April 28, 2008

Health.com Names the Top (or is it Bottom) Not-So-Healthiest Restaurants

Health.com took a look recently at the healthiest and not-so-healthiest fast food restaurants.

I don't agree with its list of healthiest, but I'll save that blog for another day.

Today I'll share what Health.com calls the America's Not-So-Healthiest Restaurants.

Scary chicken: At Chili's, 1 serving of Crispy Honey Chipotle Crispers (no dressing) just laid 1,890 calories at your door.

Sides to Die For: Literally. O'Charley's Onion Rings with Cajun Horseradish Sauce packs 1,800 calories on the plate, and 139 grams of fat.

Worst advice: It's hard to think healthy when the menu encourages you to fatten up, which is exactly what Cracker Barrel does, telling you to 'loosen your belt and enjoy' its Country Boy Breakfast, which offers your choice of country ham, pork chops or steak grilled to order, three (!) eggs cooked to order, fried apples, hashbrown casserole, grits, gravy, homemade buttermilk biscuits, real butter, and preserves or what they call Jam n' Apple butter.

Is there such a thing as too much cheese? Yes, Pizza Hut: Stuffing cheese into pizza crusts is just plain overkill.

No wonder they sell a lot of soda: The chicken and beef grilled stuft burritos at Taco Bell both have more than 2,000 mg. sodium (and your daily max should be 2,300).

Killing us with silence: These places might look like healthy options, but they provide NO nutritional information. And we begged. Benihana, Bertucci's, Bonefish Grill, and California Pizza Kitchen, why aren't you talking?"

April 27, 2008

The New Recession Diet

There appears there is at least one way to get Americans to cut down on restaurant portions: have a recession.

The New York Times reports Americans may be forced on a Recession Diet. Data suggests middle- and working-class consumers are switching to eating at home instead of dining out, and eating less red meat and more pasta.

Wal-Mart Stores reports stronger-than-usual sales of peanut butter and spaghetti, while restaurants like Domino’s Pizza and Ruby Tuesday have suffered a falloff in orders, suggesting that many Americans are sticking to low-cost home-cooked meals.

Such trade-offs were on vivid display last week in Ohio, where layoffs have been rampant. At Save-A-Lot, a discount grocery store in Cleveland, Teresa Rutherford, 51, chided her sister-in-law, Donna Dunaway, 44, for picking up a package of Sara Lee honey ham (eight ounces for $2.49).

The women said that soaring prices for food and fuel had changed what they buy and where they buy it. “We used to eat out at Bob Evans or Denny’s once a month,” said Ms. Rutherford, who works in an auto-parts factory. “Now we don’t go out at all. We eat in all the time.”

Not only could the portions be getting smaller, but the portions may be getting healthier. Some consumers are skipping the red meat for the better-for-you turkey.

Mary Gregory, 55, a telephone company operator in Cleveland, used to eat red meat at least once a week. Now it is hardly ever on her menu. “I usually buy turkey instead,” she said. “Any recipe that calls for meat, like chili or spaghetti, I try to substitute turkey.”
There may be a silver lining in a recession.

Would you stop a car wreck?

If you saw a mother smoking in a car with the windows up and in the back were three small children, what would you do?

If you saw a father driving drunk with children in the backseat, what would you do?

If you saw a grandmother hitting her grandchildren in the park, what would you do?

Most of us would do the right thing.

Now, what if you saw overweight mothers and fathers lining up with their children to go and eat bottomless steak fries at Red Robin? Would you get right in line with them?

We all know smoking and driving and abuse are wrong. But taking our children to McDonald's for 5-6 meals a week, that's OK?

Betsy Hart, host of "It Takes a Parent" radio show in Chicago got me to thinking. She writes in Fredericksburg.com - FOOD A HEALTHY WEIGHT A too-thin trend in America? Fat chance: "

A few years ago, my family hosted a teenage French girl for several weeks during the summer. It was her first time in the United States. She was stunned by three things: American flags flying everywhere; the fact that the only time American news programs focused on other countries was when we were at war with them; and the sheer plethora of food, and thus the size of Americans.

She simply couldn't believe the food that was everywhere. At a church social, in the ice-cream carts as we exited museums, at children's sporting events--and the size of portions in restaurants simply astounded her.

Yet what do any of us do about this portion poison?

What if all of our children's teachers couldn't read? That wouldn't be good role models. But what if the schools advertised the fact that the teachers are illiterate and coming to this school you could get more illiterate.

Now take a look at your local fast food restaurant. Look at the advertising: Our customers are fat, and we can make you fatter.

Take the 1,420-calorie burger sold at Hardee's and Carl's Jr. Arguably, it's the first fast-food sandwich to publicly flaunt its excess of calories and fat.

Andy Puzder figures he'll be forever famous — or infamous — for creating fast food's first edible Frankenstein: the Monster Thickburger.

The food police and media have portrayed the CEO of CKE Enterprises (CKR) as fast food's demon.

But Puzder insists all he's really trying to do is offer consumers what he believes most want: tasty food. "These products sell better than health-conscious products," he says. "We don't tell consumers what they want. They tell us."

April 24, 2008

Is recession or poor food hurting McDonald's?

McDonald's this week reported globally an increase in sales nearly anywhere, however, there was some negative financial news -- and maybe some good RightSizing news. Sales in the US are down for March.

Are consumers becoming a little more health conscience? At McDonald's they are eating a smaller portion.

The really bad news is the rest of world is eating more and more American-style fast food. And the world is becoming more and more obese as well.

Let's hope the trend continues as the recession forces more Americans to think about their wallets (and this blog forces more Americans to think about their waistlines).

From the Wall Street Journal: Global Comparable Sales Drove McDonald's First Quarter Earnings to $0.81 Per Share

April 21, 2008

Bottomless lunch means a big middle

Until last week, I'd had never heard of unlimited food at fast food restaurants. Sure, some local Chinese places have those awful buffets stewing under broiler lamps, but I didn't know Chili's and Red Robin entice obesity right there on the menus.

Yesterday, I saw Chili's advertising a bottomless lunch. I wasn't sure what a bottomless lunch was so I went to its website. (And bottomless lunch is trademarked, like they have to legally protect it from other restaurants.)

There it was: unlimited chips and salsa, a Caesar or House salad and one of three soups: Chicken Enchilada, Baked Potato, or Broccoli Cheese. (Why limit your choice of soup? If want patrons to risk a heart attack, let them try all three at one sitting.)

Even without being unlimited, that meal is not the RightSize. It has too many calories for your midday meal.

Let's see, just one basket of the fat fried chips and salsa is 480 calories. A Caesar salad is not healthy at all at 510 calories. And all the soups are more than 320 calories: Chicken Enchilada (440), Baked Potato (420), or Broccoli Cheese (320).

So for those without a calculator at lunch, the total -- before the unlimited -- is at least 1,250 calories. More than 60% of your daily recommended calories for lunch, and again, this is before the unlimited part. A little extra salad and soup, and you have all your calories for the day.

Soup, salad, chips. Sounds reasonable. It isn't. It's not Right.

April 19, 2008

Watch your bottom with Red Robin bottomless fries

Please tell me I'm not the only person in America that thinks the restaurant, Red Robin, single-handedly is trying to make sure everyone stays fat.

The chain which started in Wisconsin is now expanding into the Northeast where I live. I saw my first Red Robin TV commercial, and I could not believe my eyes or ears. Red Robin was touting to America -- like a bartender at a AA meeting -- to come on down and have "bottomless" fries. That's right, it's not bad enough that its "Whiskey River BBQ burger" has nearly 1,000 calories, but to complement it, they give you unlimited fries. A normal order (of about 10 fries) has nearly 400 calories. But don't try to confirm those numbers on Red Robin's website. It refuses to list nutritional information.

Back to those "steak fries", (and isn't that interesting they are called "steak" fries). Is that because they have as much fat as steaks, but none of the protein?

Red Robin gets my nomination as the worst food in America this week. Its motto is: "Honest to goodness ingredients."

George Orwell was right: think about that doublespeak. Red Robin manages to tell you that its food is honest and good. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They are not honest with the calories, and there is nothing good about shoving unlimited steak fries in your mouth.

April 18, 2008

Restaurant serves "illegal" portions

America doesn't need too-large of portions served at restaurants.

In Buffalo, New York there was an illegal reason the Mexican restaurant was serving extra large portions. The owners were arrested for using illegal aliens, not paying minimum wage and then skimming the profits.

When you see (and eat at) a place that doesn't make economic sense, there's usually a reason. And many times it's because it's illegal.

The Buffalo News reports: "When El Caporal, a Mexican restaurant across from Cheektowaga High School, got a review from Cheap Eats in The Buffalo News, the reviewer gave it 3 1/2 pennies out of four.

“Appropriate for a restaurant bearing the Mexican name for a ranch manager,” reviewer Anne Neville wrote of El Caporal, “this is a place to strap on the feedbag for a real south-of-the border experience.”

Federal authorities seconded that comment Wednesday when they arrested the restaurant owner as an illegal Mexican alien. They said he paid for workers to be smuggled across the border to work at El Caporal and in six other restaurants he owns in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Simon Banda, 41, of Depew, was awakened at 6 a.m. Wednesday by agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau when they raided the Lancer Court Apartments.

Located on Union Road across from the high school, El Caporal developed a reputation as a place where hefty portions of food were served for a reasonable price.

The investigation had shown the undocumented workers were forced to work up to 70 hours a week in Banda’s restaurants for $600 every two weeks, the two lawmen said. Half of their wages went back to Banda, they said, to repay the smuggling fees.

In addition, Banda skimmed half of the operating profits from each restaurant, according to statements of Nelson Yera Jr., an Immigration and Customs agent, in a lengthy affidavit for search warrants.

April 17, 2008

Finally New Yorkers will know what they are eating

New York City has hundreds and thousands of rules and regulation. Those laws and policies control nearly every square inch of the world's busiest city. But until yesterday, there was no law allowing New Yorkers to know what they were eating. Oh sure, there are laws to keep the places clean and hopefully free from contiguous diseases, but to help you in your battle of the bulge, there was nothing the Health Department could do.

That changed when a judge ruled the city can require fast food restaurant chains to display calorie counts.

And by the way, what a bunch of post-digested pasture grass, are the industry's arguments:
  • it's too complicated,
  • it's too hard,
  • it's too flawed,
  • it's too patchwork,
  • it's too confusing,
  • it's too contradictory,
  • it's too local,
  • it's too much information on the menu...
The menu labeling regulation is designed to let you know the calories at the time you are eating the calories. No one is stopping anyone from eating a 1,169-calorie burrito from Chipotle. But I bet it will make you at least consider the burrito bowl at 489 calories instead.

And read the National Restaurant Association Chief Apologist's statement below. They are willing to put calorie information everywhere in the world, just not on the menu board where you might actually read it as you order. No, they say you should carry your laptop and access their website as you order (and that's not complex). Or you should carry around 25 different brochures and a calculator should you decide to visit a fast food place in the city (and that's not too flawed).

The food at McDonald's and Burger King is not as bad as the attitude of the industry. And the food is pretty bad.

The fast food industry is fighting tooth and nail to prevent you from seeing calorie information.

From Fox Business.com: "Today's ruling on the New York Board of Health's menu labeling regulation is extremely disappointing. Its flawed approach won't ultimately help consumers receive nutrition information that is useful to them," said National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney. "If this is allowed to go into effect, there could be a patchwork quilt of confusing and contradictory local regulation.

"A significant number of the largest chain restaurants in the country are already providing nutrition information in a host of different ways, and the trend is that more are offering detailed information in convenient formats every day - including brochures, posters, in-store computer kiosks and web sites.

"We are also seeing technology trends that are allowing consumers to access restaurant nutrition in new and innovative ways. The National Restaurant Association has partnered with HealthyDiningFinder.com, a search engine that allows consumers to find nutrition information from more than 55,000 restaurants across the country. And there are other products and programs that are allowing customers to access nutrition information from almost anywhere, through cell phone text messaging and other means.

"We are committed to working collaboratively with all parties to establish a uniform policy that provides consumers access to accurate and relevant information in a way that is meaningful to them."

From the NY Daily News: "A federal judge gave the city the green light on Wednesday to force fast-food chains to list calorie counts for items on menu boards - a change many New Yorkers welcomed.

'The more information the better,' said Barbara Kadish, 60, a retired teacher from Tudor City, Manhattan.

Carol Dawson, 58, of Flushing, Queens called the plan 'an excellent idea.' Too often, she said, she orders by 'the picture and my appetite. But this will raise my awareness.'

The Health Department has battled harsh resistance from fast-food favorites since it ordered them to post a menu item's calories alongside its price on bright menu boards.

The Health Department estimates the regulation will prevent at least 150,000 New Yorkers from becoming obese and 30,000 of them from developing diabetes in the next five years.

The policy is set to go into effect on April 22 but enforcement of fines won't begin until June 4.

"It doesn't hurt anyone to add the calorie information," said Joe Bermudez, 64, a retired economist who is borderline diabetic. "I have to be careful about what I eat."