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Give us our daily veg - for free

Date
Woman can't live on meat alone ... should vegetables come for free at restaurants?

Woman can't live on meat alone ... should vegetables come for free at restaurants?

There’s a rough guide to what healthy meals should look like that goes like this: around one quarter of the plate is taken up by lean protein like fish, poultry, meat or legumes; a starchy food like whole grains takes up another quarter of the plate; and the remaining half is filled with vegetables. It’s the opposite of those restaurant dishes starring protein in the centre of the plate plus a few rocket leaves that go nowhere to meeting a daily target of five serves of veg. Do some restaurants think we’re a bunch of fussy four-year-olds who won’t eat our greens?

“The vegetable portion of the meal is often relegated to an optional extra - for an added price - or not offered at all,” fumed a Sydney Morning Herald reader recently, annoyed at having to pay more for what she thinks should be an integral part of a meal. “The complete dining experience becomes far more expensive … the $30-35 main meal becomes a $40-45 main meal. Do restaurants have to take some accountability when it comes to the national obesity epidemic?”

"Do some restaurants think we’re a bunch of fussy four year olds who won’t eat our greens?" 

I’m not sure how much restaurants are to blame for our spreading waistlines – we can always vote with our feet and order dishes with stir-fried veg at the local Thai. But I do think restaurants that practice vegetable tokenism (like the one that gave me three lonely string beans with my main course recently) are guilty of downgrading vegetables. 

“In many restaurants vegetables aren’t the heroes on the plate they should be,” agrees Accredited Practising Dietitian Emma Stirling from Scoop Nutrition. “From a nutritionist’s point of view, it’s best to put vegetables on the plate rather than on the side because it’s a barrier for some people if they have to pay extra.”

But it’s not all bad news. Stirling knows a thing or two about restaurants – one of her jobs is educating restaurant staff about food allergies – and she senses a change in the air in favour of veg, including a rise in the use of vegetables like kale, cavallo Nero (Tuscan cabbage) and heirloom carrots.

“In defence of chefs I’d also say they don’t all fit the roly poly stereotype - there’s a lot of savvy, fit younger chefs around too. I  think that chefs and nutritionists share some common ground - we both like fresh ingredients with minimal processing,” she says.

There are also signs that nutrition science and the restaurant industry are edging closer together, she adds. Last year the Culinary Institute of America worked with the US National Institutes for Health to produce a heart healthy cookbook, while Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island is offering the first degree that qualifies graduates as both a chef and a nutritionist.

But while we wait for more restaurants to embrace bigger servings of veg, how can we make eating out healthier?

Checking the menu online before you book is a start, but it’s also smart to ask questions about how dishes are prepared, Stirling says. A restaurant might be big on showcasing veg – but  your heirloom carrots could be cooked in duck fat. A stir-fry on the menu might imply plenty of vegetables but could turn out to have three strips of carrot.

You can also boost the vegetable quota of a restaurant meal by ordering a salad as an entree and if you’re in a pub or a club, ask for a salad or steamed vegetables instead of chips – by substituting one for the other, you’re less likely to be charged extra, she says.

If eating out were a special event, a veggie-poor meal would be no big deal – after all, there’s a role for eating out as a culinary experience, says Stirling.  But if you eat out two or three times a week, vegetables are important – and the more consumers speak up and ask for them, the more restaurants will listen, she says. 

Is it fair for restaurants to charge extra for vegetables?

82 comments so far

  • Vegetables are important no doubt. They provide vitamins, minerals and energy. However this current trend of upping the RDI to 6-8 serves a day is ridiculous. Half of that is adequate.

    Similar to protein actually any amount of vegetables not needed by the body is removed. Loading up will offer no extra benefit. The body will extract what it needs and junk the rest. 3-4 serves is sufficient.

    Vegetables on their own will also nowhere near provide adequate energy requirements. Carbs and some protein are also needed.

    Commenter
    Dale
    Date and time
    June 12, 2012, 8:01PM
    • Hi Dale - can you let me know where this info for the new RDI comes from? Unless I'm missing something the new Dietary Guidelines which are still in draft form suggest 6 serves of vegetables and legumes for men and 5 ½ for women, though this increases in breastfeeding women.  Incidentally, vegetables contain carbohydrates and vegetables like sweet potatoes, potatoes and peas are rich sources of carbs.  Legumes like beans and lentils contain both carbs and protein.

      Commenter
      Paula
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 10:04AM
    • @Paula you are correct. The new RDIs are 6 serves increasing for pregnant women and 8-9 when combined with fruit.

      I don't dispute what you are saying vegies are very good. Yet your body will extract what it needs. And if you are relying on vegies solely for carbs there are better sources out there.

      Commenter
      Dale
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 10:19AM
    • Nonsense Dale!! We don't need meat for our health! Restaurants trade on food porn and meat is central to this. They strive to stimulate the taste buds of the diner with exotic and forbidden delights regardless of the health implications. Indeed the preparation of restaurant food usually goes on behind closed doors so the diner doesn't know what is put into their meals. In addition restaurants and cafes charging extra for soy is outrageous!!

      Commenter
      Dr
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 1:05PM
    • Dr, where exactly does Dale say we "need meat"? You appear to be criticising the post for something that was not said...

      Commenter
      ptain
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 1:39PM
    • Veggies are also high in fibre, and the more of that you get, the better.

      Of course you need carbs, fat and protein too, but not in excess.

      Commenter
      Jen M
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 6:17PM
  • Of course a decent portion of vegetables with your main meal should included in the price.
    I will never forget a few years ago whilst in NZ I paid $18 for a plate of 'spring vegetables'. It was brought to our table and was actually 10 small pieces of bok choy. That was it. I was imagining a big plate with lots of lovely vegetables on it...oh well.

    Commenter
    Siobhan
    Location
    NSW
    Date and time
    June 13, 2012, 7:57AM
    • I was once out for a Sunday meal (for a friends birthday) and low and behold, roast potatoes had to be ordered as a 'side' on the restaurants' 'Sunday Roast special'. Roast potatoes.. for a roast meal.... I told the manager how absurd and greedy that was and ordered a pizza. As a growing trend, it really annoys me how vegetables are now sides and I generally try to avoid ordering them. It frustrates me how waiters basically add them to your order as a recomendation, especially when in large groups. The sad fact is within 5 years it will be the complete standard.

      Commenter
      Al
      Location
      Souf Yarra
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 12:25PM
    • We heard recently from an insider of the industry that their margins are typically 5% or less, and they're constantly looking for new ways to try to increase that. With this sort of cutthroat industry, sure, vegetables would be included in the price, and the price would go up. Just a reality, I guess.

      Commenter
      David
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 12:44PM
  • Three things.
    Two lines in your final paragraph demolish your argument. "But if you eat out two or three times a week...." If you can afford to eat out two or three times a week then you can afford to, pay extra for vegetables, or make up the vegetable short fall in your other meals. For the vast majority of us it is a special occasion and we can skip the food pyramid for one night.

    Where I work the plate of vegetables and potatoes is not billed though the cost would be included in the price setting equation for the courses. I note too that on many occasions not all of the veges are consumed, and a request for extra veges is rare which says plenty about what the punters actually want.

    All of us having been nagged continually and contradictorily about diet over the last 40 years only the chattering classes are listening anymore. Red meat was bad for you, then it was good for you, potatoes and pasta were bad then good then bad again. Butter bad butter good, margarine good margarine bad. Baa baa baa baa baa.

    Commenter
    Uncle Quentin
    Date and time
    June 13, 2012, 10:09AM

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