Nutrition Facts on Restaurant Menus Could Help Kids Make Healthy Choices

July 20, 2009

by Jean Saunders, HSC School Wellness Director

A new bill in the Senate would make tallying up nutrition info for your restaurant meal even more straightforward than calculating the tip. A national menu labeling provision [pdf – see page 399] would require restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets to post calories on menus, menu boards (including drive-thrus), and food display tags, with additional information — fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sodium, protein and fiber — available in writing upon request. Self-serve items, food on display, alcohol, and vending machines would be covered. Specials (on the menu for less than 60 days) and market tests would be exempt.

Like the act which currently requires nutrition facts labeling on packaged foods, this legislation would require national uniformity. This means that states and localities would not be able to require additional nutrient information on menus but would be able to compel things such as food safety warnings, nutrition symbols or sodium warnings. With a uniform national system, the industry will be able to more easily comply with the requirement and consumers will quickly come to expect this information from restaurants.

HSC believes that the menu labeling requirements would help to make nutrition education in schools more actionable: students would be better able to make informed food choices when they purchase food away from school. While that may seem like a small benefit, it is actually quite important. As Rochelle discussed in a Sept. 2008 blog, we often hear from principals and others who work in schools that they are frustrated to see students visit nearby restaurants (often fast-food stops) to pick up unhealthy snacks and drinks before and after school. The school environment must support healthy eating, both by providing healthy food choices and the nutrition education that helps students make healthy choices outside of school. This menu labeling act would support students’ ability to put their nutrition education to good use and do just that.