Menu labelling means providing nutrition information on the menu or menu board in restaurants and foodservice establishments.

Why Menu Labelling?

It is common to underestimate the amount of calories and sodium in restaurant meals. You may be surprised at the levels of calories and sodium in some dishes that seem “healthy.” Calorie and sodium levels vary widely from restaurant to restaurant and there’s no way to know what you’re getting unless you have nutrition information.

Many restaurant chains already provide nutrition information to customers who ask for it. This is a good first step but very few people ask to see nutrition information.

A University of Toronto study on sodium and calories at popular chain restaurants in Canada showed the following results:

Restaurant 1

Salad, the healthier choice

470 calories
570 mg of sodium

vs Hamburger, the less healthier choice

700 calories
1050 mg of sodium

Restaurant 2

Salad with a red X through it

500 calories
1700 mg of sodium

vs Hamburger, the healthier choice

538 calories
938 mg of sodium

 

The amount of calories and sodium varies widely from restaurant to restaurant because:

  • Portion sizes are different
  • Ingredients are different
  • Side dishes are different

 

These examples show that restaurant dishes that seem similar can have very different nutritional profiles.

Plate of spaghetti and meat sauce

Spaghetti Bolognese (meat sauce)
730 calories
1042 mg of sodium

vs Plate of spaghetti and meat balls

Spaghetti and Meat Balls
1730 calories
2750 mg of sodium

A single serving of chicken taco

Chicken Tacos appetizer
560 calories
900 mg of sodium

vs Large plate of nachos

Nachos appetizer
2060 calories
7060 mg of sodium

Menu labelling promotes food transparency and healthier eating environments. Menu labelling has been recommended by many experts, health organizations and health advocates including:

  • The Institute of Medicine
  • The Ontario Medical Association
  • Cancer Care Ontario, Public Health Ontario
  • Health Canada’s Sodium Reduction Working Group
  • Ontario’s Healthy Kids Panel
  • Centre for Science in the Public Interest
  • Fitness Industry Council of Canada

Savvy Diner Campaign

Toronto Public Health is spreading the word on the importance of having clear, readily available nutrition information on restaurant menus and helping consumers to understand how to make healthier restaurant selections. Check out our Savvy Diner website and blog to join the conversation and Like us on Facebook.

 

Partnering with Restaurants

We conducted a pilot project with small, independent restaurants in Toronto. Public Health Dietitians supported restaurant owner/operators to analyze their menus in order to provide clear nutrition information to their customers, right on the menu. Based on the pilot project findings, we are considering new initiatives to support this part of the restaurant industry. Stay tuned for new information on our website.

If you are a restaurant owner/operator in Toronto and want to get involved with Savvy Diner inititiatives, email savvydiner@toronto.ca.

Advocacy

We have been a strong voice promoting legislation to make menu labelling a requirement for larger chain restaurants.

For more information, see:

 

Does nutrition and calorie information on menus influence food choices?

Canadian Cancer Society video on menu labeling and whether nutrition and calorie information on menus influence food choices.