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With More Nutritional Info Available at Restaurants, Are You Making Healthier Choices?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
From coast to coast, nutritional info on restaurant menus is slowly becoming the norm--whether volunteered by companies or (usually) mandated by governments. Though a fight is expected, the U.S. Senate is considering its own legislation to require menu labeling nationwide, and health advocates laud the practice as a way to help staunch the obesity epidemic.

Restaurants are starting to pay attention to consumers. Olive Garden and other eateries owned by Darden Restaurants, which is the world's largest nonfranchise table-service chain, decided this summer to disclose nutrition info online after much criticism by consumers. (Darden also owns Red Lobster, Smokey Bones, LongHorn Steakhouse, and Bahama Breeze.)

Some examples, as gathered by

Better skip lunch
  • Olive Garden fettuccine alfredo: 1,220 calories; 75 fat grams
  • Bahama Breeze calypso shrimp linguine: 1,220 calories; 56 fat grams
  • Red Lobster classic fried-seafood platter: 1,090 calories; 62 fat grams
  • LongHorn Steakhouse chop steak: 1,220 calories; 80 fat grams

Lighter Fare
  • Olive Garden linguine alla marinara: 430 calories, 6 fat grams
  • Red Lobster wood-fire garlic-grilled jumbo shrimp: 365 calories, 6 fat grams
  • Bahama Breeze grilled ahi tuna with cucumber pepper-slaw: 340 calories, 5 fat grams
  • LongHorn Steakhouse Sierra chicken: 410 calories; 12 fat grams

Other restaurants, such as Claim Jumper, IHOP, Outback Steakhouse and California Pizza Kitchen, are putting stats online to comply with a California menu labeling law that went into effect last month, according to our friends at Hungry Girl.

Hungry Girl cited a few menu items:
Not Bad...
Buttermilk Trio For Me (on the IHOP For Me menu) - 380 calories and 2g saturated fat.
Really Sad... Breakfast Sampler - 1,250 calories and 24g saturated fat!!!

California Pizza Kitchen
Not Bad...
Pesto Chicken Thin Crust pizza (one slice) - 155 calories.
Really Sad... Field Greens salad - 1,372 calories!!!

Outback Steakhouse
Not Bad...
Seared Ahi Tuna appetizer - 432 calories and 3g saturated fat.
Really Sad... Kookaburra Wings appetizer - 1,459 calories and 31g saturated fat!!!

While most of those restaurants aren't changing their menus now that people know the true nutritional impact of their meals, others are taking steps to slim down their offerings to offer consumers what the companies say they've been requesting.

Mimi's Café has added a healthier Fresh and Fit Menu.

Romano's Macaroni Grill had the dubious distinction of being home to some of the worst appetizers in the country, according to Men's Health magazine's "Eat This Not That" Restaurant Report Card feature. (It got a D-.) The magazine recently lauded the restaurant for adding lighter options for lunch and dinner (choose from the Mediterranean Grill and the Amore de la Grill). It should be pointed out that there are still plenty of calorie bombs on the Macaroni Grill menu, but now there are some healthier options.

The Cheesecake Factory, which is famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for its mammoth portions, has added smaller plates, though with descriptors like crispy, fried, cheese and fritters, they don't seem all that light. And the chain still doesn't post its nutritional info online. (Though a woman from Washington, where they have a labeling law, took photos of every page of the massive menu!)

So restaurants are posting their nutrition info and in some cases offering lighter choices. Are you eating them?

Apparently not, according to a recent survey:
"Surveying American diners, Mintel found that only one in five (20%) rank food health as an important factor when ordering dinner. Far more essential are taste and hunger satisfaction, selected by 77% and 44% of respondents, respectively, when describing what they look for on a dinner menu. And although over three-quarters of adults claim they’d like to see more healthy items on the menu, barely half (51%) say they usually order them."

A few other studies have said that posting nutritional info on menus doesn't dissuade diners from reaching for the burger and fries. (Those studies all examined decisions at just one meal; no research has been done on the overall effect of the availability of nutritional info on a healthy lifestyle.)

So, is it true that we really do just want the bigger, heavier, greasier, more caloric foods? The Applebee's CEO said so last year: "what people say they want and what they eat are often different, [Stewart] said as she sat in a booth at the IHOP. Nearby, a family of four was pouring different flavors of syrup over stacks of pancakes “That’s what people want."

In related news, that restaurant is being sued over claims that Weight Watchers-approved menu choices have far more calories and twice the fat than advertised.

So what do you think? Do you want the nutritional info online and on restaurant menus? If you live in a state where nutritional info is mandated, does it affect your food choices? What restaurants do a good job of offering reasonable portions that are nutritious and affordable?

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I like the fact that many restaurants or fast food places have nutritional menus online. I try to focus on calories, fat, and sodium. But I find that it is hard to find food that is really healthy at fast food places. They either have too much fat, calories or very high in sodium. One small serving of onion rings from Burger King is over 400 calories! and eating soup and salad all the time is not appealing. I still think the best place to eat is Chinese restaurants. There they have plenty of veggies, fruit, and other stuff to eat. Report
I am very pleased with having the information has taken the stress of eating out and trying to stay on track out of the equation. I love checking before I go when I know which restaurant and I am especially happy to see the info on the menu when we stop for an impromptu lunch or dinner. It has really enhanced my dining out experiences. I enjoy the company, the food, and the knowledge that I am on track with my goals. Report
I'm working on cutting back on the eating out right now because I'm one of those who may not necessarily order a helthier option. I order something that sounds good and tasty at the time. Report
Yes, please give us more nutritional info. I check before I dine out. No info, no go. I also select exactly what I am ordering before I set foot into an eatery. I miss some of the delish, but awful goodies from time to time. In the long run it is well worth the effort. So come on and disclose more often, please....... Report
A side note: Darden no longer owned Smokey Bones. They sold it in 2008. Seems like not such a big deal, but I just thought I'd put that out there for people that might have Darden gift cards.

Maybe it's because I'm on Spark, but I went to McDonald's Drive Thru recently with a friend because he wanted a latte. Now, I wasn't hungry really (and I hate McDonalds anyway), so I didn't really need something to eat, though I would have enjoyed a drink... However, seeing the calories on EVERYTHING on that menu... I'd passed all together. Had that not been there, I probably would have ordered a latte myself. Worked for me. I also tend to go to restaurants more when they have calories information, rather than guessing, but again, that's just me.

I go out to eat at least every Friday. It is helpful to know what I'm eating, especially since I'm watching calorie info. My fav haunt right now is Panera Bread. :) Report
Possibly - with those super high calorie counts - I would not order some of those entries! Report
I really depend on the on-line nutritional content available for lots of restaurants. For years I have been eating the chicken fajitas at Chili's. Recently they introduced some lighter fare there, but for a very long time...there was nothing on their menu that was low cal, so I just looked at what was in each entree and decided the chicken fajitas, minus the cheese and sour cream, which is served on the side if you ask, would be lowest. Now I have been found to be correct! I also quite often eat at both Ruby Tuesday's and Applebee's. They both have great low cal options AND on-line nutritional guides. Their low-fat items list calories right in their menus! And like someone else blogged, I don't mind asking for special treatment at restaurants. I always request a separate salad at Olive Garden with LOW fat Italian dressing. It tastes the same (REALLY!) and is about 1/4 the calories. Then I can have a bowl of their Zuppa Tuscana soup and still come in pretty LOW! I NEVER eat the bread that is often served before the meal, I make sure the bread basket is placed across the table from me so I'm not tempted. Eating out is entirely do-able while you're losing weight. I did it while I lost 180 lbs. But I sure utilized those nutritional content websites for the major restaurants and wish they all had them! Actually I wish they would list their calorie, etc content right on the menus!! Report
I try to make healthy choices when I eat out and if the menu doesn't offer lighter fare I usually order salmon and request that it be grilled without added butter and salt. I also fill up on salad with little to no dressing before the meal and I skip the bread. My husband and I will split a dessert if we have room but that's not often. Applebee's, though not my favorite restaurant, has a nice lighter options and I especially love the WW sirloin steak salad. It's wonderful, cooked to order and is very light in fat. Report
Why can't they cut out some of the sodium? I am very sensitive to it and can gain as much as 10 pounds if I eat certain things.As often as I look at the calories, I look at the sodium and there are several restaurants which I no longer visit because there are simply no good choices. Report
I appreciate the nutrition info- it's actually led to me not eating at a lot of restaurants b/c it's not worth it. Even though there are healthier options they still have a lot of calories based on the amount or type of food you're getting. I'm not going out to eat to only get fruit and a dry piece of bread. I'd rather have my own food that's satisfying, lower in calories, more filling, and cheaper.
I now plan way ahead for special days if I really want to eat out but so far I've avoided the temptation. I did go out for my anniversary but I exercised at home first and then we took a 4-mile walk to get to the restaurant! Report
I do like the fact that more restaurants are putting the calories and nutrition info online or on the menu. I know that i usually choose my meal based on this info, but if it is not available I go with what I know is my healthier choice such as grilled, no butter, and dressings on the side. Report
I love that more and more restaurants are posting nutritional information online and in the restaurants. It helps me to manage my calories and fit treats in without overdoing. Report
I have been noticing the calories listed on restaurant menus lately and I appreciate it. I tend to, more often than not, go for the lower calorie item unless I really want something a bit more decadent, just eat less of it.

My O my, what shot out at me when I saw the examples from CPK, you can eat 6 slices of pizza for the same calories as that ONE salad?! Eeek. Report
I am taking advantage of the info, both online and on menus. Since starting SP, I defintely am making better choices and in restaurants, this is due to the info they provide. If I know I will be eating out, I research online ahead of time. One place that rarely has nutritional info is Asian restaurants. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and every other restaurant is Asian and I really have no idea about the calorie counts on some items. I wish that every place posted the info, but I think (at least here in California) that it is only chain restaurants that are required to post the info, or at least restaurants of a certain size. Small family-owned restaurants never have the info. Report
Does California Pizza Kitchen's Field Green Salad really have 1020 calories? it is just a salad with green. I mean it does not have anything that boosts it to more than 1000 calories? Report
I live in a state that does not have nutrition requirements yet, but some restaurants post it anyway. I was pleasantly shocked and surprise when i walked into Panera Bread the other day and saw that they now put the calories right next to each item on the menu board! While I still ordered my meal I was pleased that by reviewing the menu I was able to slice 500+ calories off my meal based on my choices, no wonder I always needed a nap after lunch! Report
I live in Illinois, I believe that we were ranked in the top five as one of the most obese states, if not the worst. I do not understand why the nutritional information is not available to us in all restaurants in all of our states. Its almost like they want the consumer to stay uninformed. After I went to Jasons Deli and made the mistake of ordering a 1,000+ calorie sandwich, I now check the internet and see what I can have when I eat out. Report
I try to research all that before hand, so I don't get tempted into somthing unhealthy. I like Applebee's Meals Under 550 Calories. I just wish they put the actaul amount of calories on the menu, so I can budget a dessert or salad too. Report
Years ago Ruby Tuesday posted their nutrtional info and also pushed an eating health alternative including my fave all time veggie mashed cauliflower but found it was hurting the bottom line so went to the other end pushing their huge burgers. I love Applebees and especially like all their Weight Watchers choices which I always get when I eat there Report
I usually pick a resturant when I can find nutritional information online. I am planning ahead anyway. After a while I find my usuals. Report
If it doesn't have a nutrition information page, I order something grilled/steamed without sauces/dressings/cheeses. If I can't order something grilled/steamed without sauces/dressings/cheeses, I don't eat it. Report
If it doesn't have a nutrition information page, I order something grilled/steamed without sauces/dressings/cheeses. If I can't order something grilled/steamed without sauces/dressings/cheeses, I don't eat it. Report
I actually avoid going out to eat because for the longest time what I thought was lealthy was not. I have started going out to eat now and check the nutritional counts of meal prior . I make my decision before I go and need not to even look at the menu. I have even taken home some of my meal home with me doing it this way. Report
While I don't always make the best decision I know I make better decisions having nutritional info on line AND at the table. I went to Black Angus a few months ago and having the info there at the table helped me make my decision. I'm grateful for it. People don't have to use it, but I'm glad it's there. Report
I have avoided restaurants because I don't know what the nutrition is like. The cheesecake factory used to be this way. One day I found the info posted online and I saw that there were foods that I could eat . I don't understand why they don't just post it, since they already paid for the analysis to comply with some of the states.

Most people are prepared to eat more anyway. When I go out to eat, I intend to go a little bit overboard. I typically eat half the amount of calories and fat I eat on other days. Report
I live in one of the states where nutritional information is NOT mandated on menus, so I have to rely on the information restaurants volunteer. Most of the chain sit-down restaurants in my town do NOT post this information anywhere, and only ONE of them has a web site. Having that information available would make eating out and planning meals SO MUCH easier! Report
Yes, I found this very helpful even when I was not trying to eat healthier. I always like having the nutritional information available online so I can plan what to have, with a back up or two, before I get to the resteraunt. I find it helps me avoid temptation.

Having the information available is mandated in our state, and I'm glad. Report
When we reluctantly decide to eat at a fast food place (can't bring myself to call them restaurants), I do look at the nutrition information poster, and make better choices for it! Report
I think its a great idea to have the nutrition information on the menu and online. It keeps the restaraunts accountable and yourself for the food that you eat. Report
I always check for nutrition information before I go out to eat. I tend to choose light entrees anyway, but if I'm crazy-craving something like Chili's chicken crispers, I'm getting them. Report
In the last 8 months I have eaten in a restaurant twice, because I was out of town for a couple days. I tried to make healthy choices but I have decided just not to eat out anymore unless I have no other choice. Even the items on the healthy menus are more calories and fat than what I make at home, and mine tastes a whole lot better. I lost 98 lbs this year, we used to eat out at least 2-4 times a week. But they've lost my business. Report
Ever since I found out that Olive Garden offers its Nutrition facts in house upon request, I have been eating there more often over other restaurants. It is nice to have it online, but when going to an impromptu dinner, it is nice to know you can get that information on the spot! Only once did I have a problem getting the nutrition menu from the server who had no clue what I was talking about. Luckily I knew 2-3 things that were pretty good. I chose one, ate half and did wonderfully in my choices! Sometimes though, I just want to check a certain item that I want just to dissuade me or allow me to order it. I definitely think it will help restaurants more than hurt. People who don't care, won't even notice the nutrition facts. People who do care I think will be more inclined to eat at a place that is upfront about it because it makes us easier to make smarter choices than going to a restaurant that refuses to share that info! I'm so happy this is a growing trend. Also, thanks for the link for the Cheesecake factory. If it is available, why can't they just post it on their website? What's the big deal?! Report
I prefer restaurants with menus online - that way I can research some good choices before I get there. Report
I honestly hate going to a restaurant that doesn't have the nutritional value of their foods on their websites. I always like looking up the foods prior to so that way I can plan my evening ahead of time. What I dislike more than that are restaurants that have no healthy alternatives, and that their healthiest menu item is a cesear salad that is as big as your head. Report
I have found that even if restaurants aren't indicating nutrition info on their menus if you plan ahead and know where you are going out to eat, you can go online and most restaurants or other websites ( contain the nutritional values of menu items. This has been very usual for the times we go out to eat! Report
I don't think we should deprive ourselves of the foods we like, but that shouldn't stop us from having smaller portions. I often order what I like and share it with my kids or have the waiter put half of it in a box before he brings it to the table. I do eat out a lot less than I used to... just because it can more difficult to stay on track. Report
Often you can order foods healthier.

For example, the California Pizza Kitchen field greens salad can be ordered with fat free dressing. Also, the thing is huge so a half salad should be plenty. Also you can order you pizza without cheese to save most of the calories and many of their pizzas taste great without cheese. Report
When surveys say that people are not taking the nutritional info into account when they order, they are missing the point. They didn't survey ME because I don't GO to those restaurants where a salad is 2,000 calories any more. The people who care don't go to those restaurants. I doubt if I will ever eat in a Cheesecake Factory again.

I live in California and I was very happy that on July 1st chain restaurants had to start publishing nutritional info and it has drastically changed where and how I eat. No wonder restaurants fought this so hard! When I found out my favorite salad at California Pizza Kitchen is 1,800 calories, I stopped eating there. I have found a few restaurants where I can get a meal for 500-600 calories and we go there. Still too high for a gal who eats 1200 calories a day, but it's doable. 2,000 calories isn't.

P.S. The link to the photos of the Cheesecake Factory nutritional info on their menu was an eye opener! I once ordered the fried mac & cheese appetizer as my entire meal, not thinking it was too bad--1500 calories, baby! Report
I love when restaurants post their nutritional info online, but I would prefer that it was on the actual menu! I know it's not always 100% accurate, but I still appreciate knowing. Report
I absolutely want the information available! Whenever possible I go on line to check a restaurant's menu before going there. That way I walk in to the resturant with my mind already made up and am not as likely to be tempted to order something that looks good on its way to someone else's table. Although I generally consider myself pretty good at picking out the best option at restaurants I have sometimes been very surprised by the calories in an entree when I look it up on line and was glad I had the information so I could avoid the pit fall. Report
The Cheesecake factory by me has nutrition facts on the menu.... I loved it. It helped me decide to take half home and have it for lunch the next day. Worked out great actually! And seeing the calories on the menu was a good push to only have half. Report
Hubby and I only eat out maybe 1-2x wk. Interestingly we found we both lost 40 lbs by cooking at home. I do ck out the nutrition info prior to going out, however I find the salt content is ridiculously high. It is a challange, but for me it is worth the research. Hooray for New York State for pushing the issue.!! Report
I make it a habit to look up the menu before I go to a restaurant. I try to make an educated choice before I look at the nutritional info and then check myself. Report
Thanks to restaurants posting the nutrition info online, I am definately more aware of the choices I am making at these restaurants. Since I now know the true damage some of these restaurants pack, you cant even get me to step foot in some of them (hello Chilli's).
When I know Im going out to eat somewhere, I often choose what Im eating ahead of time, so I dont get tempted.
I also think it would be great if the restaurants posted the calorie counts for all the dishes onto the menu. I think ALOT of people would be eating differently if the ugly truth was staring them in the face. Report
I love it when I can find the nutrition info online before I visit a restaurant, it helps me decide what to have. I wish ALL restaurants would have nutrition information available even if it was only upon request. Report
Maybe I haven't been out for a while with the addition to my family, but I haven't seen a whole lot of nutritional information on restaurant menus. I have seen light sections, but I would love to see the nutritional information on every item on every menu. I think sometimes I select things that I feel may be healthier, but I'm not always sure I select the right things. It would help when making a selection on a large menu to know what I'm putting in my body! I almost think the FDA should make it mandatory for restaurants to post this information on their menus, like nutrition labels! Report
I always like to read the nutritional info on restaurant foods. I generally choose only places that have low fat/lower calorie entree options. While it may seem easy to just choose items that would typically be healthies options, it's surprising to see just how bad restaurants can make them. A salad with grilled chicken is not so great for you when they fill it with cheese, bacon and fried tortillas. Knowing what the options are ahead of time can be a huge calorie-saver! Report
I only eat out at restaurants that have nutritional information -or- at restaurants that it is easy to estimate the calories/fat/fiber/etc. Report
I find it easier to just not eat out Report
I admit it I eat out way too often! But I am now doing so guilt free! Because of the new law that it has to be on the table or menu! I am choosing wisely. I use to "TRY" to look on line and would have a plan and get to the restaurant and then change my mind. But now I do not look at the items on the menu and the pretty delicous looking pictures. MY eyes head straight for the calorie/fat count. I pick three in my range I am willing to eat and then I look to see what the item is. This plan has not failed me yet. and Because of it I have ordered things I would of passed up before finding they are lower calorie then the salad or other option I might have tried to order to be good. I even ordered desert one day at TGIfriday because I knew the Calorie amount and new I could fit it in.
So I am finding this GREAT!!! and I know it is making a difference in my family on how we order! Report
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