When you head out for a delicious Sunday roast at one of the area’s many rotisseries, do you think about the calorie content of your meal? Large companies with more than 250 employees are now required to display calorie information for food and non-alcoholic beverages in a bid to tackle the country’s obesity epidemic.
The new regulations implemented by the government aim to show people the truth about what they eat to make it ‘as easy as possible for people to make healthier food choices’. But there’s the argument that displaying calories on menus is a ‘disaster’ for people recovering from eating disorders, as it could leave them feeling ‘guilt and shame’ over of the food they eat.
Under the new rules, calorie information will have to be displayed at the customer’s point of choice, such as physical menus, online menus, food delivery platforms and food labels. But some restaurants offer calorie-free menus at the request of a customer, reports Stoke-on-Trent live.
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But does displaying calorie information on a menu make a difference to the choices of an average punter who just wants to enjoy honest, honest meat? Our reporter went to Toby Carvery Festival Park – still known to most Stokies as China Gardens – to see what impact it would have on my picks – and how easy it would be to tally up the total when it wasn’t. is not a fixed portion meal.
I have to admit up front that I’m not a minced meat lover. I can’t remember ever having eaten at a Toby Carvery before, although I’m sure I can’t have spent 43 years on the planet without having done so.
But I’ve read enough reviews and I know from reputation what to expect, so when I get this lunchtime assignment, I already know I won’t need dinner that night. Getting stuffed at a rotisserie might not be mandatory, but somehow it’s hard to avoid piling up your plate when faced with the array of options. .
The restaurant is in a lovely location near the Festival Park marina, and after entering my car registration on the screen near the entrance to avoid a parking fine, I was shown to my table by the window overlooking a tranquil scene of narrow boats, ducks, geese and even a heron.
Most of the tables were already occupied when I arrived at 12:15pm, with groups of friends and families of all ages happily enjoying their lunches. It seemed like most people had opted for the carvery – and I guess they didn’t pay too much attention to the calorie count on the menu.
It was a Tuesday so the mid week set menu was available which offered two courses for £9.49 or three for £11.49. The cutout alone would have been £7.49 – compared to £8.29 on Saturdays or £11.49 on Sundays and bank holidays.
I opted for the two-course set menu of a full-size rotisserie with a pudding and a refillable Pepsi – and lots of sugar. If I had chosen a starter instead of dessert, I would have chosen the cheesy mushrooms with garlic bread at 375 calories.
This is probably a good time to share that I probably wasn’t the best person to send to see if printing calories on a menu makes you change your choices. I’m not really sensitive to peer pressure – what this government harassment sounds like – and like my husband always says, I just do what I want anyway.
So the challenge was more to see how many calories I end up consuming when choosing what I want, because the nanny’s voice telling me to “make healthier food choices” doesn’t really tell me. I know what healthy options are – and frankly, I don’t particularly want to choose them when I go out for a meal as a lunchtime treat.
Turns out I was in shock after all.
As Toby Carvery’s virgin, I had to ask my waitress what to do, and she directed me to the “deck” where the feast awaited. For the sake of research, I had all four meats available – turkey, pork, beef and gammon.
The menu tells me that a full serving of turkey has 436 calories, beef 446, ham 618, and pork 798 calories per serving. Because I had a piece of each, for my calculations I’ll use the 611 calories which the menu says is based on “average guest service preference.”
And therein lies the problem with calculating the number of calories in a cut meat – everyone’s plate will be different. The meat calories are printed on the menu but I didn’t see anything for the vegetable selection so I picked blindly based on what I wanted. I later found out there was a QR code on the menu which took me to a page where I could find the calories per serving for whatever was on offer.
So I chose: a really huge Yorkshire pudding (99 calories), beef gravy potatoes (232 calories), peas (76 calories), sage and onion stuffing (367 calories), onions in sauce (73 calories), green beans (25 calories) and the main course, the macaroni and cheese (110 calories per serving).
I’m not going to get into the debate of whether this belongs in a roast dinner because I love macaroni and cheese (or, as the website says, macaroni and cheese) and that’s it. But how big is a “portion”? I’m willing to bet what I put on my plate was bigger than a serving. But I only had two potatoes, so I’ll call it self.
Moving on to the sauces section and here there was a little sign showing the sauce calories per ladle and the sauces per spoonful. I added a ladle of sauce (23 calories), a spoonful of whole mustard (39 calories) and a spoonful of horseradish sauce (37 calories).
Adding up as I write this story, I’m actually somewhat surprised to find that this plate of food had 1,692 calories – when the recommended daily allowance for a woman is 2,000 calories. It was delicious and I don’t regret my choices – but would I choose the same again? I don’t eat like this every day, so I probably would – but it’s still a sobering thought.
And of course, I had opted for the two-course set menu, so there was one dessert to come. By this point, I was already so hot that I had to take off my cardigan – but whether that was due to the sun streaming through the windows or the amount of calories I was consuming, I couldn’t tell.
Puddings for the set menu were dairy ice cream with a flake and strawberry, chocolate, caramel or lemon sauce (208 calories), chocolate brownie (467 calories) with whipped cream (148 calories) or ice cream (112 calories) or the seasonal sponge or seasonal crumble, which the menu said I should ask my server for choice and calorie information.
I asked my very helpful server, Nikki, about the seasonal crumble and she went to get the information. It was an apple, plum and plum crumble that contained 527 calories and another 120 for the pastry cream. That was 647 extra calories on top of my main course, pushing me above the recommended daily intake level of 2,339 calories.
It was full of fruit and very tasty, but I only used half the generous jug of custard. Maybe that quiet little voice urging me to make better choices had an effect after all.
And on top of all that food, I couldn’t figure out how many calories were in my Pepsi – but it could easily be another couple hundred. Luckily, I was already so full that I didn’t fill it up – but that definitely tipped me over the 2,500 calorie mark.
Reading this now, as I type these words in black and white on the screen in front of me, shocks me a bit. Not so much because of the health impact of the high-calorie, gluttonous meal that I easily pack away at once – I don’t eat like this every day after all – but because I know there are so many people who are hungry.
I feel somewhat disgusted that it was so easy to consume so much food completely unnecessarily when so many families in the city cannot feed their children and are dependent on food banks. If I was supposed to feel guilty after seeing the calories on the menu, the government’s idea worked.
But the guilt I feel is not so much about my waistline as it is about the inequalities so prevalent in society. I didn’t expect a simple lunch at work one day to cause a crisis of conscience, but I’m going to donate to a food bank this weekend and remind myself that I’m lucky to have more than I need.
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