Eva had finally decided it was time to start providing her diners with more information about the food she served at her chain of French restaurants. Not only were her customers requesting nutrition information more frequently, but the compliance date for mandatory calorie labeling on menus was fast approaching.
While she understood there was certain nutrition information she needed to provide to her diners to comply with the FDA guidelines for nutrition labeling on her menus, Eva didn’t quite know which information should be included directly on the menu and which should be available on a seperate piece of paper for customers to request. While calories were the obvious choice and the industry standard, she felt that calories alone didn’t provide enough of a well-rounded picture of the food she created. After all, some of her menu items were high in calories, but they had other virtues she wanted to highlight.
If you too are considering adding nutrition information on your restaurant menus but are unsure what to include and where to put it, let’s take a look at your options so you can make an educated decision.
Calories Counts: The Industry Standard
Calorie counts, which are arguably the most widely understood piece of nutrition information in America, give people a general idea of how much energy they are consuming. As most people know, eating too many calories (i.e. more than roughly 2,500 a day for the average active adult) can lead to weight gain. So, for people on restricted-calorie diets, knowing the number of calories in the meals they eat is essential to their health and necessary in order to achieve their weight loss goals.
With the FDA’s May 2018 compliance date requiring chain restaurants to provide calorie counts on menus, diners are going to become used to having calorie information at restaurants. So even if your restaurant isn’t required to share calorie counts, it’s still a good idea to include them on your menu.
It is important to note, however, that calories alone don’t indicate how nutritious a meal is, so if that is your goal, you might want to consider other types of nutrition information.
Macronutrients: Fats, Proteins, and Carbs
After calories, Americans are most familiar with macronutrients like fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. The amount of each macronutrient in a meal gives more insight into the actual nutritional value, so it can be wise to include them on your menu if you feel it would be useful for your diners.
Many people pay attention to the macronutrients in their food because of medical conditions, special diets, or personal preferences. Someone with diabetes, for instance, will need to know how many carbohydrates a meal contains so they can regulate their blood sugar effectively. Another person following a ketogenic diet may be looking for a meal with high levels of fat and low carbohydrates. A person who has just finished a weightlifting session might want a meal that is high in protein.
Keep in mind that while macronutrients provide diners with at-a-glance nutrition information, they don’t always tell the whole story. After all, fried chicken may be high in protein, but that doesn’t necessarily equate it to being healthy. So if you feel your diners would desire more information, it may be best to add more specific micronutrient details to the menu.
Micronutrients: Vitamins, Minerals, and More
Generally speaking, the American public pays less attention to vitamin and mineral information than they do to calories and macronutrients. This is likely in part because vitamins and minerals aren’t bolded like the other information is on the standard FDA nutrition facts panel. That said, there is still value in providing them on your menu—especially if they are accompanying calorie and macronutrient information.
If you want to provide vitamin and mineral values on your menu, I’d recommend only including the ones represented on the nutrition facts label (vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron). People will be more familiar with these micronutrients, and there is only so much space on the menu for this type of information.
While providing other micronutrient amounts is informative for diners, I wouldn’t recommend providing that information on your main menu. To save space, print a few copies of detailed nutrition information including micronutrient amounts and make them available upon request.
Nutrient Content Claims
Nutrient content claims (NCCs), like “low-fat” or “high-fiber,” inform diners of a menu item’s main virtues in an easy-to-understand way. While a diner may not know how many grams of protein is considered “high-protein,” with nutrient content claims, they don’t need to.
I always recommend using bright colors or distinguished text when including nutrient content claims on your menu so they really stand out. This helps diners find what they are looking for quickly and easily.
Of course, there are guidelines for using nutrient content claims—you can’t just use any claim you please. But rather than spending hours sifting through FDA documents to find out if your menu items qualify for any NCCs, I recommend using an online nutrition analysis software that automatically assesses your recipe for claims they may qualify for. Just make sure that if you decide to use a nutrient content claim, you provide the accompanying information to prove it is true (i.e. showing the value for total fat for the “low-fat” claim). This doesn’t need to be on your primary menu—it can be in a separate printout providing detailed nutrition information for that specific item.
Using Online Software to Generate Nutrition Information on Restaurant Menus
Now that you have a better sense of what kind of nutrition information you want to provide on your menus, it’s time to find a method of nutrition analysis that suits your needs. The simplest, quickest, and most affordable method for restaurants is using an online nutrition analysis software. With software like MenuCalc, simply input your recipes using the extensive database of ingredients (or adding your own ingredients if you can’t find one you need), enter the measurements for each ingredient, and determine the serving size. Then, a complete nutritional profile will be instantly generated, including calorie counts, macronutrient amounts, vitamins, minerals, and the nutrient content claims your menu items qualify for.
In the end, Eva’s diners seemed very pleased with her decision to add calorie information and nutrient content claims on the new menus. They also appreciated having the option to request macronutrient and micronutrient information. Much to her surprise, complying with the FDA’s menu labeling guidelines was much simpler than she thought it would be.
Whatever nutrition information you decide to provide on your menu, keep in mind that there are many cost-saving ways to provide nutrition information if you aren’t a chain restaurant with 20 or more locations. You don’t necessarily have to reprint all your menus or redo all your signs like Eva did. And at the end of the day, your diners will be happy you are making the effort to provide them with nutrition information to help them make informed decisions.
MenuCalc is an industry-leading nutrition analysis software that provides restaurants with complete nutrition information for their menu items. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help with your menu labeling needs.