Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Restaurant rehab: Kill the Kid’s Menus

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You know what sucks? Kid’s menus. In theory they make sense; children generally don’t eat as much as adults and it’s nice for parents to have less expensive options when eating out with their kids. In practice, however, they suck. Most kid’s menus offer processed and fried bland options. When you think of a kid’s menu what do you think of? I usually come up with burgers, chicken fingers, pasta, and lots of french fries.

Children don’t need entirely different options from adults. They can handle spice and flavour. They’re also highly susceptible to suggestion. If you imply to kids that they’re not going to like something or it might be too spicy for them they’re far more likely to confirm those suggestions. They’ll live up (or down) to expectations.

I know that kids can be fussy. Just ask my mum. I could spot a speck of onion a mile away. I don’t think that this should mean that they should be offered entirely separate meal options from adults, whether at home or at a restaurant. What kind of a lesson does that teach children? What kind of eaters does that mean we’ll be raising? Another generation of people with unadventurous palates that prefer bland, processed, fried foods. More people who dislike vegetables and think that a meal can be complete with the only sign of a vegetable being ketchup, and maybe a tiny cup of mayonnaise laden coleslaw.

Restaurant owners and chefs, please consider the nutritional balance of meals. Both for children and adults. It’s not a meal without vegetables. And no, ketchup is not a vegetable. Please consider eschewing traditional kid’s menus and simply offer smaller plates of adult meals with kid-friendly names. We need to stop teaching kids that they won’t like flavourful nutritious food.


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Lessons from salty restaurant meals

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Last week a study was released showing that sodium levels in chain restaurant meals are still ridiculously high.

The researchers found that some meals contained roughly the maximum amount of sodium an adult should consume throughout an entire day. Sure, some people only eat one meal a day, but this isn’t a recommended pattern of eating, and most of us eat at least three times a day.

While I agree with the researchers that there need to be regulations to ensure that restaurant meals, and packaged foods for that matter, contain lower amounts of sodium and menus are labelled, I think that there are a few more important lessons to be learned here.

First, I just have to say the thing that bothered me the most upon hearing the story on the radio was the man from the restaurant industry who stated that sodium is necessary for flavour and food safety! I get that salt is a common preservative but when I’m eating at a restaurant I’m going for fresh, quality food. The thought that high levels of salt are added to food to make it safe is rather alarming to me. As for the flavour comment, that’s what salt shakers are for. Customers should be given the option of adding more salt to their food. Obviously you can’t remove salt once it’s in a meal (well, at least not at a restaurant table, perhaps in a lab) so why not use the least amount of salt possible, flavour with herb, spices, and lemon zest, and allow customers to add more salt if they desire.

Okay… on to what I think are the important lessons to be learned here… One, this study only looked at restaurants with at least 20 locations. That means local restaurants were not included. Many of these places employ excellent chefs who use fresh ingredients and don’t rely on salt to make their meals flavourful. Talk to the chef if you have concerns about ingredients, find out if nutrition information is available for your favourite dishes. Ultimately: avoid chain restaurants; buy local.

Two, you should be preparing the majority of the meals you eat yourself. Sorry, but you can’t trust anyone. Only you can take care of yourself. Try to use minimally processed ingredients and read labels on any packaged foods you purchase. Restaurants are lovely for a treat but they shouldn’t be providing you with the majority of your meals. Be your own personal chef.


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The problem with adding calorie counts to menus

I know that I’m a little late to the game due to March being taken over by Nutrition Month. I still wanted to weigh in on the restaurant menu labelling debate as I think an important point is being missed here. On one side of the debate are those who state that consumers should be given the information on calories (and possibly other common nutrients of concern such as fat, sodium, and sugar) at the point of purchase. On the other side of the debate are those who cite studies showing that such calorie labelling doesn’t actually make an impact on customers purchasing decisions. I’m not completely sure which side of this debate I’m on. Part of me (the part that fancies myself to be a savvy consumer) likes the idea of having as much information as possible. Another part of me just wants to enjoy my occasional meal out without the guilt of knowing that it contains as many calories as I need in an entire day. However, many people eat out on a regular basis, not just occasionally, and they should be made aware of the calories in the food their eating.

My main concern with the calorie labelling is that it’s often inaccurate but many people do not realise this and take it as gospel. Many calorie counts are based on computer generated reports which are not as accurate as actually using a bomb calorimeter to determine the calories in a food. Even if bomb calorimeters are used, cooking is not an exact science and different amounts of ingredients used in a recipe each time it’s prepared may cause the calorie count to vary fairly significantly. I think that we need to relearn to pay attention to our bodies and pay less attention to numbers. Use calorie and nutrition labels to guide your choices but don’t be completely reliant on them. They are not to be trusted. Learn to recognise when you’re full (and not full to the point of discomfort, full to the point of satisfaction) and pay attention to how your body feels to gauge if you should be eating less or more. Also, cook meals at home more often and treat eating out as a treat.