calories on menus - a good idea?

Calories on menus – necessary or not?

Calories are now due to be printed in menus of some restaurants. This will not apply for all restaurants -businesses with under 250 employees will not have to print this information.

Whilst calories on menus may help some people who eat out a lot or who want to compare their usual meals, it isn’t going to be helpful for those suffering from an eating disorder or for those of us who don’t want to order meals based on the numbers. Personally, when I eat out (which isn’t often), I like to order a meal because it’s tasty and I fancy it. It could be something that I wouldn’t normally cook at home or a meal I’ve never had. Eating out isn’t out the numbers for me, but about the enjoyment and pleasure, plus the occasion.

Having calories printed on menus risks may increase the feelings of guilt and shame around food, as well as increasing fixation on calories. Given that popular restaurants (as found in one 2018 study) often contain more calories than fast food outlets, this may cause increased distress. If a restaurant or food outlet only has higher-calorie options, then a consumer may feel concerned about their food choices without having any real alternative option. This may lead to people not choosing the meals they love, just because of the number on the menu, which seems sad. I guess partially this will depend on the reason you are eating out, it could be you eat out regularly for work and so a rough guide is helpful, but do we need that on the menu?

Remember, calories aren’t inherently bad -we need them to survive! They provide the body with energy and our needs will vary day to day. This means we can’t accurately know how many calories the body needs per day, or per meal.

Food is more than just calories

Calories on menus will enforce this notion of having to track and count. However, our bodies are not designed in this way. The body has to digest, absorb, and excrete. Just because you eat 100 calories, that doesn’t mean that’s what it takes in. Nutrition is so much more complex than this! We also don’t just eat calories, our bodies need a range of all the macro and micro-nutrients too. Just counting the calories will not take this into account.

A great point from my own 11 yr daughter on this: “I don’t want to know the numbers of my meal and I can choose to stop eating when I’ve had enough so the number doesn’t mean that is what I will eat”.

If you have concerns about the impact that calories on menus will have on your own health and wellbeing, you can ask if a restaurant has any copies of menus without calories printed, or choose to eat at smaller businesses. Personally I don’t want my children to grow up tracking and counting the numbers when we eat out, but instead enjoy their meals and tune into their bodies needs.

Remember:

  • Calories are 25% inaccurate so whilst it can be a guide it’s not the actual truth 
  • Calories are only part of the picture. We need to think about overall nutrition 
  • Food is about more than just calories, it’s about pleasure, socialising and memories too. 
  • Just because a meal has xxx calories does not mean it’s a balanced meal! 

So try not to get hung up on the calories. Think about the bigger picture, and don’t forget that it is okay to choose food for enjoyment too.

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2 thoughts on “Calories on menus – necessary or not?

  1. I agree entirely, really unhelpful to print calories beside a menu. Saw this last night when exhausted from travelling and staying in a hotel, I found myself worrying about the calories and not the nutrition. What I needed was to replenish me!

    I have suffered from an eating disorder which is always lurking and quite frankly this is dire.

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