Federal Government Wants You to Lose Weight and They Want to Control Your Calorie Intake

How many of you are aware of Bill 2726, a federal act aimed at chain restaurants with “at least 20” outlets to post calorie facts in plain view on their menus? If they don’t they get fined up to $1,000 per offense. The bill has already passed in California and Oregon and is currently before Congress.
Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that Dallas-based Romano’s Macaroni Grill CEO Brad Blum is trying to get ahead of the game by reworking the calorie content of the chain’s food. Last January their 1,630-calorie dessert ravioli was rated “worst dessert in America” by Men’s Health magazine. The call out has nothing to do with how the dessert tastes, just that it has so many calories.
So, what does this all mean to you dear Dishers? It means you get to share your opinion on whether or not this is a good thing. Is it fair that the chain restaurants have to cut calories while the independents don’t? In the WSJ article one Chicago restaurant consult blames the downward trend in casual dining sales on consumers who choose to eat healthier food at home. Ah, I don’t agree with that. What is to keep people from ordering two?


  • Brad

    I think transparency in food is a wonderful thing. The bill doesn’t mandate that foods be healthy, but rather that the restaurants be informative.

    If you’re reading this blog, odds are that you have an interest in reading about food, eating food, cooking food, whatever. Odds are also great that these readers show more concern for quality ingredients (where and how was this processed/grown, etc) than the average non-foodblog-reading-American. This bill is probably not intended to help the food savvy, but more likely it’s a step in the right direction of informing/educating the general masses about the food they put into their bodies. I wish the information was even more in depth (just how many different dead cows make up this Big Mac?), but it’s likely that the cost constraints would make that impossible.

    I’m not sure that I follow your reasoning that chains have to cut calories and independents don’t. Chains simply have to fess up. Maybe the consumer can deduce what the independents are hiding with the context clues.

  • ChosenOne

    I guess chains will be afraid to lose business if people actually see the calories they are eating. What was that Italian place in Preston Royal that listed the calories so long ago?

  • CBS

    @ Brad +1. Since when is more information bad? I would love for all restaurants to disclose this information (even a reasonable approximation). I also understand that there is a cost an obvious variation to this. I don’t need exact science here, but simple honesty about what we are being fed.

    I think it is telling that that MG is “re-working” some of its items. If there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, why run when the lights are put on it?

    It is absolutely shocking the amount of calories in most dishes. Even those of us that care have relatively little idea of what the claorie/nutritional count of most dishes really are.

  • Brad, my immediate reaction was all or none.what is the reasoning? Chain restaurants can afford to have their extensive menus tested and reprinted? I’d like someone from Macaroni Grill to comment on that cost.With business down all across the country it feels like a huge slap at the industry.

  • Sorry if I am not being clear. I am attempting to post from my phone and it is quite a challenge

  • Rawlins Nichol-Plated

    When one’s feeling fleshy, you blouson your sweater

    since adding that bacon makes anything better;

    When buttering rolls at that Hooter’s, forget her:

    Yesterday’s piglet, today’s fat-gram debtor.

  • luniz

    I don’t see how it’s a slap at all. It’s a minor cost. It won’t stop people from eating out, but it might get them to eat less desserts. The WSJ is nothing but a rag for whining business types who view consumers as nothing more than mindless wealth generating machines with not reason for existence other than lining their pockets. For an independent or small restaurant that doesn’t offer the same thing every day, there’s no sense in punishing them by forcing conformation. With large chains that have their menus and recipes created by a home office and know exactly what does into every dish, the expense is laughable.

  • Forgot 2 say. Cut the portions not the calories

  • PotNet

    Nutritional information in restaurants is as effective as warning labels on cigarette boxes.

  • Hiccup

    I just read the WSJ article. I think you’re missing the point. The new CEO is saying they’re adopting the Mediterranean style of cooking, which uses high-quality ingredients They can use fewer additives because the higher quality ingredients taste better. You don’t need to cover the flavor of inferior ingredients with butter and fry batter if the actual ingredients taste good. The added benefit is that it’s better for you too.

    I’m appreciative of the fact that they’re giving us a choice. I’m sure they still have cheese-laden lasagna if that’s what you’re after. But now I know I can find something that tastes good AND makes me feel good too (as long as the cooks can pull this off… that’s the question). Now I can have a few glasses of wine to go with it without feeling guilty about killing myself with sodium and fat!

  • Dilly Girl

    I work for a package goods manufacturer, and it costs us about $300/item to run a recipe through a lab for nutritional information. And it takes a few weeks to get the information. This sounds like a pricey proposition for any restaurant, whether chain or independent. $300 x 50 items… $15K? Dang. If restaurant margins are truly around 10%, that’s almost 10,000 orders of Riblets to cover the cost of the lab work. Not affordable for anyone, in my mind. But I’m grateful for the information.

  • One important benefit of this proposed bill is that it will allow diabetics to eat at more than just fast food chain restaurants (who largely make their nutritional info available) without having to guess at the carb count in the food. Not saying this outweighs this cost to business, but, as the parent of a diabetic child, it sure would be nice to not have to take our kid to KFC all of the time because it’s the only place where we know we can track his carb intake.

  • Jane

    I’m sorry, but if we are not aware of what we are putting in our mouth and we are depending on a restaurant to do that for us, then maybe we should be ‘food nazi’s’ at home. I would never blame McDonald’s for making me fat when I have the free will to avoid food’s I know are unhealthy for me. That being said, I go to places that would serve manicotti with tons of cheese, because that is not a dish I would normally have at home due to the calorie content. But sometimes, I just need a fix.

  • Luniz, ouch. I’m not a fan of corporate cuisine but I don’t think the cost is minimal. Printing menus is very expensive. Will it cut into their profits? Probably not, as they will either raise prices or cut portions. Pot Net, I agree with you. I say toss out this legislation and move on to something else.

  • Mark

    More Information is always a good thing. Maybe in the long run this will force the chains to rethink their menus and portion sizes.
    But 2 years from now I’ll still be fat.

  • Brad

    @Dilly Girl – $15,000 divided by 20+ units doesn’t seem like much to ask. It’s not as if each owner/franchise is dishing it out – corporate bills them for a portion of the total.

    @Nancy – chains generally sell a homogeneous product across all seasons/regions. That makes it easy to homogenize the nutritional data. An independent likely uses different suppliers/ingredients depending on availability and price because they won’t have the same buying power to dictate the same quality every time from their providers. I will agree with the smaller portions comment. I’ll just have the Single Down sandwich at KFC instead of two fried chicken breasts, two slices of cheese, and bacon. That way I’ll lose weight.

    All of the above reminds me of that Tenacious D song where they go through the drive thru. “I’ll have a Filet of Fish because it’s fish and I’m on a diet. And a Junior Western Bacon Chee – a JUNIOR Western Bacon Chee. Half coke half diet coke because I’m watching my weight. And a Cherries Jubilee and that’s it….”

  • plainbrew

    Most people dine out at both chain & independent places. If they know the calories in a particular dish at a chain, they will at least have a guesstimate of the calories in that dish across the board. If that knowledge helps with the diet/health/obesity issues that plague our citizens, I like it. The fact that the government has to mandate it, well that’s another issue. But how is it so different from a list of ingredients (in order) on the side of a box?

  • wordy

    Sorry, Nancy. Love your blog, but I don’t see why this is the tack you would want to take. This could easily be seen as a correlation to the Healthcare debate. Why shouldn’t restaurants (agreed all of them, but def the chains) have to tell me what is in the food they are serving me. They describe the ingredients, which I use to deduce that it is either good for me or not. Imagine my surprise when I choose a salad and later find out it is worse than their burger. That is similar to false advertising and the menus and the recipe SHOULD be changed. Period. There is always an upfront cost for things that are beneficial in the long run. So, based on your post, I guess you were against seat belts because it cost the car companies so much to add them back in the day?
    Why should companies have to tell you the nutritional info on the label of the food, but not elsewhere? Especially if they took perfectly reasonable ingredients and ADD bad stuff.

  • realreader

    The entire article is about Mac. Grill’s new exec chef and new CEO, trying to turn around the company by voluntarily introducing a new, healthier, less calorie menu.

    And you take out of it “that the chain restaurants have to cut calories while the independents don’t?”

    What a waste.

  • real reader–read the contents of the bill in line one. The question you refer to is just one point to start the conversation.

  • Calories suck but its silly to count on restaurants to be calorie counters. Going to dinner is supposed to be fun without that Animal House devil standing on your shoulder telling you you’re naughty. Doesn’t the onus fall on the public to know beef is fatter than chicky chick and cream is worse than vinny-grette??

  • Cdallas

    I love this idea and wish everyone would just put the calorie number next to their dish. I have lost 50lbs. since the first of the year just by reducing my daily calories to 2500. There are many casual dining options I don’t go to anymore because you can not find their calorie counts listed online. I use my iphone app to track and store all the information easiest time ever as I have maintained my goal weight for 3 months and eat everything I want just in the correct quantity.

  • CBS

    @ Jane, honestly, it is this argument that makes me laugh most. You have close to zero idea what is actually in your food (obviously aside from the portions listed on a menu). You have no idea what additives, oils, or other fillers put into your food to “add” flavor. To me, this is the turning the light on the long standing kitchen practice of adding a good dose of butter to a dish to “add” flavor, the customer is none the wiser.

    Also, I would never blame anyone for making me fat, but I damn sure blame restaurants for intentionally putting false and deceptive descriptions on food menus.

    By the way, re the menu issue, I am a big fan of online disclosure.

  • Jane

    @CBS, as the wife of a chef, a vegetarian, volunteer nutritional education counselor and a cooking school instructor, I am a walking plethora of nutritional information. I know exactly what is in my food and I spend a small fortune on food items that I am fairly confident are nutritious and won’t cause a baby arm to grow out of my forehead. To ask a restaurant to do what you should be doing anyway is ludicrous and unrealistic. And spoiled. And screams ‘air of entitlement’. Personal culpability is the key here. Many restaurants in Dallas are more than willing to serve you a dish sans butter, or salt. Maybe you should just drink water. Uh, but not from the tap.

    Bon Appétit!

  • eli

    @Jane – The fact is people *aren’t* aware of what they’re putting in their mouths at restaurants. And that’s at no fault of their own. What would you say is the nutritional content of “Fresh Miso Marinated Salmon Served with Snow Peas, White Rice and a Delicious Miso Sauce?” It’s the sort of mean I’d put together myself after a trip to Central Market, and if I put the main bits of the dish through nutrtiondata.com (minus the sauce, they don’t really have those handy) I came up with 533 calories and 4.6 grams of saturated fat. Not bad. On the other hand, from the restaurant it’s 1673 calories and 39 grams of saturated fat! An average diner might think “Oh, it’s fish, it’s not fried, and it has veggies – must be good for me!” But there’s quite a lot of difference between cooking at home and eating what appears to be a comparable dish at a restaurant. And unless a person is exposed to those differences (via, say, calorie/fat info on menus) they would never necessarily know those differences. Just because a menu says “salmon, peas, rice, miso” doesn’t mean that’s the entirety of what you’re getting. I agree that it is important for people to take personal responsibility and decide for themselves – but they can do so only if they have valid foundations to base their decisions on. Requiring restaurants to list calorie/fat information isn’t an indictment of the restaurants, it isn’t an abdication of the diner’s responsibility to eat healthy food. It’s giving people the tools to make those decisions you so want them to make.

  • wordy

    @eli. Couldn’t have said it better ….. This whole up-in-arms thing seriously makes me think of the reaction of some of the Car Companies when they mandated seat belts. @Jane There is no “air of entitlement” in demanding fair advertising, for things not to be misleading or harmful, and for people to actually know what is in their food (you know, those of us without your superior skills of clairvoyance)

    @Nancy this bill will allow concumers to be personally culpable for their eating habits in a fair and reasonable manner. you’ll need something more than menu cost to make that sound like a bad thing.

  • Dubious Brother

    Why in the h*** is the United States Congress considering this issue? If the states’ (such as California and Oregon) law makers pass this type of legistation and the people accept it that is one thing. The US Congress has no business or authority to even attempt it and don’t think for a minute that when they start looking at something like this that they don’t have regulation or another tax on their agenda. If we let the Feds in the door it won’t be long before your food consultant, fka wait person, will ask you to pull up your shirt so they can check your fat content and decide what you are allowed to eat as per the food Czar’s formula.

  • sam

    Maybe people will stop blaming their obesity on “well, I didn’t know what I was eating.” America is afraid of a wake up call. And yet we wonder why health care is skyrocketing and our country is the fattest on the planet. Two things to be proud of America.

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