So you’ve decided to put calorie counts and nutrition information on your restaurant menu. We might be a little biased but we support your decision 100%! Actually, a lot of people do. According to a consumer survey conducted by Food Insight: Nearly one in four tries to avoid certain ingredients in foods and beverages; sugar, salt, fat, meat, and food additives are the most commonly avoided categories. As this consumer demand continues to grow, it only reinforces the importance of nutrition information displayed on your menu and affirms that you are, indeed, on the right track! In order to place nutrition information on your menu, you have a few options: you can utilize our nutrition analysis platform and enter all of the recipes and calculate the nutrient values yourself, or, you can outsource this process to a nutrition professional. Well, if you’re reading this article, you’re probably looking to outsource. But before you do, there are a few things that you should know about working with a nutrition professional as well as the granular information that they need in order to complete your menu nutrition analysis accurately.
Explore Your Options
First and foremost, all nutrition professionals (and the tools that they use) are not created equal. It is important to understand who exactly will be handling your menu nutrition analysis to ensure that it’s done correctly. Our nutrition team, for example, is comprised of Dietitians and degreed Nutritionists who have spent their careers catering to the needs of individual clients as well as foodservice businesses. While you can choose someone who is not focused on food service, there are particular pieces of information that could be missed when working with someone who is not well-versed in actual menu nutrition analysis. In addition, it is highly probable that they are not using tools that have been created to store restaurant menu recipes, sub-recipes, external/unique ingredients, and other proprietary information that is unique to food service.
Finding the Right Fit
The MenuCalc platform + nutrition professional combination is pretty unique to the industry. The MenuCalc platform is the same tool that our nutrition staff uses in order to perform your menu nutrition analysis. Our platform was specifically created for food service professionals and their menu recipes. MenuCalc not only functions as a nutrition calculator but also stores and categorizes your menu recipes in recipe-card format for ease of accessibility and use by your restaurant’s culinary team. In MenuCalc you will have access to:
- Your own menu recipe database
- Subrecipes organized by category
- Sub-recipe index
- Allergen-flagging tools
- Recipe notes for account users
- Nutrition facts panels for retail products
Once our nutrition team has completed your menu nutrition analysis by entering all of your available menu recipes into the MenuCalc platform, your account will be fully populated and turned over to your staff for application on to your digital or physical restaurant menus.
Submitting the Right Information
When you begin working with a nutrition professional on your menu nutrition analysis, it is important to submit the right information. The format and terminology you may use within your restaurant to create recipes for your dining guests are often not the same as what your dedicated Nutritionist will require to calculate the nutrition values for your menu. While you may use broad terminology like “piece”, “serving”, “pinch”, “dollop”, and other cooking terms, your Nutritionist will need your recipe information listed in actual measurements.
Submitting Ingredient Information Correctly
As mentioned previously, it is important to define ingredient measurements in the correct terms for your dedicated Nutritionist to understand the specific portions of each ingredient that creates your specific menu recipes. When we do a recipe intake with a restaurant or foodservice client, it is not uncommon to receive their recipes in the same format that their culinary staff is used to cooking from. For example, if a restaurant submitted a recipe for Chicken Parmesan, it’s not uncommon for it to look something like this:
Chicken Parmesan (5 servings)
- 5 pieces of chicken breast
- 1 container of breadcrumbs
- olive oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup of milk
- 2 jars of marinara sauce
- 2 boxes of spaghetti pasta
- garlic powder
- basil leaves
While the above example contains all of the ingredients, it does not accurately define the information needed to calculate nutrients. Why? Well let’s take the first line for example: “5 pieces of the chicken breast”, this could mean many different things.
How many ounces are in each chicken breast? Are the chicken breasts thinly cut? Are they boneless/skinless chicken breasts or are they cooked with the skin and bone? Without the definition of the ingredient type and measurement, your nutritionist will have to request more information regarding your menu recipes. The weight and components of a bone-in, skin-on chicken breast will produce a different nutritional result than a boneless-skinless chicken breast. In addition to the ingredient measurement, the best practice for submitting your menu recipes is to define them as much as possible. This means the following should be included in each ingredient submission for every recipe:
- Ingredient type/description (boneless-skinless-chicken-breast)
- Ingredient weight (4 ounces, 400grams)
- Ingredient Preparation (if applicable)
- Brand information
This being said, the correct submission of that same Chicken Parmesan recipe should look something like this:
- 5 – 7oz chicken breasts, boneless/skinless (Purdue Brand)
- 8 oz Italian-style Breadcrumbs (Progresso Brand)
- 2 oz extra virgin olive oil
- 2 whole eggs, raw
- 8 oz of whole milk
- 2- 28oz jars of Four Cheese Marinara (Newman’s Own Brand)
- 2- 1lb boxes of dry spaghetti noodles (Barilla Brand)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp oregano, dried
- 5 basil leaves, fresh, chopped
The above submission still requires the preparation of the recipe, however, the ingredient submission is correct. The ingredient name, type, measurement, and applicable branding are listed next to the appropriate ingredient. This information can be entered into MenuCalc for a very accurate menu nutrition analysis.
In the same detailed way that you would submit your ingredient measurement information, it is important to identify the overall menu recipe’s portion measurement. It is likely that your establishment is preparing recipes in batches and not only one at a time. For this reason, when a recipe is submitted, you must also identify how many portions can be served from this recipe. If the above Chicken Parmesan recipe makes 5 servings, this must be identified in order to accurately calculate the individual portion size’s nutrition information that will be placed on your restaurant menu.
If you are making a large batch recipe and you are unsure of how many individual servings can be derived from that recipe, portioning out a single serving from your prepared recipe and weighing it is the next best option. Then your dedicated nutritionist will have the ability to determine the nutrient values for the single serving size as well as approximately how many servings come in a batch.
Sub-recipes are recipes that support a final menu recipe. When your dedicated nutritionist is performing your menu nutrition analysis, they will need to know about any supportive recipes that go into any of your final recipes. What this means is that if you create your own marinara sauce in-house and you apply that marinara sauce to 5 of your recipes, your marinara sauce is a “sub” recipe or a recipe within a recipe. The information for these supportive recipes is just as important as the final menu recipes themselves. You will need to submit your sub-recipes in the same format as you would your final recipes by
following the example above.
If you are using homemade ingredients or a unique ingredient that you’ve sourced from a special market or food provider, there is a high likelihood that it will not exist in one of our ingredient databases for calculation. However, these ingredients are just as important as any other component of your recipe and must be added accurately. If there are any special ingredients that your culinary team uses to create your menu items, submitting those ingredients to your nutritionist is a very simple process and from there it is very easy for them to proceed forward with your menu nutrition analysis with complete accuracy.
Unique ingredients in our system are called “external ingredients”. You can submit these ingredients to our nutrition team by sending a link to the manufacturer’s website that has the nutrition information on file, or you can send a photo of the product’s nutrition facts panel to our staff for implementation into your menu nutrition analysis. We will then apply the ingredient to the appropriately identified recipe.
In rare cases, the external ingredient information is difficult to find. In an instance like this, your dedicated nutritionist can reach out to the manufacturer of your external ingredient on your behalf, or you may request the nutritional information from the manufacturer. All manufacturers MUST provide the nutrition information for the products that they create. And in our experience, this is a very common request that is happily obliged.
Well, there you have it! Everything you need to know about working with a nutrition professional on your menu nutrition analysis is yours to have. We’ve also created a simple guide for our clients to follow on the do’s and don’t for recipe submission. You can download that here.
If you have any other questions regarding outsourcing your menu nutrition analysis, feel free to contact us, we are here to help!