Let’s talk about portion control

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As the weather finally gets warmer, the winter coats come off and everyone is getting more concerned about their appearance.  Though it’s a little early to worry about our ‘beach body’ which in any case has received negative press, many people do want to be looking their best.  

This leads to people reviewing their diet. We all want to cut calories or eat healthier and that may be for a multitude of reasons. While at home and cooking for ourselves, there is complete control over additional sugar and salt, as well as dietary requirements, less so when we are trusting a professional kitchen to feed us tasty, nutritious food. While eating out habits have changed, the feeling of treating yourself has not, and this can lead to over indulgence. Coupled with increasing portion sizes to fit industry trends, it may not be what we choose to eat, but how much, that is compromising our nutritional aims.

Why is it a problem?

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A combination of reasons has brought the overladen plate to the table and this is obviously not an issue in every restaurant. However, in a society that is tightening its purse strings, people are conscious about getting value for money. While a beautifully presented and balanced dish may be what a chef is proud to produce, the restaurant owner will worry that a guest feels short-changed.

The other culprit for the trend can be found across the pond. The USA has long stood by the saying that ‘bigger is better’ which inspired the documentary Supersize Me in 2004. While the enormous US portion sizes may have made their way across the Atlantic, the ‘doggy bag’ culture is yet to make the leap. Indeed North Americans may order a meal, eat a portion of the serving and take the rest home as left overs, but the Brits are still trying to clear their plates to be polite.

Is this the restaurant’s responsibility?

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The public is not unaware of health concerns, from the imminent sugar tax to Jamie Oliver’s war on school dinners. This means people know how to make healthy choices, however, though we are more educated, we are also changing our eating out habits. In recent years, the rise of fast casual dining means eating out become a regular occurrence and less of a treat. This leaves us vulnerable.

Of course, many high street chains and independent establishments are doing their utmost to make it easy for guests. This includes detailing calorie counts on menus and offering lighter alternatives to favourites, but in the same breath, they also train staff to upsell seasonal dishes or additional extras that not only impact our willpower, but also our waistlines.

We do have to bear in mind that restaurants are still businesses who aim to turn a profit. Each upsell is revenue that puts cash in the tills, however, quantity does not trump quality and nowhere is this more apparent than in the food industry.

How establishments can help

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When it comes to guaranteeing value for money, restaurants should always be lauding quality products over the amount on the plate. This is not to say a main course shouldn’t be filling, we eat to be satisfied, and it should also be a reasonable size. With people eating out every week, what once become a monthly treat is now a standard in their diet and ill effects are quadrupled.

Capped calorie sections on menus have been gaining popularity as they restrict a diner while still allowing them personal preferences. Another alternative to this is the tasting menu; by slowing down the rate at which we eat, it allows our bodies to feel full and thus naturally limit ourselves. This mimics the traditional Italian manner of eating that features many small courses over a period of hours. It allows people to adhere to their personal regimes without feeling like they are missing out.

Both restaurants and guests need to work together to measure what a reasonable portion looks like, with value placed on locally sourced or high quality ingredients as opposed to the size of the plate. Many are trying to move away from the attitude of fast food in the USA and take a European approach, smaller and better-balanced dishes will appeal to lots of guests as we move through spring and closer to summer.