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Distracted Dining: Calorie counting is a new Ontario thing

In this D&D, Nancy reviews the new Ontario Healthy Menu Choices Act (but reminds us that 'cheat' days are okay)
Distracted Dining with Nancy Revie

It’s happened. Legislated calorie counting has gone province wide. On January 1, 2017, The Ontario Healthy Menu Choices Act came into effect.

What does this mean for us average diners? Simply stated, eating establishments covered by this legislation are required to provide customers with specific calorie information. Happy New Year!

How in the heck did this happen? My conspiracy theory is this is all a creative marketing ploy by the weight watcher-type organizations in partnership with fitness gyms of Ontario. They’ve joined forces in a secret plot to entice us to spend money to seek assistance in developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Look around. Everyone’s in on it.

After researching the foundations of this act, I discovered ‘the act’ received Royal Assent way back in May 2015 and was supported by all three political parties in Ontario. Apparently, some discussion of promoting healthy lifestyle was involved.

The Act is aimed at helping families make more informed choices about what they’re putting in their mouths. Ultimately the hope is the act will prevent skyrocketing obesity rates and the estimated $4.5 billion the health-care system spends annually in this area. You knew there had to be an underlying reason right? Who in their right mind would think - hey - let’s make everyone count up and post all the calories in everything their potential consumer may buy from them. What a great idea! Who wouldn’t want to do this? It’s a win; win . . . hold a second!

First of all, I am blown away by families constantly dining out in the first place. How is this possible?

On average, a family spends $225 a month eating away from home in a variety of ways. That’s $2700 annually and it is predicted food costs will rise 3-5% in 2017, but I digress. Topic for another column.  Fact is, families are out and about picking up a quick snack; dinners out; coffees on the run.

Why? Because it’s convenient. The only way to make this quick and convenient in 2017 is to completely ignore the calorie count postings. There is no way you’re getting away from anywhere fast if you gotta read all those calories. So, not sure how this new Act is going to change the average family eating habits, when a convenient, quick in and out is the priority. It takes long enough for kids to decide what they’re going to eat without looking at the calories. You know if this if you’ve ever stood in line behind a family at a fast food joint.

So, what’s the new Ontario Healthy Menu Choices Act all about? Here’s a brief overview for you:

- Who must post calories? All food-service chains with 20 or more locations in Ontario, including food-service and cafeterias open to the public.

- Where you’ll see calories posted? Tons of places including fast-food restaurants; restaurants; coffee shops; bakeries; grocery stores; and movie theatres to name a few.

- Where will the number of calories appear? On menus; menu boards; tags or labels when food and drinks are on display; signs on the buffet table, and on and on.

Those are the coles notes of The Act which is in itself is quite extensive and includes details in all areas.

Once all the analytical, distracting, disturbing, unmotivating detail around the actual food served is posted, businesses must also post one of the following statements on their menus about daily calorie needs. Adults and youth (ages 13 and older) need an average of 2,000 calories a day, and children (ages 4 to 12) need an average of 1,500 calories a day. However, individual needs vary. OR The average adult requires approximately 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day. However, individual calorie needs may vary.

Vague statements at best and if I’m out at a restaurant looking to indulge I am certain I am one of the individual whose daily caloric needs have just increased. How else can I order the 1,862 calorie dessert that’s beckoning me? If you have had the pleasure of dining out in 2017, you may have been distracted by the calorie counts that are indeed on all the menus. It took us so long to order last time we were out as we actually took the time — and tons of it — to read all about the calories we were about to consume. It was kind of depressing.

Being the eternal optimist, I am trying really hard to find the good news in the scenario. So far, I’m excited to know I can order mashed potatoes instead of fries and be ahead (or behind) in the calorie counting dance of the sugar plum fatties — er — fairies. Yes we need calories and yes, it’s important to know what you’re putting in your mouth. It just feels kind of invasive and big brotherish to have government step in to help us in this process.

If I want to know how many calories I’m eating, and I do, I will make the effort to find out and ensure I’m eating a healthy diet. If I want to indulge, I’d like to without the numerical reminders of how bad this is for me.

Posting calories feels like it’s kind of talking to the converted.

For those who chose to live an unhealthy lifestyle, it will be interesting to see if all this time, effort and expense actually makes a difference in their lives. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I still encourage you to go out and dine.

Despite the distracting calorie counts, dining out is a beautiful thing. Try and get past the numbers. Even weight-loss programs let you have cheat days.

There’s always tomorrow’s calorie count to get you back into a healthy lifestyle.

Nancy Revie is a Guelph author, motivational speaker, fitness instructor and entertainer. Visit Nancy at​​. Her column appears every other week.