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The time is rapidly approaching when you will need to clearly disclose the calorie counts for every standardized item on your menus. You might not run the risk of a fine or slap on the hand from an agency, but consumer backlash in this day of instant access, opinion and screaming fans is clear. Right moves get noticed, but wrong moves get screamed about.

Having now completed this task for thousands of restaurant menu items there are some clear winners and ideas I would love to begin to pass along:

Kids meals are in the spotlight

The NRA recently announced a voluntary program focusing on creating healthier kids meal menu. Using Healthy Dinning Finders, you can make a few simple changes that will have a positive impact today.

  • Make sure you are offering 1 percent or non-fat while milk
  • Offer smaller portions -- changing from a 10-ounce to an 8-ounce carton, for example.
  • Offer teens and kids Italian sodas using sugar-free syrups. This makes a super-low calorie beverage that lets the teens feel special. It's a modern-day Shirley Temple without the calories.
  • Offer healthier side choices like frozen grapes or baked sweet potato fries.
  • Offer a half portion of regular fries paired with a half portion of sticks and stones? (Carrots and grapes)
  • Cut the portion of sauces that often accompany meals. Sides of sauces are huge calorie culprits.

Salad is a slippery slope

Our recommendation for most restaurants is to not list the calories of the salad dressing with the salad, but list the calories as "on the side." One exception to this is always the Caesar because it does come mixed in, but every other salad on a menu can come with choices of dressings. Below are tips to cut calories from your salads.

  • Crackers/Roll on the side also do not get figured into the salad but are shown as an "add on" as well.
  • Have at least one choice of vinaigrette. They are by far the healthiest for most and the nutritional friendliest out there today.
  • Offer proper sizes. If you are using a 1-ounce cup nutritionally it will be a .9-ounce portion since it generally does not get filled to the top. A 2-ounce Soufflé cup is about 1.75 ounces of dressing.

One of the largest diet companies in the country teaches people to not dump the entire 1-ounce portion of the dressing over their salads. Instead, they are to dip their forks into the dressing and then get a bite of salad on the same fork. This allows the diner to have the flavor without all the calories.

People Always get to be People

Conversely, some people couldn't care less about the calories and take two helpings of dressing. Menu labeling is not mandating this behavior – it's just sharing the information, so each diner can make a well-informed choice.

Look for more suggestions on menu labeling in my next blog.

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Latest posts by Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.
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