Thursday, September 17, 2009

Macaroni Grill working to save your waistline

By Alison

Restaurants are trying to appear more responsible when it comes to obesity prevention. Many states are requiring by law that chain restaurants post nutrition information visibly. This way when you are trying to be healthy choosing a lunch salad, you may find out your salad choice packs a whopping 1,000 calories. Not a waist-watcher after all.

From a business perspective, restaurants introducing healthier alternatives could be a death sentence in terms of sales. Most people want to indulge when they go out, even if that means ingesting 1,800 calories in one meal alone. A "healthy fare" section on a menu may make a dieter feel deprived and restricted, causing him to rebel and glance over at the fat- and calorie-laden menu options.

Despite the unsure business move of healthier menus, Macaroni Grill has recently made headlines as it ventures to decrease portion sizes and remove some gut-busting entrees from the menu. According to a recent article, Macaroni Grill's Order: Cut Calories, Keep Customers (Wall Street Journal), Macaroni Grill's chicken and artichoke sandwich was described as having "the calorie equivalent of 16 Fudgesicles" on the Today Show. A January issue of Men's Health magazine revealed the restaurant's ravioli dessert has a whopping 1,630 calories. Macaroni Grill responded by removing the ravioli dessert from its menu and reformulating the chicken sandwich.

The restaurant's plan is to create a menu offering Mediterranean-Italian cuisine. This menu will feature the key ingredients of a Mediterranean diet including leaner cuts of meat, seafood and extra virgin olive oil, according to Macaroni Grill's Chief Executive Brad Blum. Macaroni Grill's first change was to its tomato bruschetta, using less olive oil, thus cutting its calories by 36%. The cost of this dish also decreased from $6.40 to $5.99, making it a better choice overall for diners.

Still, the tomato bruschetta appetizer has 630 calories. Even if you split this with friend, you are eating 315 calories before you get to the main meal. It's a better choice than the tapenade trio, 940 calories, or the calamari fritti, 960 calories. Yet the best appetizer choices are the new roasted vegetables or the mozzarella alla caprese, both 330 calories. To find more nutritional information, visit Macaroni Grill's website.

Restaurants need to keep pursuing healthy options that will both please diners and drive sales. There are alternatives to tampering with tried and true recipes diners have come to love. Perhaps some restaurants can add icons next to heavier entrees that can be shared by 2-3 people. Or restaurants can offer a small dinner portion and package the rest for take-home leftovers. This way there is no sacrifice in taste or the amount of food, so diners will not feel cheated while reaping the benefits of eating less.

Menus can also post substitutions that would make a dish less calorie-dense. For instance, instead of having a pasta dish with sausage and a cream sauce, try the pasta tossed with veggies and marinara sauce. These are suggestions diners can make on their own, but if restaurants take part in educating and offering these ideas on the menu, diners may be more apt to take part.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing the great ideas on healthier dining out, Alison!

    Chris McNeil, founder
    FitMenu healthy dining program