Dining Out Disparities

At least two thirds of all participants underestimated the calorie content of their meals, with about a quarter underestimating the calorie content by at least 500 calories. -Jason Block

By: Nikki Nies

The number of health conscious individuals in America has increased in the last few years.  I applaud those that have taken a more in depth interest in not only their dietary intake, but provide discernment in regards to advertisements of food industry claims and increased awareness of how food has really made it to the table.

Information has become more transparent as people have rallied to know what’s in the food they consume, however, we still have a whiles to go.  For example, Subway’s tagline is, “Subway Eat Fresh.”  The assumption would be that only the freshest, temperature regulated ingredients would be used in all subs and sandwiches that leave the Subway premises.  However, if one does a complete analysis of the food prep and look at the food themselves, the food doesn’t always live up to Subway’s mission statement.

Original Image by stu_spivack via Flickr
Original Image by stu_spivack via Flickr

I understand when dining out, one’s top priority might not be to choose the healthiest choices.   Nonetheless, dining out doesn’t have to always have to be a pig out session.  Recent studies have found that Americans perception of the caloric content of fast food chains are skewed.  It’s understandable that guessing the caloric  content may not always be on point, which brings me to my main complaint.  The lack of transparency that chain restaurants provide of the food production and/or nutritional information of their dishes.  A recent study found those eating at chains underestimate how much they really are eating, with a 1/4 underestimating by 500 calories!!!The study found adults consume 836 calories per meal, teens and children consume more than 700 calories.  It’s startling to see that based on the standard 2000 daily intake of calories, people were often getting ore than 1/3 of their calorie allotment in one meal.

It recently came to my attention that California Pizza Kitchen chooses what dishes to list the caloric content of their dishes.  It’s interesting because they obviously list the caloric content that is favorable to them.  The hopes for the future are that food items on the menu will have caloric information printed next to the description.


I’m grateful for those companies that clearly list their caloric information either online in PDF form or provides nutrition information on site in their establishments.  Listing caloric information is a great first step, however, I want more.  For example, I was recently at Montclair State University’s Student Center, where all they list are the calories in their food.

The tostado salad states it’s only 300 calories.  For the health consicous, that sounds great.  There’s no additional nutrition information that one can access.  I want to know about the sodium, fat, cholesterol and additional content.  It looks like a great pick to eat a dish that barks only 300 calories, but if the sodium and fat content have sky rocketing number, the 300 calories is not as relevant information.

Tips for eating out:

  • Opt for lower caloric meals by checking the nutrition information available online.  Unfortunately, a lot of chain restaurants don’t have that information readily available at the establishment.  When dining out, if you enter an establishment with an inkling of what you want to eat beforehand, it can cause less anxiety about what is the best choice.
  • Look for key words: whole grains, vegetables, low fat, skim milk, lean protein foods, which often are healthier options
  • The calories in beverages can add up quickly.  Once in a while, choose water instead of a cocktail or soda and save calories for actual food.
  • Limit dessert to special occasions can trim your wallet and waistline
  • Attempt to eat smaller portions by dividing the meal in half or a quarter when the food arrives so you don’t overeat.  Sharing a dish can help as well!
  • Ask for syrups, dressings and sauces “on the side” and use at your discretion.
  • Choose grilled, baked, steamed or broiled options over deep fried or sautéed, which are lower in calories
  • Find additional information on beverages and food at Food-A-Pedia

Critics state that people don’t eat fast food to get skinny and that those that look at nutrition information really don’t need since they’re predominately skinny to begin with.  However, isn’t it interesting that there’s a positive correlation between those that are health conscious and the likelihood of a more balanced diet?  As always, I don’t believe foods need to be eliminated, but with moderation you can enjoy the occassional treat knowing what you’re eating when nutrition information is accurately, visibly posted.    I’m hoping more nutrition information will be provided to concerned consumers.

It’s so tempting to buy the largest size of drinks, meals, entrees when the deals seem to be “too good.”  On my way to Georgia, we stopped at ROCs and the drink station’s smallest cup was 22 oz. at $1.29 and the largest cup at 44 oz. for only 30 cents more at $1.59.  I can understand how easy it is to opt for twice the amount of soda at only 30 cents more.  However ,the fact that the cost is cheaper doesn’t mean it’s healthier in the long run.  My hope is people become aware of the disparities, everything from what’s advertised compared to what’s served, what accomodations establishments provide and if restaurants are health conscious.





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