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Do You Know What You’re Eating for Lunch?

It was a beautiful summer day; we were out and about, and on a whim headed to The Cheesecake Factory for lunch.  By the time we reached the hostess podium, I already knew what I was having:  their Grilled Shrimp & Bacon Club sandwich, minus the Bacon, minus the extra slice of bread.  A good buddy of mine calls me Sally – and I always retort in my best Meg Ryan voice: Well, I just like things the way I like them. (A true Zen Mama Wannabe motto if there ever was one!)

Yep, I had it all planned; my mouth was watering at the thought of those yummy shrimp as we glanced at the extra menu placed on the table when they seated us.  Nutritional information – as required now by law.  Gulp – at a place like the Cheesecake Factory where portions are oversized as it is; did I dare peek inside?

My hesitation zipped past disbelief and turned straight to HORROR without stopping as soon as I took a glance.  Was I shocked that my sandwich was the highest calorie sandwich on the menu?  More than even the Chicken Parmesan Sandwich, which you just know is gonna be bad for you.  Or that it contained more calories than I am supposed to eat in one day (for the WHOLE day)??   Which is worse – or does it matter?  Over 2,200 in this ridiculous sandwich?  You have got to be kidding me!  And we have to wonder why Americans are becoming more and more overweight and obese??

I quickly scanned the menu:  the Grilled Cheese sandwich the kids were about to order – over 700 calories.  The Bistro Shrimp Pasta I would sometimes order for dinner:  2,285!  The dinner salad I would occasionally get to go:  959 (not sure if this counts the dressing or not!)   I was ill at the thought of this.  Was there nothing reasonable I could feel good about ordering for lunch??

By default I ended up with one of my favorite appetizers: the Vietnamese Shrimp Summer Rolls.  3 come in an order – basically they are rice paper wrapped around a shrimp, and some vegetables.  I would have guessed it about 200 calories; they listed it at 750.  I can only hope it was because two dipping sauces were served on the side.  The waiter, whom I didn’t trust completely, told us the calorie count included everything on the plate (so the sandwiches included the huge pile of French fries that came along with them).

Maybe, according to his theory, which I pray to God is correct, the spring roles are really only 250-300 calories (100 calories a roll?  A bit high for rice paper, one shrimp and vegetables, but believable enough).  Maybe the sandwiches aren’t quite as bad as one might think because of factoring in all the calories for the French fries (the worst food known to man – I know, I like a good fry as much as the next gal, but seriously – it’s like poison to your body).

This is to no means pick on The Cheesecake Factory.  We all know their portions are oversized, but the food is consistently good and I suppose if you only ate a THIRD of the portion size, you would be fine.  And don’t deceive yourself in thinking this is a chain restaurant nightmare only.  I am sure the delicious food at our neighborhood bistro (they make an incredible risotto with artichokes, fresh tomatoes and mushrooms) would be just as horrifying to see with the calories and fat grams listed next to it.

This Zen Mama Wannabe thinks requiring restaurants to list calories on their menus is a fabulous thing.  Yes, it made me ill (seriously ill) and turned our whole lunch into a topic of calories and the fate of American eaters today.  But it also made us think.  A lot.  It made us contemplate our choices and put a lot of thought into them.  For a country of mostly unconscious eaters, I think that is a great first step.

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7 Responses to “Do You Know What You’re Eating for Lunch?”

  1. Callieandbatio Says:
    July 25th, 2009 at 7:39 am

    Portion controll is really out of control, especially at restaurants. And lets face it, most of us finish most if not the entire plate of food. I have been know to finish even the parts I am not crazy about, just because it’s there.

    My husband and I started spliting our meals a few years back and this has been a big help for me. He is one of those annoying people that CAN leave food behind or only eat half of the plate. I on the other hand, find it nearly impossible to stop. We split the main dish most of the time and usually always substitute the fries for a salad. The calories of the buffalo chicken wrap we split, minus the fries with a salad instead is still probably half the calories we should eat in an entire day but it’s a start.

  2. LarkLady Says:
    July 25th, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I confess I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to what I ate until I ended up in the hospital over the 4th of July a couple of years back with diverticulitis… Pain is a great educator, and I started being more aware of calories, fiber and fat… Out of all that came ordering things when we go out that keep and reheat. I often get a second or even a third meal out of what I box and take home.

    I think having the calories and other nutritional information right there is an excellent idea… although I would have made them list it right there along with the price, so you couldn’t avoid seeing it. I think the restaurants may slowly begin to change their menus — offering smaller portions, more healthy choices — once people start becoming aware of the “other” cost of their choices.

    Or at least I hope so!

  3. Zen Mama Wannabe Says:
    July 27th, 2009 at 8:26 am

    Splitting an entree is a great idea. I’ll have to try that. Good with keeping costs down too – not just calories!

    I confess that trying to bring half home for another meal never works too well for me – raised as a member of the Clean Your Plate club. Plus, it never tastes quite the same reheated. But it’s another good way to manage portions – and calories.

    I’d LOVE to see the calories and nutritional info out there in plain sight with EVERYTHING. If I saw that Starbucks scone was 400+ calories, I bet I’d make a different choice. Then again, that’s probably what Starbucks (or whomever) is worried about!

  4. LarkLady Says:
    July 27th, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    The whole Super-Sized portions problem has certainly contributed to the super-sizing of America… although I’ve read comments by restauranteurs who say they’re only giving people what they want. But it will be interesting to see if having the nutritional information readily at hand before ordering will make any difference. I think it will — I know it will for me — but there’s so much of that Clean Plate Club mentality in our generation that it’s hard to leave food behind. Splitting a dish is a good solution, but often the calories of half the dish are still far more than one meal should have.

    And how come Starbucks’ scone has 400+ calories, when the ones I make at home have 50 – 75???? I know mine are smaller, but I didn’t think they were THAT much smaller!

  5. LarkLady Says:
    July 28th, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    I went to the website for Red Robin restaurants — a place we like but don’t go to often since it’s fairly far away. But they have a neat nutrition calculator, where you can customize your meal order and still come out to an accurate nutritional evaluation. So you don’t have to guess… you can see just what the meal is worth in terms of calories and basic nutritional values.

    The downside, of course, is that you have to do your calculating with a computer handy. But it’s another step in the right direction!

  6. Zen Mama Wannabe Says:
    July 31st, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Ok, checked out Red Robin’s cool nutrition calculator on their website — as it is one of my kids favorite restaurants ! (Not near us either – so we also don’t go that often – but when we go, we all have our “favorite” things that we always order).

    The burger I get (with a veggie patty instead) is 850 calories – french fries (and they have great steak fries) pushes to over 1200. Again, AGH!! But…at least now I know. I might try ordering something different next time (somehow the Crunchy Fish Sandwich is less calories – go figure) or maybe I’ll just stick with what I love – and know it uses up almost all my daily calories just in that ONE meal.

  7. LarkLady Says:
    July 31st, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Knowledge is power, or so they say; mostly, I think it’s about having the tools to make more informed decisions. KNOWING that your favorite meal is a full day’s calories, you can 1) opt for something else, 2) order it but only eat half — which still is going to mean cutting back a bit the rest of the day, 3) take half of it home… or share with someone else… I’m sure there are other possibilities, but those are things I’m doing more often when going out.

    And I find that I’m going out less often, now that I realize how expensive it is — not just monetarily (I know that already!) but in terms of the nutritional cost.

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