While grower-shippers, produce commodity boards and even the National Restaurant Association tout major advances in getting healthful foods on restaurant menus, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest is not jumping for joy.
The organization that caught the public’s attention a few years ago when it referred to fettuccine alfredo as a “heart attack on a plate” thinks the restaurant industry still has a very long way to go before its typical menu can be considered even close to nutritious.
Jayne Hurley, a senior nutritionist at the center, said she has not observed many produce items on menus she’s seen.
“I just don’t see all the fruits and vegetables out there that they’re talking about in their press releases,” she said.
While she termed McDonalds’ fruit-and-walnut salad “a great item,” for example, she is not ready to give the chain any healthy menu awards.
Letting kids choose apple slices rather than french fries is “commendable,” she said, but “these things should be the standard thing.”
The organization has no problem coming up with its annual “Xtreme Eating” list, which this year includes The Cheesecake Factory Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake (1,540 calories and 58 grams of saturated fat), IHOP’s Monster Bacon ’N Beef Cheeseburger (1,250 calories and 42 grams of saturated fat) and Denny’s Fried Cheese Melt (1,260 calories and 21 grams of saturated fat), she said.
Consumers tend to shrug off their unhealthful menu choices saying it’s OK to splurge once in awhile, she said. But with people eating more than one-third of their calories in restaurants, “Splurges add up.”
“I think the majority of the menus feature things that are not good for you, and if you hunt around, you can find things that are better for you,” she said.
The reverse should be true, Hurley said.
“Instead of that little sprig of broccoli on the side, it would be nice if main the dish could feature fresh fruits and vegetables, and meat and cheese could be sidecars or condiments with the vegetables,” she said.
Even Hurley acknowledges that there are a few bright spots on the dine-out scene.
Serving sizes have grown, she said, but there’s a trend toward offering “petite” size alternatives.
“That’s definitely a positive to keep calories in check.”
She also lauded innovative chains like Saladworks LLC, a salad franchise based in Conshohocken, Pa., where she said patrons can “kind of build your own salads.”