It all adds up

cheesecake calorie menu

Light and fresh -- at 1740 calories.

We have seen the future of restaurant menus in Albany County.

And it's kind of depressing.

We went to the Cheesecake Factory* for linner (yes, linner) this past weekend. And, as required by the Albany County law that takes effect this month, the menus had calorie counts listed next to all the items. The totals were big. Really big.

As we scanned up and down the absurdly long menu, suddenly everything seemed like a bad idea. It was a downer.

So? Get over it.

There are a lot of good reasons to support menu calorie counts.

+ About half of adults are now overweight or obese.

+ Portion sizes at many restaurants are completely ridiculous.

+ People can easily be tripped up when guessing how many calories there are in a plate of food.

+ And giving people more info usually good thing. Maybe now they'll make better choices. (Yes, that salad has over a thousand calories. Avoid.)

OK, but...

Still, it's hard for us to totally embrace this idea -- however good it might be.

When we go out to eat, we're looking to have a good time -- and, one would hope, eat some food that tastes good. If it's healthy, great. But often it's not. That's OK. It's an indulgence. (It'd be a different story if it was an everyday thing.) It's one of the reasons we keep an eye on what we eat the rest of the week -- so that we can go out to eat and not worry too much about it.

We were never operating under the assumption that a place called "The Cheesecake Factory" is a health clinic. But having that fact reiterated item after item on the menu is a drag. Yes, we get it. Not healthy. One should not subsist on miso salmon and cheesecake alone. It's like having your mom scold you for not eating your vegetables.

And all this for something that may not actually lead people to eat fewer calories (unless it does -- there needs to be more research).

When fork hits plate

A lot of this is probably just the shock of seeing counts for the first time. (We bet that impression wears off a bit.) And it re-enforces some things we were already doing -- like combining lunch and dinner when eat at a place like the Cheesecake Factory, or splitting entrees (seriously, the portions are completely crazy -- there's easily enough for two people).

That said, we do find ourselves wishing a little bit for the option to request a menu without the counts.

Oh, by the way: The new law doesn't affect non-chain restaurants, but you know many of the dishes at those places are also packed with calories -- even upscale dining establishments. As NY Mag found out, a night out at Per Se is the caloric equivalent of eating at... the Cheesecake Factory.

Update: It sounds like Kristi had a similar experience.


*Yes, really. It's not bad. Even serious foodies like Michael Ruhlman grudgingly admit there's good food to be had there.

Earlier on AOA:
+ How many calories does that cost?
+ New York's fattest counties

Comments

Well, the marketing spinmaster in me says this is an opportunity for local restaurants to capitalize on not having to display the calorie counts for those who don't want to look. :)

Maybe even offer two menus, one with and one without. Of just re-cycle the old smoking/non smoking sections to be With and Without!

I support it....an informed diner, what's wrong with that?

Or offer two sizes.

Great piece, well said.

Seems like there's a world where most folks don't cook at all, not really. Guess those menu calorie numbers are for them. Can buy light bulbs by the wattage, cars by the MPG, cameras by the megapixel. No surprise that a factory puts dumb numbers on its food. Folks like it. Might be the most interesting thing they discuss over dinner.

LQ

Gotta love it. Some people eat the same number of calories for dinner, that other people in a whole day!

Oh, reading this makes me feel so depressed! I love the food at CF, but it seems that one meal there is more than the average person's daily calorie allowance.

At the same time, I feel it is better to be aware of what you are putting in your body than not. I would have never imagined dishes at restaurants had this much...

At first, I have to admit that I took a double-take at those numbers. But then I realized, how often do I eat there? Not every night. And when do I eat more than half of my food? Never. When you cut those numbers in half, they're not quite so bad.

Here is my hope.

1) People see these calorie counts at restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory.
2) More and more people decide to split an entree rather than order individually.
3) Restaurants see their per-check-average totals plummet.
4) Restaurants compensate and retool their menus with smaller portions of higher quality ingredients, to recapture their lost income.

But I am glad to see we are on the path.

"It's one of the reasons we keep an eye on what we eat the rest of the week -- so that we can go out to eat and not worry too much about it."

I think you're making the mistake here, though, in assuming that your eating habits are the norm. It's great that you guys treat eating out as, well, a treat, but for a lot of people it's less a treat and more a daily part of life. And this law affects places like the fast food that many folks consume for multiple meals a day.

A 2006 American dining habits report showed that Americans ate one out of every four meals out of the house (in 2000, one out of every five meals was eaten out of the house). This isn't watching what ya eat the rest of the week so you can go out and enjoy, this is incorporating dining outside of the home into your typical meal plan - and the effect it's having, especially as people miscalculate calories and make assumptions about the health of what they are eating - is showing.

This is a good law. Yeah, it's going to shock a lot of people - but in the long run, that will help people make better choices about their health. And for those who are eating out just once or twice a week, and eating 'well' the rest of the week to justify the splurge... well, now I suppose you know just how well you have to behave the rest of the week. :-)

What an amazing opportunity for restaurants to come up with selections that people don't have to feel guilty about eating. The restaurants have had it easy for waaaayyy too long- at those calorie counts its pretty easy to make food taste good, I'd love to see the sodium counts as well. Fat + salt = yum.

What's harder is to make healthy food taste good, as any home cook knows. Any restaurant worth its salt will do so by offering a range of choices, from the very lean, to the moderately indulgent, to the grossly pig-tastic, and grouping the meal choices as such on the menu, so people can pick from within their acceptable range.

Love, love, love this idea, and any idea that makes for more informed consumption...

I actually went there last night with a friend for dinner and enjoyed reading through the menu and looking at all the calorie counts (fried macaroni and cheese appetizer,1600 calories? ouch!) but I agree, when we go out to dinner, it's an indulgence...you can't go to CF expecting to eat healthy,still it's nice to be informed.

Our waitress asked if we wanted cheescake and we said "no, way! we looked at all the calories" She said something to the effect of "ugh, it's so annoying, no one gets cheesecake anymore!" Then we asked her how the transition to the new menus has been going...she said some people have asked her if those were the new prices! "yes, that piece of red velvet cheesecake will cost you $2,500."

She's also had a few tables actually get up and leave before ordering after seeing the calories. Most people will now split a piece of cheesecake. Hmmm...maybe it will force people to make smarter food choices.

As someone who is trying to lose weight, I welcome this information on menus, even if I know the numbers aren't going to tell me what I want to see.

I think it would come to noone's surprise that a slice of cheesecake has a lot of fat and calories, but a lot of choices you would think would be the "safe" or "healthy" choice on an otherwise overstuffed, grease-laden menu are no better, such as grilled chicken sandwiches (often they have mayonnaise, marinades, buttered rolls, etc. that amp up the numbers), or salads drenched in dressing and covered in cheese.

I want to be able to eat out once in a while and not feel anxious about the choices I'm making or bad about how much I ate afterward. Like Daniel B. mentioned, I do hope this helps restaurants rethink their serving sizes, too, as I don't always want to bring leftovers home and don't want to eat the same thing my dining companions are eating, either.

For God's sake, the name of the restaurant is "The Cheescake Factory". If you're going there expecting a healthy meal, you can't read.

(Of course, the same logic could fool you if you go to "The Olive Garden" expecting a garden and/or actual olives.)

I agree with Kelly. I think this law isn't meant for people like you who splurge once in a while. It's for people who eat outside of their home for most of their meals. And of course, for people like me, who have a history of overeating and need to keep themselves in check, even when they go out.

When my BF and I go out to eat, we have two dining philosphies. I stick to my diet and he gets whatever he thinks has the most calories per dollar. While it's obvious that fried food in cream sauce is NOT health food, calorie counts on menus will take out the guess work for us both. However, I was disappointed to see calorie counts @ Regal theater because popcorn was my "cheat" food and I was blissfully ignorant that a small popcorn packed in 500 calories.

I think seeing those calories on the menu would be a major turn off for me. You're right, nobody thinks any of those restaurants is a health clinic; but I really don't need to know just HOW bad their entrees are for me. Speaking of which, can any normal person ever finish the whole plate anyway?? CF's meatloaf is usually my dinner and two lunches after that

The biggest thing to remember is, the portions you are getting at these restaurants are huge. In some cases your meal is the equivalent of 2-3 meals. So the calories size is bound to be huge. You aren't forced to eat the entire meal. It's called leftovers people.

Places like Cheesecake Factory absolutely need to be providing this information. Every parent should know that this dish:
http://eatthis.menshealth.com/slide/worst-sit-down-kids-meal?slideshow=98441#title
contains 1800 calories before they order it for their 8-year-old.

Guess I'll keep going to my local Paesan's for a slice of pizza at lunchtime so I can avoid the guilt of seeing how many calories I will be consuming.

A lot of places (Cheesecake Factory included) offer lunch sized portions, but only at certain times of the day. I think a smaller portion should be available at all times, because I agree- the portion sizes are ridiculous. Even the argument "just take home what you don't finish" doesn't really work, because we are programmed to attempt to clear our plate, and will overeat to the point of near incapacitation.

I have to say that I encountered this when I went to TGI Fridays the other day. I'm the type to go out once in a while and splurge, but to find out that I was going to take in more calories in one sitting (they have a 3 course meal deal going and I usually have a couple of beers with dinner when I go out), than I should really be taking in over the course of 2 days, really ruined it for me.

In the end, I guess it achieved the goal it was supposed to. I ordered healthier (a relative term) than I usually do and only ordered one beer instead of two, but I really couldn't enjoy my food and don't think I'll be going out to eat again for quite some time. It certainly left a sour taste in my mouth...

If you feel guilty looking at all the horrible calorie counts on the menu, that's on you. It's information, and the more information there is, the better decisions people can make. Nobody's making you go to the Cheesecake Factory. If you want to indulge in some lard, then eat it. If not, find a healthier place to eat. This is a good thing.

Natalie's server said, "Ugh, it's so annoying, no one gets cheesecake anymore!"

Clearly this is working.

It's a sad commentary on where we are with food in the US. Our food is making us fat and unhealthy. I'm hopeful that this drives consumers to make choices with their pocketbooks and the restaurants act accordingly.

More info is always good. I can't believe how many calories we often consume in one meal.
But if you don't like seeing calorie counts on your menus, there's an easy solution: only go to locally-owned, independent restaurants. Which are the businesses we should be supporting anyway.

I ordered a lager drink at Starbucks today because the calories weren't as high as I had assumed. I think that's the first time ever where calorie counts on menus helped increase the sale!

It turns out Panera is pretty good. If you get the "pick-two" meal, you get two smaller portions, and the calorie counts help you make more informed choices. Because I HAD to get their amazing mac & cheese (seriously, amazing) at 400-something calories, I decided to get the chicken noodle soup (80 calories) instead of the tomato bisque I was planning on getting (300 calories). Of course a salad would have been even better, but sometimes you just have to have soup.

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