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Nigel Denby's Weekly alert - 17-05-2009

Calorie values on restaurant menus- A step towards better nutrition or spoiling a good night out?
• High street restaurant chains go public with calories
• The move drives product reformulation and healthy choices initiatives

Eating out means different things to different people- grabbing a quick sandwich between meetings or a romantic table for two are both eating out of the home, but in very different circumstances. Do we want our exclusive, Saturday night, gastronomic delights to be over shadowed by ordering the 450 calories starter followed by the 786 calorie main course? Perhaps not, but while more and more of us consume more food away from our own homes we surely do need to know how this is contributing to our overall calorie intake- we after all getting fatter every year.
Some of the most well-known restaurant chains on the UK high street have agreed to work with the Food Standards Agency to include calorie information on the menu for their customers and this move follows similar initiatives in New York City and in California where the practice is common place.
PizzaExpress, Pizza Hut, The Restaurant Group (which operates Frankie & Benny’s, Chiquito and Garfunkel’s), Tragus (which operates Bella Italia, Café Rouge and Strada) and the takeaway chain Domino's have all agreed to provide commitments, which will focus on the range of healthier options available to their customers. The companies together operate more than 2,000 restaurants and takeaway outlets across the UK.
Although the commitments are different for each company, they share the aim of helping their customers enjoy a healthier, more balanced diet. The companies describe their progress to date and identify specific projects, which take into account procurement, menu planning, kitchen practice and consumer information. Each business will give the Agency a six month progress update.
Some of the measures announced include:
• salt reduction projects – this work includes finding ways to use less salt in pizza dough and training hundreds of chefs not to use salt in food preparation.
• extensive work to collect full nutritional data for products and recipes (for restaurant groups with seasonally changing menus across many brands this involves thousands of products) – this data will then be used to help recipe reformulation and to provide more customer information
• reviewing children's menus to make them healthier, including using more 'hidden' vegetables in dishes and offering more fruit
• working with suppliers to identify core products lower in saturated fat, for example to identify a lower-fat mozzarella cheese as a pizza topping or using lower fat dressings and milk
• increasing the range of healthier options on offer, including more salads, soups, fish dishes, grilled foods and desserts with more fruit.
• Progress described by the companies includes a 30% reduction of salt across the menu by one company since 2004, the introduction of a pizza with a cheese that contains one third less fat (than the standard cheese) and a 500 calorie pizza.
A number of healthier dishes have already been trialled extensively by some of the companies before being introduced. These trials show 'health by stealth' is being achieved – many of the changes to make meals healthier are not noticeable to customers, as they still taste as good but offer lower levels of fat, salt and sugar.
Also, joining the companies by publishing commitments will be four coffee chains – Camden Food Co., John Lewis Partnership Cafés, Sainsbury's Cafés and Upper Crust. Camden Food Co., Pizza Hut and Sainsbury's Cafés are also working with the FSA to trial calorie labelling over the summer.
Healthy eating commitments have now been announced by major catering companies throughout the UK including workplace caterers, quick service restaurant, pub restaurant and coffee and sandwich shop chains. This means that healthier options are now more widely available to millions of consumers every day when they eat out, whether that is in a staff restaurant, a sandwich or snack on the run, or sitting down at a table for a meal in a restaurant.

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