By Emma Brown (MSc Human Nutrition), nutritionist for calorie experts Nutracheck www.nutracheck.co.uk
Restaurant meals and foods eaten ‘on the go’ are often much higher in calories when compared to their ‘homemade’ counterparts, so this reduction seems to me to be absolutely essential!
With this in mind, the government has requested that UK eateries – which include restaurants, pubs, cafes, coffee shops, takeaways and delivery services – must slash the calories in the food they sell by 20%. Once the consultation on this closes, targeted businesses will have until 2024 to make this happen. This sounds like a big ask, but is it? And why is a lot of the food we eat outside of the home so high in calories in the first place?
In my view, there are two big factors – the focus on taste and portion size. In a bid to deliver the most drool-inducing meals that will keep you coming back time and time again, many fast food establishments call on the three staple flavour-inducing nutrients: fat, sugar and salt. Food is often supplied part made to be microwaved/ finished off, rather than it being made from scratch on the premises. It’s generally a fixed menu that is calorie dense, nutrient poor and created for maximum profit.
And for many mid-market ‘chain’ eateries – the type many of us probably frequent more regularly – it’s all about great taste and offering decent portion sizes. The cooking methods can add hundreds of avoidable calories. Switching from deep frying to baking or grilling food; using low-fat yogurt and reduced fat crème fraiche and offering more interesting grains than just ‘white rice’ – think quinoa, buckwheat and giant wholemeal cous cous, for added fibre and texture – should all be possible.
But portion size is probably the biggest factor. We seriously need to change our mindsets: there is an ingrained belief that large portion = great value.
This sense of ‘getting value for money’ at all-you-can-eat buffets, and help yourself carveries drives us to pile our plates high. We’ve all done it, taking what we’ve paid for, rather than what we need to feel full. It would be so much better to encourage diners to ‘sample small’ at first rather than go all-out before they’ve assessed that they really want to try. No-one wants to leave a restaurant feeling hungry, so many popular chains serve carb-heavy meals – think garlic bread and pasta, or fries and baguettes, relatively inexpensive but great plate fillers. We need to make veg more exciting because it can often look like an afterthought. Restaurant meals tend to focus around the meat and carb choices with a token gesture of greenery or salad.
Reducing how much you’re serving up doesn’t compromise on taste, and should actually save you money. A good start would be to offer the choice of a large and small portions of a dish.