining out more than they ever have before. People are consuming more food and beverage than ever before. We have made food and beverage a social must for any type of get-together, from sporting events to book clubs.”

Another recent study — that found finances were leading a significant number of consumers to dine out less often — included a list of the reasons people gave for choosing a restaurant and, while 56% of people said healthy menu items were a factor, that quality came in behind a host of other factors including convenience, variety and price, according to a story in Pizza Marketplace.

Finally, the jury’s still out on restaurant chains’ efforts to create healthier kids’ menus, Forbes contributor Carol Tice wrote this week. More than 100 chains have joined the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program since it launched, but it’s unclear whether their efforts to promote healthier, less fattening alternatives are finding traction among young consumers. “As high-minded as they’d like to be, there’s a basic rule in the restaurant business: Menu real estate is valuable, and you don’t keep offering items customers don’t want.”

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5 Responses to “Restaurants and their place in a healthy diet”

  1. Mark says:

    Healthy Diet ? Lol, you want healthy eat at home, I don’t care about your health, I don’t care about your kids health, I sever what my customers want , ( 3 bar/ rest. ) and most of the time we are full, if it doesn’t sell it’s not on the menu, stop worrying about what restaurants sell,and get off your fat butt and try working out, it’s not my job to care about your health, it’s yours, if they didn’t want it they woundn’t buy it, and I woundn’t sell it

    • Shaun says:

      Hi Mark,

      Congratulations on the success of your bars/restaurants. I believe that we, as a society, need to take a more active role in our health, including education and exercise. While people are entitled to eat what they want, I believe in making some healthy options available. In addition, if it's possible to substitute some healthier ingredients, with minimal affect on the finished product, why not consider it?

      I agree that we need to place items that sell on the menu but, unlike you, I do care about the health of my customers and their children, and I want them coming back for as long as possible. Without them, I wouldn't be in business.

  2. Kevin says:

    Mark makes a valid point. This is goes back to Economics 101, supply and demand. If consumers truly wanted or 'demanded' healthier food options, then restaurants would be more inclined to provide them. Unfortunately that, as can be seen by the amount of unhealthy items on menus, is not what most consumers want. This is only further supported by the citation in this article; consumers care more about convenience, taste, price, etc., than they do health.

    In the end, why punish restaurants with senseless extra expenditures? The profit margin for individual units is already tight the way it is. Try using government funds and time and restaurateurs dollars for something more useful and productive.

  3. Len Torine says:

    To name just a few excellent restaurants that offer delicious healthy vegetarian meals on their traditional menu are; The Dhaba in Arizona, Dante's of Cleveland, Blue Moon Mexican, New York, and The Melting Pot, New Jersey. These restaurants have been awarded 'RECOMMENDED' status by the
    American Vegetarian Association (AVA) as being compliant with vegetarian requirements. These vegan/vegetarian menu additions have proven to be highly successful, and often will be the encouragement for a group or family to choose that particular eatery. This AVA endorsement instills trust in their healthy offerings,
    the owners have commented.

  4. Matt says:

    I think the trend actually is going to be chains created on the premise of healthy food rather than already existent chains moving to more healthy food. It comes down to the simple fact that most customers know that chains already in existence aren't the healthiest but they still visit them. And although healthy food is alluring, it also comes with the idea that healthier food is less flavorful and will mess with a good thing.
    Chains that are healthy from the start and have it built into their brand and business model do not have to deal with that and can build their brand around the nutritional components of their food. At the same moment as proving the quality of their food, they can prove the nutrition. I think these chains will be the true threat to already successful chains.