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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

'I’m looking for the cheapest meal I can'


A Whopper. Photo credit: Burger King Web site How closely do you read calorie postings at restaurants? There was an interesting article on The New York Times' Web site about a recent study on New York's labeling law. According to the study by professors at New York University and Yale, fast food customers ordered slightly more calories than the typical person had before the law  requiring postings at restaurants went into effect last year, the New York Times reported. So even though there was information saying a Whopper had a whopping 670 calories and 40 grams of fat, most likely people went ahead and ordered it anyway.

The study, by professors at New York University and Yale, examined customers at  McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken in poor NYC neighborhoods where there are high rates of obesity, which is also a huge problem in Detroit. In 2007, Detroit ranked No. 5 on's America's Most Obese Cities, with an obesity rate of 30.4 percent.

The researchers studied more than 1,000 customers' receipts. At a McDonald's, one customer who was in Harlem for a job interview ordered two cheeseburgers for $2. The total caloric count: 600.  

“It’s just cheap, so I buy it. I’m looking for the cheapest meal I can," he told the newspaper.

The Times also reported an advocate suggested low-income people were more interested in price than calories.

“Nutrition is not the top concern of low-income people, who are probably the least amenable to calorie labeling,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group in Washington.

In a city like Detroit, there are many areas designated as food deserts, meaning “areas that require residents to travel twice as far or more to reach the closest mainstream grocer than to reach the closest fringe food location," according to LaSalle Bank study on the topic. So without access to affordable and nutritious food, it's easy to grab something at McDonald's. But it's not the best choice for you.

Teaching participants how to make educated food choices is what we try to do in our classes at Operation Frontline. For example, instructors do a fun exercise called Blubber Burger, which sounds as disgusting as it is. Participants choose a fast food meal, for example the typical burger, fries, shake combo and then calculate how much fat is in it. Then using spoonfuls of shortening, they pile on the equivalent of fat grams onto a hamburger bun. Seeing a bun full of shortening makes you think twice about whether to eat that burger!