One of the trickier parts of the FDA’s menu labeling regulations is labeling variable and combination menu items. The details can be confusing, but we hope to clarify the regulations in order help you correctly post calories on the menu. As a starting place you’ll want to understand FDA definitions for labeling variable and combination menu items.
Variable Menu Items
When a menu lists flavors or varieties of an entire individual variable menu item the calories must be declared separately for each listed flavor or variety. Examples of variable menu items include soft drinks: cola, diet cola, orange and lemon lime; ice cream: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry; cookies: chocolate chip, sugar, oatmeal; and sauces: barbecue, Asian, buffalo. In each of these examples, when the flavors or varieties are individually listed on the menu, they must each declare a caloric value.
When the menu does not list flavors or varieties for an entire individual variable menu item, and only includes a general description of the variable menu item (e.g., soft drinks, ice cream, cookies) then a caloric range can be posted. This also applies when the menu or menu board describes flavors or varieties for only part of an individual variable menu item, such as a grilled cheese sandwich that allows for a choice of cheese (e.g., American, cheddar or Swiss). Here are some examples of how to post calories for variable menu items with general descriptions:
- If there are only two choices available (e.g., vanilla and chocolate ice cream), the calories must be declared with a slash between the two calorie declarations. (e.g., 270/290 calories).
- When the menu includes an item (e.g., soft drinks) with three or more choices (e.g., cola, diet cola, lemon lime and orange), the different calorie amounts will be presented in a range (e.g., 0-170 calories).
- If flavors or varieties have the same calorie amounts (after rounding), the calorie declaration for such flavors or varieties can be listed as a single calorie declaration, provided that the calorie declaration specifies that the calorie amount listed represents the calorie amounts for each individual flavor or variety. For example, “70 calories for all flavors” would be declared for a variety of iced teas (e.g. raspberry, peach and mango) that are offered on a menu but have identical caloric values when rounded.
Additional requirements apply to a variable menu item offered with the option of adding toppings listed on the menu or menu board.
When the menu or menu board lists toppings that can be added to a menu item (e.g., pizza or ice cream):
- The calories must be declared for the basic preparation of the menu item as listed (e.g., small pizza pie, single scoop ice cream).
- The calories must be separately declared for each topping listed on the menu or menu board (e.g., pepperoni, sausage, green peppers on pizza; fudge, almonds on ice cream), specifying that the calories are added to the calories contained in the basic preparation of the menu item.
- The calories for the basic preparation of the menu item must be declared for each size of the menu item.
- The calories for each topping listed on the menu or menu board must be declared for each size of the menu item, or declared using a slash between the two calorie declarations for each topping where only two sizes of the menu item are available (e.g. adds 150/250 calorie) or as a range for each topping where more than two sizes of the menu item are available (e.g., adds 100-250 calories). If a slash between two calorie declarations or a range of calorie declarations is used, the menu or menu board must indicate that the variation in calorie for each topping arise from the size of the menu item to which the toppings are added.
If the amount of the topping included on the basic preparation of the menu item decreases based on the total number of toppings ordered for the menu item (such as is sometimes the case with pizza toppings), the calories for each topping when added on a one-topping menu item, specifying that the calorie declaration is for the topping when added to a one-topping menu item.
All You Can Eat
If a variable menu item has no clearly identifiable upper bound to the range of calories (e.g., “ all you can eat”), then the menu or menu board must include a statement , adjacent to the name or price of the item, referring customers to the self-service facility for calorie information (e.g., see buffet for calorie declarations.”), This statement must appear in a type size no smaller than the type size of the name or price of the variable menu item, whichever is smaller, and in the same color or a color at least as conspicuous as that used for the name or price, with the same contrasting background or a background at least as contrasting as that used for that name or price.
Combination Menu Items
When the menu lists combination meals (e.g., a sandwich with various sides), here is how calories should be listed:
- If there are only two choices available (e.g., a sandwich with chips or pasta salad), the calories must be declared with a slash between the two calorie declarations (e.g., 450/500 calories).
- When the menu includes a choice of three or more options (e.g., sandwich with chips, fruit, or pasta salad), the calories must be declared as a range (e.g., 400-500 calories).
- When the menu includes a choice to increase or decrease the size of a combination meal, the calorie count must be declared for each size with a slash between two calorie declarations, or where three or more sizes are available, as a range (e.g., adds 100/150 calories or subtracts 100-150 calories).
When the menu describes an opportunity for a consumer to combine a standard menu item for a special price (e.g., Combine any sandwich with any soup or any salad for $8.99.), and the calories for each standard menu item, including each size option available for the consumer to combine are declared elsewhere on the menu, the requirements do not apply.