Poll: Do Calorie Counts on Menus Affect Your Order?

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
5/12/2010 6:00 AM   :  466 comments   :  18,326 Views

Both California and New York City have led the way with health-promoting laws that require certain chain restaurants to post calorie counts (and other nutrition information) on their menu boards. And coming soon, thanks to the recent passage of the healthcare bill, chain restaurants will have to follow suit nationwide.

Here in Ohio, I have yet to see calorie counts posted on menu boards, but I admit that I am scarcely in a restaurant that actually has a menu on the wall (I prefer "sit down" restaurants or simply cooking at home). I was in Panera the other day and noticed calorie counts posted with three new smoothies they offered and much to my surprise, they had fewer calories than I would have guessed.

Whether these nutritional facts really make a difference has been up for debate. Some research shows that they do not promote changes in ordering behavior, especially in low-income areas where people want more (food, calories) for their money. More recently, I read about a newer study that showed calorie counts on menus do affect people's choices for the better, although the demographic researched (Starbucks patrons) was quite different than the aforementioned study (fast food goers in poor neighborhoods).

This led me to wonder: Have posted nutrition facts on a menu board affected your order?

Last week, I was traveling through Philly airport and had a hankering for a sweet treat. I had already eaten my share of sweets and high-cal food while visiting with family in the previous days, but when I spotted an Au Bon Pain and its window of freshly baked cookies, muffins and pastries, I stepped inside. To my surprise, most of these bakery items had little tags that showed not only the name of the product, but the calorie count. Now, I wasn't fooling myself into thinking that these were low-cal by any means, but being faced with these numbers made me realize just how much I didn't need the extra calories. So, I left empty handed. Although this was just the second time I had seen calorie counts posted at the point of order, it had a positive impact on my choice. I imagine that seeing this more often would encourage me to make better choices even more frequently.

As a health and fitness professional, I do think that menu labeling at restaurants is a positive step that can have an impact on people's food choices, although it's definitely not the only thing we need to help curtain our national obesity problem. And of course, calories alone don't show the whole picture (what about sodium, fiber, or saturated fat?). I don't think calories will always affect my order; sometimes, you want to indulge and calorie counts aren't really going to affect that.

How about you? Have posted nutrition facts affected your order positively or negatively? If you haven't encountered any yet, do you think it would help you make a healthier choice or do you believe that you'll order what you want regardless of the nutrition facts?

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Comments

  • 466
    They make a difference in what I order most of the time. Sometimes, I plan that it is a splurge and just order what I'm craving. Mostly, I will order what sounds good out of the better options. Having the calories listed is nice, because sometimes I'm surprised what options are lower calorie than I would have thought. - 3/28/2013   12:52:47 PM
  • 465
    Yes calorie counts really affect me. I try to keep track if I'm out and about and know how many calories I can spend when I'm in a restaurant. It encouraged me to order a half sandwich, an apple and ice tea at Panera last week end. I left feeling really good about my choices. That's the bonus. - 8/26/2012   9:48:19 PM
  • MRSMCTHIS1
    464
    I find that I gravitate toward restaurants that post calorie counts on their menus. While government regulations may require that only chain restaurants post counts, I wish more establishments would consider doing it. I'd be happy to patronize them. Seeing as how the restaurant business has taken such a beating lately, it seems like a sensible way to increase business. - 4/14/2012   9:16:22 AM
  • TAPBELLE
    463
    I am definitely influenced by the nutritional content posted on chain restaurant menus. I have even take a further step to write to one of my favorite restaurants about whether GMO are in the foods; the response was helpful and gave me a positive impression of the restaurant. I must admit I was shocked by the calorie content of the honey mustard dressing, which I no longer order. I tend to split the higher calorie offerings with my husband. - 1/15/2012   7:00:41 PM
  • 462
    Although I appreciate seeing the calorie count of each menu choice, I try to find the sodium count - since I am watching both as part of the bigger picture - 1/4/2012   6:02:31 PM
  • 461
    When I am shown the calories of something I am about to indulge on, I most likely put it back. Not always, but I believe it really does help to see what you are putting in your body. - 7/12/2011   3:56:49 PM
  • 460
    Panera is the only place I've been that posts the calorie counts on the boards and I definitely affected my ordering! I really appreciate that! I do like the new lo cal choices at Applebees and a few other restaurants that also put the calorie count in the menu. I always make those choices! I agree that other nutrition info would be even more helpful. Carb counts would be great for me and the millions of other diabetics out there! - 3/15/2011   6:34:47 AM
  • 459
    Posted calorie counts SUBSTANTIALLY affect what I order from a restaurant. When I ate at fast food joints, it wasn't enough to have a board with all of the caloric information on the wall somewhere though... it has to be right in front of me. Case in point, when I was living in residence at University, after a year or so they began posting nutritional facts with the meals. Having it right in front of me encouraged me to make a better decision - both for myself, and because I always feel like people would be judging me for eating something with more calories. It definitely helps, I'd like to see nutritional information available at all restaurants if possible - and provided with the menu or something, rather than having to ask for it. It'd definitely impact how I eat when I go out! - 10/14/2010   9:43:07 PM
  • 458
    Absolutely. I have gotten the nutrition pamphlets from several fast food places so that I could check out what I like vs the calories in case I have to eat thee. It has helped me plan ahead. - 10/14/2010   8:11:22 PM
  • 457
    Yes, but mainly because I am actively thinking about my BMR, and am always thinking about my health. - 10/13/2010   11:40:41 AM
  • MSMONS
    456
    Yes, major difference! It's amazing to see just how much you're consuming. It helps me make better food choices. I love it. - 10/12/2010   12:57:30 PM
  • 455
    I haven't run across it yet. It would be helpful to me, I think. I often save up calories for special meals out, and it would be helpful to know which meals fit into my plan or how much I'm willing to go over the top by. - 10/12/2010   1:06:45 AM
  • 454
    Love it. Saves time in looking up calories. And if I don't know the calories than I just don't eat there. - 10/11/2010   11:16:47 PM
  • 453
    They have it in the county I live in, and I absolutely love it! Totally effects my food choices (in a positive way). Before, it was easy to pretend like what I was eating couldn't really be that bad, but you can't deny it when the information is right there. It's actually helped me eat out less too... especially fast food - 10/11/2010   10:57:05 PM
  • JBREGE
    452
    Definitely makes a difference to me. I will frequent restaurants that offer healthy choices right up front that are good tasting such as subway, and the new Applebee's low cal recipes. Wouldn't it be cool if a restaurant chain would develop low fat tasty foods across the board? I bet they would thrive! - 10/11/2010   5:54:53 PM
  • 451
    It completely affects my choices! I was in Panera and was "craving" their mac & cheese... till I looked up and saw a "serving" is 900+ calories!!! Then I decided... that the SMALL serving... *ON ANOTHER DAY* when I can plan for it to fit in my calories alloment was a much better choice! :) - 10/11/2010   4:35:17 PM
  • 450
    Absolutely! While I do have "safe" choices for several restaurants in my head, my friends don't always choose those restaurants for dinner. I spend an inordinant amount of time searching the menues for key words like "grilled," "baked" etc. but there are often sneaky calories added into so many foods that a total calorie count would make life a lot easier.

    Of course, some people won't use the numbers, but I would, and their inclusion on the menu just might make an otherwise oblivious person think twice. If the numbers are there, folks will have the choice. - 8/16/2010   11:01:19 AM
  • 449
    It does help me to make healthier choices. I prefer to eat at an establishment who is up front with nutritional values. I have gone online and researched the various restaurants we eat at, and I know what dishes I can eat at which restaurant. I think nutritional values should be posted wherever food is served. - 7/27/2010   1:54:57 PM
  • DEEONNA
    448
    Yes they do help. I work at hospital which recently started putting nutrition information next to the offerings in the deli line and the hot meal line (no calorie information on the grill line, I don't think the people at the grill are that interested in healthy eating). I have definitely started walking away from different food options because they had too many calories for lunch. The also have at 450 station where all offerings are 450 calories or less. When I do eat in the cafeteria I tend to eat at that station but unfortunately it is way more expensive that the other more calorie dense food offered. - 7/23/2010   3:19:04 PM
  • 447
    It would change my choices. I try to check the nutrional values of food on menus of various restaurants so I can decide ahead of time what I will order. Some items you think may be healthy, will really surprise you. - 7/18/2010   5:05:47 PM
  • 446
    I believe it would influence my choice. I might just leave without ordering a thing too. I like this new legislation... - 7/6/2010   4:09:26 AM
  • --FREETOBEME--
    445
    It's not just calories that are important, but what nutritional content the food offers. - 7/4/2010   2:30:00 PM
  • --FREETOBEME--
    444
    I would love to see calorie contents on menu boards! However, if I want to indulge with something that I know is horrible for my body I'd rather be ignorant of the nutritional facts! ;) - 7/4/2010   2:28:44 PM
  • 443
    I also live in CA and before I started my recent healthy adventure, I was eating anything and everything. My boyfriend was dieting at the time, and I wanted to go to Pasta Pomodoro specifically for this sun dried tomato creamy dish that is my favorite. I looked at the menu, saw the calories and thought, "crap...there goes my craving!!" So I opted for something with 500 less calories and was still happy with my choice. I was bummed until my dish arrived, however, but it turned out for the better. Those days of being so food obsessed need to come to an end! And for me, this does help. - 7/4/2010   1:22:41 AM
  • 442
    Yes, most definitely. I live in California, and I'm so pleased with the nutritional information available. It affects my menu choices every time I go out. I wish the smaller restaurants were required to have information as well, but I do understand the financial burden that would place on them. Perhaps they could phase in nutritional information on their items, so many items a year? - 6/26/2010   3:37:09 PM
  • 441
    Whenever I go out, I always try to research the nutritional information for the restaurant we're going to before we leave. I base my order completely on what I've found; if it's a "good" day and it will put me over OR I can't calculate what the food counts are, I don't order that food or we don't eat at that restaurant. The only exception to this is when it's my one "bad" day and then I don't care as much about the counts, but I don't go crazy with overeating like I used to! - 6/26/2010   8:37:39 AM
  • 440
    most def do help me, hoping more businesses will do the same, for all of our sakes! :) - 6/26/2010   12:52:33 AM
  • 439
    YES, definitely, when I see how many calories the things I'm considering are going to cost me, it affects what I choose. - 6/25/2010   6:28:05 PM
  • 438
    I am in California, so it has been an adjustment to see the calorie counts on the menu. I remember the first time I went out to eat after restaurants starting putting the info on the menu at TGI Fridays and I saw that my beloved Cherry Limeade slushie was a few hundred calories -WHAAAAT? And then the turkey burger was like half of my calories for the day. I thooought I was making healthy choices, but now I am really careful when eating out. - 6/25/2010   5:02:44 PM
  • CCFIRECRACKER
    437
    if i'm not in the mood for something "naughty" then yes, the nutritional info in menus affects what i order; i find it helpful in guiding me towards the healthier choices. - 6/25/2010   1:02:21 PM
  • JAY75REY
    436
    Californian checking in: Yes, I love the calorie information. I don't always choose "the right thing" but the awareness of what I'm eating and calories is great. I eat out frequently and will often choose the restaurant or fast food place where I know there is a reasonable tasty lower cal choice. - 6/25/2010   12:48:54 PM
  • MMCB65
    435
    Yes, seeing the calorie count in food really does help when making choices. This past weekend I went with a tour group to see Jersey Boys and afterwards we were going to have dinner on our own. The night before I researched the nutritional information of nearby eateries and selected my restaurant and dinner based upon what I found. If I'm going to commit to learning about good healthy food choice, it's important for me to know the nutritional information before I make my selections. It's amazing to know so many other people are impacted by the information as well! - 5/26/2010   6:26:06 PM
  • ASKEVA
    434
    Yes it does affect my choices. I live in a city (in Canada) with two family style restaurants that have a healthier lifestyles section on their menu (Applebee's and White Spot) which includes calorie, fat, protein and carb counts. I try to order from those sections so I can't kid myself about what I'm eating and when I do I also think twice about ordering the higher calorie items in the menu. I would love to see this everywhere. ... I think! I do use on line nutrition info sites (the restaurant or diet sites) to check before I go too. - 5/23/2010   10:46:11 AM
  • LCJNMO1
    433
    Yes - that way if I'm going to eat something calorie-heavy, at least I'm aware of it.
    Often, I will choose something else, as I don't want to part with that many calories for the item. - 5/21/2010   5:03:49 PM
  • FURBALLDTH
    432
    Yes ! I usually check the nutrition guide for the restaurant I'm going to earlier in the day so I can think out what I am going to order. - 5/21/2010   9:25:31 AM
  • 431
    Ofcourse! Even if I'm not in dieting mode-I would tend to opt for the healthier choice.
    It just doesn't seem as tempting if it is worth your calorie allotment for the day!-Linda - 5/21/2010   6:39:39 AM
  • MYSTIQA
    430
    Calorie counts are a must... and if the place I am going to does not provide that info, then I will use my handy dandy smartphone and look it up. Since I have been doing this, I have noticed a huge difference. - 5/21/2010   12:45:54 AM
  • CW57811
    429
    Before I started watching my calories, I would never even think of the calories in anything. Why bother looking, right? Well since I started watching my calories, it of course is the very first thing that I look at. Now, I make sure I am not taking in any one type of food that is over 400 calories, and it sure is paying off. - 5/20/2010   2:28:13 PM
  • 428
    Calorie counts do have an impact on my ordering. I usually try to look up nutritional information online before I go out so I make better choices. Even when you know something isn't a great choice, seeing the numbers helps to reinforce that. - 5/20/2010   12:38:14 PM
  • MARTINT011
    427
    I agree it helps me because I will not eat if there are to many calories, also look at the fat content. Then again will eat and at least know the calories I just ate. - 5/20/2010   9:36:54 AM
  • CWANDEN
    426
    The nutrition facts definitely change what I order. I pick something off the menu that I think will be a good choice and than look at the nutrition facts and realize that I have picked something that isn't so good. On the flip side, I have thought something would not fit into my eating plan and hello dolly, I can have it!! I love the nutrition facts! - 5/20/2010   12:51:41 AM
  • 425
    Seeing calorie counts on the actual menu definitely always pushes me to order the healthiest choice on the menu. I wish more restaurants would do that here in Texas, where we are pretty much the state with the biggest obesity problem. - 5/19/2010   4:45:30 PM
  • 424
    Calorie counts definitely make me think twice. - 5/19/2010   3:45:27 PM
  • 423
    Calorie counts absolutely changed my behaviors. I haven't had a Cinnabon since I found out the calories. While they taste great, they aren't worth the calorie price! - 5/19/2010   3:42:25 PM
  • 422
    Yes, it does affect my ordering habits. If I know the calore/fat content, I will try to make the healthier choices. I live in New Jersey but spend some time in New York City, where this information is more readily available. It was upsetting to me how many negative comments were posted on this subject on NJ.com (which tends to breed such comments) because they are considering a similar bill here for larger chain restaurants (not sure of the current status on this). The comments were to the effect that it will spoil the fun of eating out and that people who are eating out don't worry about such things. Totally misses the boat!!! - 5/19/2010   2:31:51 PM
  • 421
    Yes, they definitely affect my choices. They educate people who think they're eating something healthy (when in reality you'd be better off with a Burger King Whopper than some salad-bar offerings), and they help you decide on what constitutes a reasonable meal in reasonable portions (rather than blind acceptance of whatever the chef in residence thinks you should eat).

    I have a funny story from "back in the day" when fast food places first started posting nutritional content, though. I was in Dulles airport, rushing to grab some late lunch before a flight (since I hadn't had breakfast, either). I looked at the nutrition posting at the Burger King, and saw that a Whopper, Jr. had half the calories of a Whopper (my one fast-food sinful indulgence, rarely purchased, but always enjoyed). "Wow!" I thought, distractedly. "Instead of a Whopper, I'll get two Whopper Juniors!"

    Duh. I bought one. - 5/19/2010   12:28:38 PM
  • PARKERCM
    420
    For me, the calorie/nutritional information has been helpful and has positively affected my selections. I agree with most comments: There are not that many places that post the nutritional breakdowns. When I get calorie and nutrient info online, it is usually AFTER I have made and eaten my choices--good or poor. - 5/19/2010   12:22:30 PM
  • 419
    It makes a difference all the time! I love it when I eat in NYC! It makes me make better choices especially all the time. When I am at home in NJ I try to look online before I go out, but with not having the calories in front of me, I often change my mind to something less healthy. I already looked at Panera's calculator online and decided about lunch today! - 5/19/2010   11:21:29 AM
  • 418
    Yes, I do consider the calories, but if they aren't listed and I think it may be higher in calories or fat or salt than something else on the menu, I'll order something else. I only eat half of it anyway and take the rest for lunch the next day.
    I think it should be mandatory for all restruants, esp. chains to list the calories/fat/salt/protein content. Americans are overweight and need to be able to make wiser choices. - 5/19/2010   11:02:59 AM
  • HAPPYTRAILS4
    417
    I wish all menus would carry nutritional information. That way I have help in making the correct choices. - 5/19/2010   11:02:17 AM

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