Calorie labeling on restaurant menus and vending machines can help you make informed and healthful decisions about meals and snacks.
In today’s busy world, Americans are eating and drinking about one-third of their calories away from home. Although consumers can find calories and other nutrition information on the Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods and beverages they buy in stores, this type of labeling is generally not available in restaurants or visible on food from vending machines.
That’s why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) new regulations requiring calorie information on restaurant menus and menu boards and on vending machines will be especially helpful for consumers.
What You’ll See
Some states, localities, and large restaurant chains were already doing their own forms of menu labeling, but this information was not consistent across the areas where it was implemented.
Calorie information will now be required on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants (and other places selling restaurant-type food) and on certain vending machines. This new calorie labeling will be consistent nationwide and will provide easy-to-understand nutrition information in a direct and accessible manner.
FDA is currently developing guidance on menu labeling to facilitate compliance. We’ll keep you posted! For more information, see FDA’s statement on Menu Labeling Enforcement.
Where You’ll Find It
Calorie labeling is required for restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain of 20 or more locations.
For standard menu items, calories will be listed clearly and prominently on menus and menu boards, next to the name or price of the food or beverage. For self-service foods, such as served from buffets and salad bars, calories will be shown on signs that are near the foods. Calories are not required to be listed for condiments, daily specials, custom orders, or temporary/seasonal menu items.
On Vending Machines:
Calorie labeling is required for vending machine operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines.
Calories will be shown on a sign (such as on a small placard, sticker, or poster) or on electronic or digital displays near the food item or selection button on vending machines and “bulk” vending machines (for example, gumball machines and mixed nut machines), unless calories are already visible on the actual food packages before purchase.
Did You Know?
In addition to calorie information, restaurants are also required to provide written nutrition information on their menu items, including total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, and protein. You may see this information on posters, tray liners, signs, counter cards, handouts, booklets, computers, or kiosks. So, when eating out, don’t hesitate to ask for nutrition information!
Calories on the Menu: A Closer look
Calorie Information: Check the Menu!
It Will Be On …
It Won’t Be On …
Understanding Multiple Options
For menu items that are offered in different flavors or varieties (such as ice cream or doughnuts), here’s how calories will be listed:
- If there are two choices available (for example, vanilla and chocolate ice cream), both calorie amounts will be listed and separated by a slash (such as 150/300 calories).
- If there are more than two choices (for example, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream), the different calorie amounts will be presented in a range (such as 150-300 calories).
For combination meals, which have more than one food item, here’s how calories will be listed:
- If there are two choices available (for example, a sandwich with chips or a side salad), both calorie amounts will be listed and separated by a slash (such as 350/450 calories).
- If there are three or more choices (for example, a sandwich with chips, a side salad, or fruit), the calories will be presented in a range (such as 450-700 calories).
Putting Calories “In Context”
To help consumers better understand the new calorie listings in the context of a total daily diet, FDA is also requiring restaurants to include a statement on menus and menu boards reminding consumers that “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”
For menus and menu boards targeted to children, FDA is also permitting the statement "1,200 to 1,400 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice for children ages 4 to 8 years and 1,400 to 2,000 calories a day for children ages 9 to 13 years, but calorie needs vary."
As you may know, the Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods and beverages uses 2,000 calories as a reference amount for some daily values. However, not everyone should consume 2,000 calories per day. In fact, your calorie needs may be higher or lower and will depend on your age, gender, and physical activity level. To determine your personal calorie needs, visit www.choosemyplate.gov.
Why Are Calories Important?
Calories are important in managing your weight. Whether you are trying to lose, gain, or maintain weight, the key is to balance the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses (“burns”). Consuming too many calories can contribute to a variety of health issues, such as obesity and chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Follow this simple tip to size up calories when comparing and choosing individual menu and vending machine items:
- 100 calories per serving is MODERATE
- 400 calories per serving is HIGH
Calorie Conscious? Tips For Using the New Information
- Know your calorie needs. Visit www.choosemyplate.gov to determine your personal daily calorie limit.
- Compare foods. Check posted calorie counts or check calorie counts online before you eat at a restaurant and choose lower calorie options.
- Choose smaller portions. When possible, pick a smaller portion size, such as a small French fries instead of a large, or an appetizer instead of a full-sized entrée.
- Manage larger portions. Split an entrée with a dinner companion or take home part of your meal.
- Limit add-ons. Ask for syrups, dressings, and sauces to be served “on the side,” then use less.
- Choose healthy options. Pick dishes that include more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limit foods described with words like creamy, fried, breaded, battered, or buttered (these are typically higher in calories).
- Watch beverages. Whenever possible, choose water, fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk, 100% fruit juice, or unsweetened tea or coffee instead of sugar-sweetened beverages such as regular soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and fruit drinks.