Calorie Counts on Menus, 1915 Style

As I’m working on my next novel, I’m spending a lot of time in 1915–and it turns out that absolutely nothing has changed in 100 years.  Here, for instance, is a big announcement in the New York Times about a brand new idea:  Put calorie counts on menus!

It’s only one restaurant–the lunchroom at the Department of Health–but the hope was that the idea would spread.

“It might not be possible to state the food values in a large restaurant where there was a varied menu,” admitted Dr. Bolduan, the director of public education, but in “a chain of lunch rooms throughout the country…it could be done with great success.”

One important difference between then and now:  the emphasis seemed to be on getting people to eat enough food.  The “food value” or calorie count was seen as a way to get people to eat a substantial enough meal. Clerks and stenographers need 2500 calories a day, while mechanics and artisans needed 3000-3500, and laborers and longshoremen needed 3500-4500.

You need food, the article advised, “So that your body may do its work. This is done mainly by starches and fats.” Protein and mineral salts (vitamins?  I’m thinking?) are also necessary to build muscles and organs, and restaurants should ensure their patrons that they are providing adequate quantities of both.

A sample lunchroom menu shows that even the lower-priced lunch meets those requirements:

1915 menu with calorie counts


As evidence that the educational program was working, one boy was quoted as saying, “I never knew before that you should not take too many acids at a meal. I had tomatoes today, so I didn’t take lemon pie for dessert.”