Last week I went to a Harvester for the first time in living memory. I'm going to get my excuse in early, it was my son's fifteenth birthday and it was clear from the way in which he appraised the menu that it was the combination of the vast platters of cooked meat, the sickly sweet desserts and bottomless cokes, rather than the unlimited salad bar, that had informed his choice of venue. This was to be a feast of saturated fats and refined sugars - and so it proved.
What struck me most when reading the menu was that the powers-that-be at Harvester had included the calorie values for each of the menu options. I must say that it totally changed my perspective on the meal. Knowing that 2500 calories is the daily recommended calorie intake for an adult male (2000 for a female), how could I even contemplate the (admittedly otherwise tempting) Flame-grilled 8oz Scottish Beef Burger with back bacon and Stilton cheese at 820kcal? let alone the Ultimate Mixed Grill at 1410kcal?! I took the hint and down-sized my appetite opting for a couple of visits to the salad bar (dressing 100kcal per ladle!) and a Classic Burger (a snip at 650kcal) with mash (170kcal) - vowing not to have a dessert at school all the week and to run for an extra couple of miles at the weekend.
Across the table, totally oblivious to the calorie counting going on, the teenagers didn't hestitate before devouring the Ultimate Mixed Grill (1410kcal) with fries (450kcal) and a Cadbury Ultimate Sundae (740kcal) which they washed down with two or three pints of R White’s Lemonade (52kcal/ glass), not counting a couple of visits to the salad bar while they were bored waiting for the mains to arrive! We left, the boys having eaten more calories in one meal than a runner burns during a marathon.
Harvester have adopted a paradoxical approach to healthy eating. On the one hand, I applaud the initiative of including calorie values on the menu as it allows customers to make informed choices and it serves as a gentle reminder about healthy eating (not to mention the undoubted potential to get your five a day at the unlimited salad bar). But, on the other hand, they are knowingly serving up excessive portions of food, some of which is healthy in small quantities, but much of which is a recipe for obesity.
Ultimately education and self-discipline are the key; and many adults, let alone young people, don't always have both in sufficient quantities. If the Monday night popularity and eating habits at the Harvester in Hemel Hempstead are anything to go by, it is no surprise that Britain is rapidly becoming the 'fat man of Europe' (See 'Obesity crisis risks making Britain 'fat man of Europe' Daily Telegraph 18/02/2013).