How Accurate Are Restaurant Calorie Counts?

This article caught my eye because anytime I got out for dinner I do some planning ahead of time. Now I always know what I want to eat before I want in the door of a restaurant because I want to know how many calories are in the foods I am eating. I go to the restaurants website before leaving the house for the calorie count. After reading this article it makes me wonder hum… keep reading! Great article!

By Lisa Collier Cool
Americans are eating out more than ever before, but can we trust the calorie counts on restaurant menus? A new study published July 19 in Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, since 40 percent of the foods analyzed had more calories than stated on the menu. 19 percent of the time, the count was off by 100 or more calories, with one belly-busting side dish that contained upwards of 1,000 more calories than claimed on the menu.
While many eateries do have trustworthy calorie counts, the US Department of Agriculture-funded study reported that the surprising rate of undercounts, especially for fattening foods, were hardly likely to be random error and could derail efforts to lose weight.  The researchers tested 269 randomly selected foods purchased at 42 restaurants in three states. Here’s the skinny on the study:

Which restaurants were studied? The researchers tested takeout meals from quick-serve and sit-down eateries within 25 miles of Boston, Massachussetts, Little Rock, Arkansas, and 65 miles of Lafayette, Indiana. All were part of restaurant chains that ranked in the top 400 nationally for sales dollars in 2008 and provided nutritional information on their website. In each region, foods from seven quick-serve and seven sit-down restaurants were analyzed.

Which foods should you watch out for at sit-down restaurants? According to the study, main courses that seem to be better choices for those watching their weight (entrees purporting to have fewer than 600 calories per serving) “systematically contained more energy than stated,” thus impeding efforts to slim down amid a growing obesity epidemic. Sit-down restaurants tended to overstate the number of calories in main courses with more than 600 calories, the researchers found.
Which fast foods are most likely to contain hidden calories? Beware of misleading calorie counts on side dishes at quick-serve restaurants, since the actual calorie counts “were significantly higher than stated,” the researchers reported. The worst offenders were high-carb foods and dressed salads, both of which were much more likely to have incorrect counts that understated calories, compared to sandwiches.
How inaccurate are restaurant calorie counts overall? 60 percent of restaurant counts matched the researchers’ analysis. 40 percent were higher than the stated number by 10 or more calories, but only 19 percent were off by 100 or more calories, indicating that 81 percent of foods tested either had the right count or one that was within 99 calories of the actual count, which is reasonably accurate. However, 10 percent of foods tested averaged 289 calories higher than the number claimed by the restaurant. Bottom line: there is a 1 in 10 chance that your meal may be more fattening than the menu leads you to believe and a 1 in 5 chance that it harbors at least a few hidden calories.

How do restaurant calorie counts stack up to supermarket food labels?

Currently, there are no federal standards to mandate acceptable levels of accuracy for calorie counts in restaurant-purchased foods, while packaged-food regulations require that the measured energy content in a random sample of 12 units must average no more than 120 percent of the stated calorie count on the label.
Which foods were checked in the study? In sit-down restaurants, only entrees and side dishes were analyzed, including pizza, sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, omelets, ethnic dishes, soups, and meat or fish-based entrees, while all menu items from quick-serve eateries were included, except beverages, self-serve buffets, and kids’ meals. In each case, a serving was deemed the entire amount served, except for pizza, for which a portion was deemed the number of slices defined as a serving by the restaurant.
How were the foods tested? One serving of each food was ordered for takeout, then was analyzed with a bomb calorimetry technique that measures the heat of combustion of freeze-dried foods to determine the energy content.  This method is considered extremely accurate. For the 10 percent of foods that had the greatest discrepancies with the restaurant’s calorie count, another serving was purchased and analyzed, usually with similar results.
Why is the research important? Studies show a strong link between eating out frequently and increased risk for obesity. Misleading calorie counts may compound the problem, since nearly half of Americans consume at least three restaurant meals per week, and 12 percent eat out more than seven times a week. New legislation will soon require many restaurants to provide calorie data. Your best defenses against inaccurate counts are selecting items that don’t contain gravy or dressing, choosing baked or grilled foods over fried, opting for more vegetables and less meat, and eating only half of the food on your plate, since restaurant portions tend to be large.


7 Secrets About Store Brands

I found this article practically appealing because I am kind of a cheapo! I can’t help it! There are so many things in this world I would like to have and so many things I would rather spend money on than food! I love buying store brand products if they are good products. I am willing to give them one shot (for the most part) if they are a hit I will keep buying them. Don’t get me wrong there are some things I don’t compromise on unless I can get it for free, but I am pretty adaptable. Read on… Great article!

By Laura Heller,
Store brands—those generic labels we often equate with bargain quality—are among the fastest growing and most popular items for sale today. They provide more choices, help us save money and have come a long way from the bottom-shelf, hokey-labeled products from decades past. But not all store brands are created equal. You may be surprised to learn that an in-house brand isn’t always what it seems.

A typical generic product (also called “private label”) yields a higher profit for the store, even when it sells for a lot less than the similar national brand. That’s because there are no marketing or advertising costs involved and why companies invest a good amount of money in creating private labels. Name-brand consumers pay for those Superbowl ads in the form of higher per item prices.
“Private label provides value and it’s higher margin,” says Natalie Berg, Global Research Director at Planet Retail, a retail intelligence agency in London. “In a down economy, it really ticks two boxes—boosts the bottom line and drives loyalty.”
It’s a common misconception that private label products are just the better known brand with a different coat of paint. Not true. There are dozens of small companies dedicated solely to developing store brands and they work directly with the retailer to develop the item, label and price points. Even when an item is made by a large well-known brand, it’s not exactly the same. If a big brand like Heinz or Hunts decided to sell private label, it will make soup or pasta sauce, not ketchup. Companies want to expand their business, not destroy the existing one.
Perhaps most surprising is the number of house brands in the market that we don’t even know are private label. Take White Cloud, for example. Once a widely available national brand of toilet paper, White Cloud is now sold exclusively at Walmart stores. Rock & Republic, a premium denim line available at luxury retailers likeNeiman Marcus, will soon be a store brand (as of Spring 2012, it will be sold exclusively at Kohl’s).
The bottom line is that store brands will save you money. A recent study from the Private Label Manufacturers Association found that consumers save an average of 33 percent on the total grocery bill by buying store brands. While most of us don’t exclusively buy private label products, increasing the number of store brands in our shopping basket will have a noticeable impact at the cash register. 
Not Just A Cheap Alternative
Store brands are not only the value option, they can be premium and specialty items. Private label organic options and ethnic foods are among the fastest growing product categories, representing value and high quality while offering something unique to the store.
Designer Private Labels
Those “exclusive partnerships” between a famous designer and retail chain are actually new store brands. Simply Vera by Vera Wang at Kohl’s andMichael Graves kitchen accessories at Target are manufactured for, and sold exclusively at those stores.

Rising Above

Sometimes store brands transcend their limited availability and become national brands. Martha Stewart once had products only available at Kmart, but today sells a variety of lines at multiple retail outlets including her own web site. SearsCraftsman tools, Die Hard batteries and Kenmore appliances are store brands with arguably more cache and shopper loyalty than the store that started them. Store brands from Safeway like O Organics and the Eating Right labels are sold at other supermarkets, mostly in markets where Safeway doesn’t have stores.

Inspiring Loyalty

Many shoppers express devotion to store brands above all others. Costco, Trader Joe’s and Aldi, carry a higher proportion of store brands than other chains. And this is exactly why shoppers keep coming back.

Store Brand Camouflage

Using fancy packaging and strategic titling, retailers sometimes make it difficult to spot the store brand. Look at the label to see who the item is distributed by or for. Often the item will have the store’s name or headquarters location–like Target’s in Minneapolis.

Size Doesn’t Matter

It’s not just the big retail chains that carry store brands. All retailers have access to private label options and make sure to stock items in popular categories to remain competitive. Even online retailers are getting into the act. Amazon has the AmazonBasics line of consumer electronics, Denali tools and Pike Street bath and home products.

Inferiority Complex

Store brands aren’t always just junk imported from China. Experts note that most food products are likely sourced domestically while all non-food items come from the same places, regardless of brand. All are subject to federal guidelines and safety standards.


Why You’re Overpaying at the Dollar Store

I like to occasionally go to one of our many dollar stores around town. I learned a long time ago that you can find some really great deals! But, you must watch what you are buying. In many cases the items are smaller than the items you will find in a regular store even though the items may have the same brand name, it may be closer to its expiration date, or even and item you could find in a regular store for less than 1 dollar. Read on this is a great article and great food for thought!

By Kelli B. Grant 
With frozen dinners, party balloons, shampoo and more priced at $1, the dollar store can seem like a great place for bargains. But that’s not quite true — and savvy shoppers are catching on.
Cash-strapped consumers have flocked to dollar stores — many of which defy their names by selling higher-priced items — since the recession hit, but now those stores are starting to see a slowdown, reports The Wall Street Journal. Several of the big chains said in quarterly earnings reports that they failed to meet expectations because customers are buying more low-profit items like food and cleaning supplies, and fewer high-profit ones such as clothes and home goods.
But coupon experts suspect at least part of the shift can be explained by the so-called “extreme couponing” trend that teaches shoppers to stack stores sales, coupons and other discounts to pay just pennies on the dollar for their purchases. “People are getting smarter,” says Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game. “Sales with coupons will almost always beat prices at dollar stores.” A shopper could get a 12-count box of Nature’s Valley granola bars for $0.79 at the grocery store with a sale and coupon, for example. On a per-bar cost, that’s 80% less than the dollar store price of $1 for a pack of four.
Beauty and healthcare products are an equally bad deal, says Stephanie Nelson, the founder “I would never pay $1 for toothpaste,” she says. “You can get it for free at the drugstore with coupons.” Vitamins, razors and shampoo are other items easily snapped up free. There may also be quality concerns with such dollar store items, which may have been manufactured abroad or purchased from overstock lots that were stored improperly, she says.
There are still a few good dollar store deals, however. If you’re throwing a party, paper plates, tablecloths and plastic utensils are typically cheaper than at the grocery store, says Mary Hunt, the founder Small toys, balloons and candy for favors are cheap, too, while gift bags, wrapping paper and greeting cards can be half the price at drugstores and stationary stores.
This article is part of a series related to being Financially Fit


*HURRY* NCP Homescan is Taking New Applicants Again!!

NCP Homescan

Have you joined the Nation Consumer Panel? I got my new scanner in the mail!! I am so exited! I joined it a few years ago, but canceled my membership because life got too crazy! I am SOOOO excited they asked me to do it again!! I should be getting my machine next week! If you haven’t signed up for it GO FOR IT! This is a great way to earn cash and prizes!!  


Vanilla Thrilla! Frappuccino Blended Coffee Drink (100 Calories) #coffee

I was having a very bad craving for Starbucks last night, but unfortunately my diet calorie count will not allow for the Starbucks drinks I love. I rarely have an extra 350 plus calories to use on a coffee drink. I started looking around the net to find a drink I could have that would give me the same effect, but without all of the calories.

I came across this Hungry Girl Recipe and I had pretty much everything I needed and only had to do a few modifications. I flipped out over this recipe because it’s less than 100 calories and something I can have as a treat whenever I want! I don’t have to feel guilty for spending all of those calories much less spending all of the money.  This is a great recipe and it’s awesome knowing that it cost me pocket change to make verses what I would have normally spent at Starbucks! Thank you Hungry Girl!!

  • 5 oz. light vanilla soymilk (I used fat free milk)
  • 3 tsp. Fat Free French Vanilla Coffee-mate powder,  dissolved in 1 oz. warm water 
  • 1 flat tsp. instant coffee 
  • 1 oz. Torani Sugar Free Vanilla Syrup
  • 3 packets Splenda (next time I will only use 2)
  • 1 cup ice; crushed 
  • 2 tbsp. Fat Free Reddi-wip (I used Cool whip free)


  1. Place all of the ingredients in blender, except for the Reddi-wip. 
  2. Blend on high speed until well blended. 
  3. Pour into a tall glass, and finish off with whipped topping. A vanilla dream!