Eating out – advice for consumers and restaurants

informed dining logoRestaurants are a part of every community and visiting one is a fairly common occurrence for many Canadians.  Infact, there are over 81,000 restaurants, bars and caterers across the country.  Meals or snacks from restaurants account for 1 in 10 meal occasions for Canadians according to Restaurants Canada, the national association representing the foodservice industry. Their survey also found that going out to a restaurant is the number one preferred activity for spending time with family and friends. It is no wonder that Canadians are increasingly interested in the nutritional quality of the foods offered in restaurants. Restaurants Canada’s research revealed that 92% of Canadians feel it is important to know the nutrition breakdown of the foods they eat out.  The top five types of nutrition information Canadians are interested in knowing are total fat, sodium, trans fat, calories and sugar. This type of nutrition information however is not as easy to find as one might expect on restaurant foods. Enter the Informed Dining program, an initiative that started in British Columbia and is now spreading across the country. Participating restaurants display the Informed Dining logo and provide consumers access to broad nutrition information before ordering a meal or snack.

Although the debate continues on the issue of restaurant menu labelling, consumers and professionals agree that nutrition knowledge is a useful tool in the journey towards healthy eating.  Recent research published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour suggests that combining three key purchasing strategies could significantly slash calorie intake while eating out. Here are my top tips for your personal and business interests:

Consumer Advice:

1. Keep it small and order fewer items.  Portion sizes at fast food counters and restaurants are usually bigger than what you would normally eat at home. Ordering smaller or fewer items will automatically cut calories, fat and salt. If your meal is larger than what you would like to eat share it with a friend, or ask to take leftovers home.

2. Select low calorie beverage or water. Drink water, low-fat milk or 100% fruit juice instead of soda pop. If you drink alcohol, limit it to one or two drinks for the day.

3. Consider nutrition information of menu choices and look for healthier options that are lower in calories, fat and sodium and higher in fibre. Ask your server for nutrition information or check out the new informed dining resource. Surf the informed dining website or the restaurant’s website ahead of time. Eat at restaurants that offer choices that meet your nutritional preferences.

Business Advice:

1. Offer healthier menu options and allow substitution for more vegetables

2. Reformulate menus to offer lower calorie choices / smaller portions

3. Be aware of calorie and nutrition information on your menu, share it with consumers and use it to help them make healthier choices