It’s mid-January. That means some of us are still sticking to our weight-loss resolutions, others have already starting finding reasons to skip the gym and still others are probably trying to find the loopholes in their new health club memberships over a 3,000-calorie plate of Bistro Shrimp Pasta at The Cheesecake Factory.
That dish topped this year’s Xtreme Eating list, a roster of outrageously fattening restaurant meals from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which annually scours dining-out menus to find the dishes most likely to clog the arteries and pile on the pounds. “You’d think that the size of their profits depended on their increasing the size of your pants,” Executive Director Michael Jacobson said in the group’s news release.
His comment is meant to take restaurants to task for serving up high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie resolution-busting meals. Still, in a sense, the sentence can be read seriously. Restaurants are businesses that serve the customers what they want because their livelihoods and profits and future existence depend on it. And, while most of us might say we don’t want a piece of chocolate cake with more calories than a meal and more sugar than one person needs to consume in four days, the reality is that if nobody ordered the Chocolate Zuccotto Cake, Maggiano’s would take it off the menu.
Maybe our habits will change more when calories, salt, fat and sugar counts are posted on the menu as a result of new federal health care laws. But, while many of us may not know exactly how many calories are in the Bacon Cheddar Double Burger, Sweet Potato Fries and Big Apple Shake at Johnny Rockets, the fact that the shake has an actual piece of apple pie blended in and the meal’s description includes the words “bacon” “double” and “fries” would clue most of us into the fact that we’re seriously indulging in something that our waistlines might not thank us for later.
But here’s the thing — the restaurants on the list are some of the most popular chains in the country, with patrons who probably try their best sometimes and throw caution and their diet to the wind other times. Would they be better off hitting the salad bar and passing up the chicken fried steak more often? Sure they would. And, unless they’ve been living in a media-free bubble for the past decade or so, they know it.
I cheer when I read stories about efforts to make school lunches healthier — children are forming their eating habits now, they need proper nutrition to do their best in class and they’re a captive audience who by and large must eat what they’re served. In contrast, grownups have choices when they go to restaurants and, while most of us aren’t experts in the minutiae of nutrition, we have a grasp of the basics that go into making a balanced meal, or at least we have access to the information if we want to know.
Some chains and independent eateries have been boosting their lower-calorie offerings as the new labeling rules loom and tweaking recipes and menus to make it easier for patrons to eat healthier, as The Baltimore Sun reported. But that doesn’t mean consumers are giving up their bacon, shakes and chocolate cake.
Are your guests changing their habits? Will calorie counts make a difference? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.
- Q-and-A: Healthy Dining’s Anita Jones-Mueller on how restaurants can reduce sodium on menus
- Accurate nutrition info, training are essential as restaurants prepare for menu labeling
- How healthy menus bring diners in the door
- Q-and-A: Consumers turn to technology for guidance on healthy dining
- Darden and Silver Diner show how to put healthy choices on the menu