Healthy Eating: Making Choices when Eating Out

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I just received a reprint of an article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, talking about how ‘major restaurant chains plan their menus.’ It was sent to me by the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

The article didn’t tell me anything surprising, but I thought some of it was worth repeating only to reinforce the power that consumers have. Often it seems that we point the finger at industry, blaming them for selling us ‘unhealthy foods.’ But the fact is, if we didn’t buy it, they wouldn’t sell it.

From the article:

“Not surprisingly, profit margins are the primary determinants of why restaurants do or do not add and continue to serve healthier food options. Without an increase in consumer demand, it is unlikely the restaurant industry will increase their offering of healthy fod choices.”

This article was written by health professionals from a variety of universities and based on telephone interviews with ‘senior menu development and marketing executives at leading casual dining and fast-food restaurant chains.’ One of the direct quotes from an interview:

“If you want to stay employed and stay in business, you have to grow you sales and increase your profits.”

It makes sense that you can’t do that if you’re offering things people don’t want! Another quote:

“Meeting consumer demand is critical. If people don’t want to come to your restaurant, then you’re out of business.”

Another one:

“Currently, if you put something on the menu and say it’s healthy, it’s the kiss of death.”

A case in point was an effort a few years ago by Taco Bell to sell lighter entrees. I’m an avid fan of Mexican food, and was thrilled to see healthier choices by such a widespread chain. Unfortunately, the effort ended within a couple of years for lack of interest on the part of the consumer. The entrees tasted good — I enjoyed them whenever I visited Taco Bell. Don’t know exactly why consumers didn’t go for them — perhaps it’s just the idea of ‘healthy eating‘ not being as tasty or maybe not enough.

What’s my point in reviewing all this? I think we have to put our money where our mouth is. If we want better choices from restaurants, we need to support those choices. Research is pretty clear that eating out is associated with a lower quality of diet, and that if we do it too often, we’re increasing our chances of weight struggles.

The other point is that many of us would do well to learn to cook. We’ve got some great healthy cooking classes coming up this fall at Green Mountain. But I’d wager there are several offered in your area, too. Or join us for one of our cooking trips to Italy — I’m off on that one end of this month. Italy provides a great example of how healthy cooking really can be fun and taste great!

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4 Responses (Add Yours)

  • susan says:

    I think part of the problem for me is that most healthy choices in restaurants just don’t taste very good. They aren’t at all adventurous and one usually has to put up with a dried out chicken breast, soggy veggies, or some sort of boring salad. At home I cook from “healthy” cookbooks and we have the most delicious low fat and low calorie lasagna, stew, etc. Why can’t restaurants do that too???

  • marsha Hudnall says:

    Good question, susan. but my experience is that a lot of restaurant items are ‘healthy’ but people don’t know it. things like chicken marsala, etc. of course, when at fast food restaurants and the like, i think you’re exactly right about the quality of ‘healthy’ items. although regular hamburgers and small orders of french fries also qualify as ‘healthy’ as long as we don’t eat them every day. my example about taco bell also addresses your question. why didn’t people buy those items? they were really good.

    marsha

  • Don’t know if you’d be interested. Wendy from ABC’s tv show Fat March will be leading a 3-5 mile walk (March) every Saturday at 8:00 am and a “90 day March Off The Fat” weight-loss campaign. Wendy is a resident of La Canada and after losing 30 pounds on the show, is determined to get the rest off and inspire others to join in!

    Women from across the country are participating and we would love to have you and your friends! For every pound each person loses they will donate $1 to Feed the Children or another organization that feed poor children. While we are getting thinner, we’ll fatten up those precious babies!

    If you or anyone you know would be interested in participating:
    For more information see Wendy’s BLOG at

    http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&frien
    dID=123551924&blogID=311009676

    ABC website
    http://abc.go.com/primetime/fatmarch/index

    Hope to see you there!

    Wendy

  • Yeah, eating out can be a pain, I got type 2 diabetes a while back so there are certain foods that are completely of the menu for me now. Definitely deep fried foobs, it helped me shed pounds, Dave.

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