No law in California requires restaurants to limit entree selections to 500 calories (compared to the average recommended adult intake of 2,000 a day) or fewer. However, new menu labeling laws requiring chain restaurants to reveal calorie counts for regular menu items is effecting major changes in some restaurant chains, especially at Romano's Macaroni Grill.

With more than 20 outlets, Romano's Macaroni Grill falls under the California law. The law's first phase went into effect July 1, requiring that chains offer brochures with counts of calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium for all standard menu items. At sit-down restaurants like the Italian casual chain, the information must be on the table, in a brochure or menu insert, or on a table tent.
So the Romano's menu is undergoing a re-thinking under the direction of CEO Brad Blum, who tastes and evaluates every dish. He says the changes are not just about calories or the reaction of diet-conscious consumers to salads formulated with enough calories to feed a small village. No, it's about quality and taste.


But evidently quality and taste are slimming, as the Scallops and Spinach Salad is now a bitsy 390 calories. He also changed the chain's Mozzarella Alla Caprese Salad to use vine-ripened tomatoes instead of "high quality tomatoes." (*cough* euphemism!! *cough*) (and: umm... if they were already high quality...) Somehow, that decreased the calorie count by 110 smackers.

And Blum's restaurant chain isn't the only one suddenly interested in the health profile of its dishes. Another big chain synonymous with blowing one's diet picked June to unveil its "Better for You" menu. Can you guess? It's Denny's. (I know. Really?) Among the revamps: more options for the Grand Slam, including egg whites instead of the whole shebang, turkey bacon instead of the real kind, and whole wheat pancakes instead of white-white-white.
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Fake Foods Abound!
No law in California requires restaurants to limit entree selections to 500 calories (compared to the average recommended adult intake of 2,000 a day) or fewer. However, new menu labeling laws require chain restaurants to reveal calorie counts for regular menu items. Perhaps new laws call for new (fake) food. Click through this gallery to find out more.
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Jupiter Images


This do-gooding doesn't spread to menu items like its kids' Chocolate Chip-In Pancakes (450 calories, 18 grams of fat) or Oreo Blender Blaster (680 calories, 33 grams of fat), or any item from its Rock Star menu (averaging over 1,000 calories and about 60-some grams of fat. Evidently rock stars don't really count calories anyway).

I predict other restaurants will soon follow suit as customers stop ordering former faves when they come face-to-face with the startling nutrition content of dishes like salads (hello Cheesecake Factory and a 860-calorie Caesar Salad) and appetizers (if you get the Parmesan-Peppercorn dipping sauce with Olive Garden's calamari, that's 1,190 calories, thank you very much).

California: like always, you're ahead of your time. And soon, you'll bring about yet another, healthier take on the concept of "California Cuisine."

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