How healthy are our restaurant menus? – Shelby Sun

Last week we dined at a restaurant, we have been frequenting for the past 10 years. The young polite waiter asked for the order. I looked at the menu, then I paused and asked for something completely out of the ordinary. “Do you have a menu that lists the nutritional content of the items you serve?”

The already pale waiter looking paler. “Let me find out” – he said. It was obvious he had never been asked that question before.

So as the appetizers arrived, I pulled out a crumbed piece of paper from my pocket and a pen and handed it to my pre-teen daughter. We munched down a few chips smothered with cheese and spinach dip along with warm bread spread with butter, and we brainstormed.  “How would you know if the restaurant was serving healthy food and what criteria would you use to rank restaurants?”

“Obviously, you have to look at the nutritional content” my pre-teen daughter said, as if she had figured it all out.
“Good – so one criteria is nutritional content. But what is nutritious? Do we look at calories, fat or carbohydrates?” I inquired
“You have got to address this Atkins diet fad, else you are history.” My wife chimed in.

The waiter came back to tell us they did not have the nutritional content of the food they were serving, “but the parent company was working on it.” I asked if the manager was available.

“Other criteria we would use to rate healthiness of our restaurants?” I pimped the family for ideas.
“You also need to make sure that the restaurants do not charge you more for the healthy food and less for unhealthy food. At the fast food restaurants a burger, coke, and fries costs less than a salad.” My daughter remarked.

“Yes-affordability, write that down. We need to make sure the restaurant is serving nutritious food at a reasonable price. Preferably, we want nutritious food to be cheaper than the non-nutritious food.”

Our brainstorming team was not the first to do this. A health maintenance organization in Buffalo has asked restaurants to offer healthy menus because the city has an obesity rate twice the national average, no thanks to its “love affair with deep-fried chicken wings dunked in blue cheese and heaping roast beef sandwiches” according to Carolyn Thompson an associated press reporter. Two dozen restaurants took up the challenge using the American Heart Association guidelines limiting 30 percent calories from fat and 10 percent calories from saturated fat.

The manager came and I expressed my concerns. Counting calories is important I told him especially when 1 in 5 meals is eaten out. He promised to email me the nutritional content of the meals, when he received them from the parent company.

As we finished our meal my daughter eyed the dessert menu – especially the peanut butter ice cream pie with chocolate candy pieces – “Daddy please”.

I ordered one dessert and 4 spoons. Our 8 year old who was taking more interest in the interrogation of the waiter and the manager than the brainstorming said “Look, daddy it’s like an iceberg”

“Thanks”– I told her, “we need to add another criteria for a healthy menu – the serving size.” The dessert was not only the shape but the size of an iceberg. As a family we could barely finish one serving.

We left as we had for the past decade, ignorant of our calorie intake for the meal, but now with hope to be better informed at our next visit.