“If they continue to buy bigger burgers and demonstrate that that’s what they want by virtue of what they buy, then that’s what we’ll continue to offer,” he says. “If tastes change and people gravitate toward the smaller burgers, then we’ll meet that demand. But the consumer tells us what to sell. We don’t make what we want to sell; we sell what people like to buy.”
Although quick serves and nutritionists approach the issue of portion size from different angles, today’s debate is more focused on compromise than placing blame. For example, the USDA’s Post says, portion size wouldn’t be as big of an issue if the large portion size offered more nutritional benefits.
“If it’s a very lean cut of meat or perhaps it’s very lean ground turkey or ground beef to make the product, the portion size may not make much of a difference, because it’s more protein than added sugars or solid fats,” he says.
Post also says portions of healthier menu items like fruits and vegetables should be increased on menuboards.
“Consumers would benefit from knowing they should make half of their plates fruits and vegetables,” he says. “If you do that, you do come at a different direction in dealing with portion size.”
One major factor likely to encourage quick serves to move closer to USDA-suggested portion sizes is the menu-labeling mandate rolling out this year. With restaurants now required to be transparent with their calorie counts, experts agree that smaller portion sizes may be a good way to relieve some of the potential sticker shock.
“The calories on the menu that are right in your face, that’s going to cause people to make different decisions,” Hurley says. “If they see that a child-sized smoothie has 200 calories and the adult size has 500, I think that will make some different decisions right there.”
Hurley also says restaurants will follow the lead of chains like Panera Bread, which allows customers to order half-sized versions of sandwiches and salads.
“You’re sitting there looking at your ham-and-cheese, full-size sandwich with 700 calories or your half-size sandwich with 350, and it’s up to the person what size they want,” she says. “If they’re watching their calories, they’re probably not going to go with the sandwich that has a third of a day’s calories in it before you add a drink or eat dinner.”
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