Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How Chefs think about Size - Portion Size that is (another b2d nugget)

ResearchBlogging.org "Despite the focus on the increase in portion sizes and the possible role in the development of obesity, little is known about how portion sizes are determined in restaurants." This is how an intriguing discussion of Chefs and their restaurant food size practices begins. The study aslo notes that eating out has gone up from 2.3x's a week in 1981 to 5 times in 2000. Within that period we know that standard dinner plates have gone from 10 to 12 inch plates.  So what do chefs - the folks in the restaurant it turns out who set portion size - think of as "regular" sizes?

Interestingly, chefs over 51 (trained in the smaller portion size era of the 70's) serve smaller sizes than younger chefs raised in the bigger portion period in which we find our super sized selves.

If you think that Chefs are in the know about nutrition when it comes to food prep, this may be a leap of faith. The authors write:
An unexpected finding of this study was that chefs who reported that calorie content was an important factor when determining portion size reported serving a smaller portion of a vegetable side-dish, such as steamed broccoli, compared with chefs who did not identify calorie content as being important. This suggests that chefs do not understand that such vegetables are low in energy density and can help customers moderate energy intake.
So, as we saw in the last b2d post about energy density rather than portion size being a big factor in successful weight management AND meal satisfaction, there's a huge whack of chefs who are failing on both energy density and portion size.

Figure Above: When chefs were asked to describe their perceptions of the average portion size of foods served in their establishments (Figure 1), the majority (76% ) reported serving "regular" portions, and <20% reported serving "large" or "extra-large" portions. When respondents were asked to estimate the typical portion size of penne pasta served in their restaurant, 4 oz (27% ), 6 oz (32% ), and 8 oz (18% ) portions were most frequently reported, with 90% of respondents serving portions larger than United States Department of Agriculture's recommendation of 1 oz. For strip steak, 48% of the respondents indicated that 12 oz steaks were typically served in their establishment, and 28% reporting 8 oz portions as being typical, with 83% of respondents serving portions that were larger than the 5.5 oz that the government recommends should be consumed each day. Most respondents (38% ) reported serving 3-oz portions of a vegetable side-dish, with 31% reporting 4-oz portions. Forty percent of these respondents served vegetable portions larger than United States Department of Agriculture's recommendation of ½ cup (2 to 3 oz). When asked about the size of plates used in their restaurants, 38% reported using 9.25- to 11-inch plates, and 33% reported using 11.25- to 13-inch plates.

What Motivates Chef Portion Size Selection? Survey says, not surprisingly: "presentation of food", cost, customer expectations. Competition and calorie count had only "some influence." But intriguingly, competition with other restaurants was strongly correlated with portion size of say pasta and steak. What's wild (ok, to me) is that where "customer expectiation" was high, larger veggie side plates were served BUT when calories were perceived to be a biggie, that's when veggie portion sizes got SMALLER. That's rather an interesting insight for what chefs might be taught, no?

And indeed, from the text above on portion sizes, restaurants are serving larger than 2-3oz of veggies - when they serve veggies - and what's wrong with that? 1/2 a cup is nothing. Bring it on - as long as it's sans the oil, butter, deep frying and etc's. Have the condiments on the side and add as necessary. Or not. But that is a topic for another day.

Chef Perceptions: Here's something else interesting from the study: Chefs thought that patrons would notice if a serving size on their plate was 25% smaller - but a few things here: we are lousy at figuring size. And as we know from the last b2d post on energy density work, we can keep the plate looking just as full by using low energy dense foods, and folks can feel satisfied by same.

What does this lack of knowledge in the kitchen mean for eating out? Be not afraid to ask the kitchen to put together something for you closer to your spec, and your sizes, perhaps. Putting together a variety of sides (smaller by nature than their full meal counter parts) can often be great. If you're anything like me - if it's in front of you, you'll eat it (interesting related work showing i fear i'm not unique in this) - so an easier thing for me is just not to have the bigger size in front of me and say "serve it, i just won't eat all of it"

Are these findings a surprise? That chefs (600 surveyed; 80% response rate) seem not to understand that veggies are largely low cal foods, or that their portion sizes are so out of whack with any recommendations for such sizes? Or is it to be expected that chefs simply learn what tastes good and how to prepare it in an appetising way, with younger chefs going for bigger sizes?

Does this mean it is all the more surprising that it was a chef, Jamie Oliver, who noticed the appalling quality of "school dinners" in the UK & now the US? That if a chef noticed, they must be truly terrible?

TED prize winner, Jamie Oliver, giving his TED talk

But perhaps more than anything else, this kind of survey means: trust no one. WHile the study's authors want to investigate ways to help chefs get up to speed with nutrition relative to the food they prepare, in the meantime, we need to educate ourselves about what's healthy or not; an appropriate portion or not, and perhaps what seems is a particular challenge for some folks, to make specific requests of a restaurant when eating out, based on that knowledge.  

External Resources:

Condrasky, M., Ledikwe, J., Flood, J., & Rolls, B. (2007). Chefs’ Opinions of Restaurant Portion Sizes* Obesity, 15 (8), 2086-2094 DOI: 10.1038/oby.2007.248

Harnack, L., Steffen, L., Arnett, D., Gao, S., & Luepker, R. (2004). Accuracy of estimation of large food portions☆ Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 104 (5), 804-806 DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2004.02.026
Wansink B, Painter JE, & North J (2005). Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size may influence intake. Obesity research, 13 (1), 93-100 PMID: 15761167


Jac said...

I'm not surprised. When my husband and I go out to eat, we almost always split the meal. Sometimes we'll get an appetizer or a dessert, but usually a single entree is filling enough for the two of us. Most meals come with two sides - the vegetable serving is only large enough for one person, so we either get two veggies, or we add on a side salad. And of course, when we get a dessert, we split one dessert. Restaurant servings - especially desserts - tend to be huge, but I haven't noticed anyone other restaurant patrons sharing an entree or dessert.

dr. m.c. said...

Jackie, thanks for dropping by.

do you ever ask the server to "split the main in the kitchen"?

this is something i learned about awhile ago and for places that will do it (some actually charge a fee) that means that it comes out nicely plated on two plates so you don't have to do the deal yourself at the table.


Jac said...

They often "split the main in the kitchen" because we told them we were splitting it. (Maybe that's why I don't notice a lot of other people splitting meals.) Otherwise, they offer an extra plate, and I don't mind moving the food over myself.

Hanley Tucks said...

I'm now a PT (Kyle Aaron on bb.com) but used to be a chef. You comment that in reducing portion size, chefs will drop the vegies rather than the steak. This is driven by customers, not chefs. Remember, people don't order "vegetables with a side of steak," they order "steak with a side of vegetables." Steaks are 350g for porterhouse, 220g for rump, etc. By comparison, the "portion" of government health departments is 80-120g. If a chef gave a single portion of steak to clients and upped the vegies, I can assure you the customer wouldn't go to that restaurant again. They'd say, "this isn't steak and vegies, this is like a stirfry or something."

Older chefs give smaller portions because they come from a culinary tradition of people having 6-8 small courses, rather than 1-2 large courses. Plus older chefs are more likely to be the restaurant owner/manager, so they get stingy - it's their money on that plate.

Bigger portions of calorie-rich, nutrient-poor food is what customers demand. If a chef doesn't want to give them that, they have to change careers, as I did.


dr. m.c. said...

Kyle, thanks for sharing your perspective



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