I went to Panera Bread today for lunch, and instantly saw something new on their menu: calories! Yes, Panera Bread has listed the calorie count for each and every menu item, right there in plain sight, so I didn't have to guess exactly how healthy my lunch would (or wouldn't) be.
While I was surprised to see this change so early, I knew it was coming. As a part of the new healthcare bill, all restaurants in the US with more than twenty locations will now be required to post calorie counts for every item on their menus, starting in 2011. In New York, this change has already been implemented, and I can only assume that Alabama will be the last to join the ranks, as we just generally like to oppose all change.
Just think what this is going to do for the restaurant industry! If you could clearly see, at the same time you order, that your Big Mac, fries, and Coke has a total of 1,410 calories, would you still eat it? Even for those who don't need to watch their weight (those who generally don't eat at McDonald's anyway), that is simply a shocking number! Surprisingly, most full-service restaurants don't fare much better. Many entrees at leading chains have more than 1,000 calories per dish, and that includes some items that are perceived to be healthy, like salads. Want a cobb salad at TGI Friday's? You'll be taking in nearly 1,250 calories. It's true that many people don't care about how many calories they consume, but in this weight-conscious society, I believe that restaurants will either have to find ways to lighten up their recipes, or simply offer alternative, low-cal menus in order to compete, now that all their dirty laundry has been aired.
Back to Panera Bread. I found that seeing the calories for each menu item did affect my selection, though only slightly. Panera consistently offers healthy, fresh foods, and almost all of their menu items were under 400 calories each. I had a sandwich and soup combo, the Turkey Artichoke panini with a cup of black bean soup, and the entire meal cost me a total of 480 calories. I try to keep my calories at about 1,600 per day, so this fit very nicely into my diet!
So keep an eye out for those calorie counts... they'll be showing up in your neck of the woods soon, and I'd love to hear how they affect your dining choices, whether you are watching your weight or not!