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How FDA Menu Labeling Affects the Diner's Choices

How FDA Menu Labeling Affects the Diner's Choices

In April 2011, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced two proposed regulations for labeling the calorie content of items on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants and retail food establishments or vending machines with 20 or more locations. Food service establishments with fewer than 20 locations have the option to participate by registering with the FDA every other year. When put into practice, this proposal will require calorie information to be clearly displayed next to each menu or vending item. A statement regarding calorie intake will also be required to be posted in a distinct area of the menu or on menu boards, such as “A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.” [i]

Know the Research

The expectant result of having nutritional information - mainly total calories and fat - available is that food service customers will make healthier choices more often.

  • Preliminary research done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has shown that in school and work cafeterias, a larger percentage of subjects selected meal choices with fewer calories and fat totals when presented with nutritional information. [ii]

Evaluate Your Menu

Research shows that customers tend to make healthier choices when presented with nutritional options. To remain competitive, evaluate the nutritional content of your menu items.

Here are some reasons why:

  • Customers may begin to expect nutritional information and may not frequent your food service establishment if not provided.
  • Knowing the calorie and fat content of your menu items will allow you to create reduced calorie options.

Create Healthy Options

Crafting lighter, more nutritious selections may not be the focus of your restaurant if you run a cheesesteak joint, but incorporating a few options with existing inventory may appeal to a broader spectrum of customers.

Some suggestions include:

  • Offer half size portions. Calorie-conscious customers will appreciate smaller sizes of their favorite dishes.
  • Include healthy side dishes. Offer a rainbow of vegetable and fruit options in addition to the traditional starchy sides.
  • Add low fat salads. Include light dressing options as well.
  • Serve tea. Offer hot and cold unsweetened varieties of tea as alternatives to soda.
  • Prepare dishes with lean proteins. Skinless chicken, salmon and lean cuts of beef are great choices.
  • Add whole grain options. Incorporate whole grains into your bread and pasta dishes.

Include Healthy Children’s Menu Choices

Family restaurants will need to include healthy choices across the board. Show your community that your restaurant is invested in providing nutritious and appetizing options for younger customers.

Consider the following:

  • Serve small portions. Trim serving sizes for young children between the ages of 4 -10 to three to four ounces of veggies, fruit, whole grains and protein.
  • Provide healthy beverages. This includes water, 100% fruit juice and low-fat milk.
  • Make it fun. Create healthy menu items for dunking in a nutritious sauce or dressing, or cut fruit and vegetables into fun shapes that are visually appealing.

Expanding your menu to include more healthful options shows your customers that you care about their health as well as their business. With the FDA’s new proposals underway, now is the time to evaluate your menu’s nutritional values so when and if your restaurant is affected by new regulations, you will be ready.



[i] “Overview of FDA Proposed Labeling Requirements for Restaurants, Similar Retail Food Establishments and Vending Machines”. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2011. April, 06, 2011 <http://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/ucm248732.htm>.

[ii] Larsen, Nicole, Ph.D, M.P.H., R.D, and Story, Mary, Ph.D, R.D., University of Minnesota “Menu Labeling: Does Providing Nutrition Information at the Point of Purchase Affect Consumer Behavior?”. Healthy Eating Research and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2009. June, 2009 <http://www.rwjf.org/files/research/20090630hermenulabeling.pdf>.