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Taking the Fuss Out of Counting Calories

Menu concepts that offer meals with defined numbers of calories make healthful dining easier for customers.

At Duke University, a program called Simple 600 that debuted last spring offers customer-designed meals that all top out at 600 calories. No guesswork, no nutritional information gathering/downloading needed.

Simple 600 was developed by Duke's dining management partner Bon Appetit Management Co., which has since introduced the concept in some of its other higher education accounts like Case Western Reserve University and MIT. But the elementary concept behind Simple 600 — we count the calories so you don't have to — has appeal beyond colleges.

For example, Compass Group recently rolled out a concept called Whole + Sum for B&I and healthcare as well as college clients, offering customizable meal choices for, yes, 600 or fewer calories. The concept has already been implemented at 400-plus client sites.

Similarly, independent operator Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center developed a program called the 500 Club that identifies and tags meals that meet specific nutritional criteria, including having 500 or fewer calories.

The 500 Club operates at Gundersen's dining room at the main campus in LaCrosse, WI, as well as at a number of school districts, hospitals, colleges, restaurants and c-stores.

And at Virginia Tech University, a grab-and-go program called Yes to Go operates on the same simple general principle: all selections are 600 calories or less.

“One of the keys to creating a successful healthy eating program is making sure consumers know what's healthy,” says Jennifer Larson, RD, administrative director of nutrition therapy for Gundersen. “In our community, consumers know to look for the 500 Club stamp of approval to easily identify 500 Club selections.”

While all of these programs also limit other nutritional metrics like sodium and fat (especially saturated fat), keying the identifying number to calories helps drive consumer identification.

“Calories are the most familiar nutritional measure for most people,” says Jenny Lindsey, RD, administrative dietitian at Virginia Tech. “It's a lot easier to understand than things like fat grams or sodium content.”

Whole + Sum illustrates how such a program simplifies the meal-building process. Diners choose proteins, grains and vegetable/fruit sides from selections that are tagged with their caloric contents and measured out with specialized servingware so that a simple combination of one portion of each component totals 600 calories.

Units can choose from some 50 protein and grain dishes and about a hundred fruit/vegetable side options, depending on their customers' preferences. More selections are in the pipeline, says Deanne Brandstedder, says vice president of nutrition & wellness for Compass.

“Whole + Sum has boosted participation by as much as 90% at some stations where it replaced other concepts, and produced a check average increase of around 20%,” she adds.

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