Diner eats ‘over a day’s calories’ in Toby Carvery roast

If you’re heading out today for a tasty Sunday lunch at one of the many carveries in our area, will you be giving any thought to the calorie content of your meal? It’s now mandatory for large businesses with more than 250 employees – including chains of restaurants – to display the calorie information of food and soft drinks in a bid to curb the nation’s obesity epidemic.

The Government says that seeing the truth about what you’re eating in front of you will make it ‘as easy as possible for people to make healthier food choices’. But some have argued that showing calories on menus is a ‘disaster’ for people recovering from eating disorders, as it could lead to people feeling ‘guilt and shame’ over the food they are eating.

Generally, under the new regulations calorie information will need to be displayed at the point of choice for the customer, such as physical menus, online menus, food delivery platforms and food labels. However, some restaurants are making calorie-free menus available if customers request them.

READ: I went to Trentham’s new-look Toby Carvery to see if it’s really home of the roast

But does showing the calorie information on a menu make a difference to the choices of an average punter who just wants to enjoy a straight-up honest carvery? I went along to the Toby Carvery Festival Park – still known to most Stokies as the China Gardens – to see what impact it would have on my choices – and how easy it would be to work out the total when it’s not a fixed portion meal.

I should confess from the start that I am not a carvery aficionado. I can’t remember ever having eaten at a Toby Carvery before, although I’m sure I can’t have gone 43 years on the planet without having done so.



But I’ve read enough reviews and know from repute what to expect, so when I get this lunchtime assignment I already know I won’t need to eat any dinner that evening. It may not be obligatory to stuff yourself silly at a carvery, but somehow it’s hard to avoid piling your plate high when faced with the array of options.

The restaurant is in a lovely location by the Festival Park marina, and having entered my car registration on the screen near the entrance to avoid a parking fine, I was shown to my table by the window overlooking a tranquil scene of narrow boats, ducks, geese and even a heron.

Most of the tables were already taken when I arrived at 12:15 pm, with groups of friends and families of all ages happily tucking in to their lunches. It looked like most people had opted for the carvery – and I’m guessing that they weren’t paying too much attention to the calorie counts on the menu.



It was a Tuesday so the midweek set menu was available, which offered two courses for £ 9.49 or three for £ 11.49. The carvery on its own would have been £ 7.49 – compared with £ 8.29 on a Saturday or £ 11.49 on Sundays and bank holidays.

I went for the two-course set menu of a regular-sized carvery with a pudding and a refillable – and full sugar – Pepsi. If I had picked a starter instead of dessert, I would have chosen the cheesy mushrooms with garlic bread at 375 calories.

This is probably a good time to share that I probably wasn’t the best person to send out to see if printing calories on a menu makes you change your choices. I’m not really susceptible to peer pressure – which this Governmental nagging feels like a form of – and, as my husband always says, I just do whatever I want anyway.

So the challenge in hand was more to see how many calories I end up consuming when I choose what I want, because the voice of the nanny state telling me to ‘make healthier food choices’ doesn’t really wash with me. I know what healthy options are – and quite frankly I don’t particularly want to choose them when I’m out for a meal as a lunchtime treat.

It turns out I was in for a shock after all.



As a Toby Carvery virgin I had to ask my waitress what to do, and she directed me to the ‘deck’ where the feast awaited. In the interests of research, I had all four of the available meats – turkey, pork, beef and gammon.

The menu tells me that a full portion of turkey is 436 calories, beef is 446, gammon is 618 and pork is a whopping 798 calories per portion. Because I had a sliver of each, for my calculations I will go with the 611 calories that the menu says is based on the ‘average guest serving preference’.

And herein lies the problem of calculating a carvery’s calorie count – everybody’s plate will be different. The meat’s calories are printed on the menu but I couldn’t see anything for the vegetable selection, so I chose blindly according to what I wanted. I later discovered that there was a QR code on the menu which took me to a page where I could find the calories per portion for everything on offer.

So I picked: a truly enormous Yorkshire pudding (99 calories), potatoes with beef dripping (232 calories), peas (76 calories), sage and onion stuffing (367 calories), onions in gravy (73 calories), green beans (25 calories) and the piece de resistance, macaroni cheese (110 calories per portion).

I’m not going to enter into the debate on whether it belongs on a roast dinner because I love macaroni cheese (or as the website would have it, mac and cheese) and that’s that. But how big is a ‘portion’? I’m willing to bet that what I scooped onto my plate was bigger than one portion. But I only had two potatoes, so I’m going to call that even.



On to the sauces section and here there was a little sign giving the calories of gravy per ladle and sauces per spoonful. I added one ladle of gravy (23 calories), a spoonful of wholegrain mustard (39 calories) and a spoonful of horseradish sauce (37 calories).

Adding it up as I write this story, I am actually somewhat surprised to find that this one plate of food came to 1,692 calories – when the recommended daily intake is 2,000 calories for a woman. It was delicious, and I don’t regret my choices – but would I choose the same again? I don’t eat like this every day, so I probably would – but it’s still quite a sobering thought.

And of course, I’d gone for the two-course set menu so there was still dessert to come. By this point I’d already got so warm that I had to remove my cardigan – but whether that was due to the sun streaming through the windows or the sheer amount of calories I was consuming I couldn’t say.



The puddings for the set menu were dairy ice cream with a flake and strawberry, chocolate, toffee or lemon sauce (208 calories), chocolate brownie (467 calories) with whipped cream (148 calories) or ice cream (112 calories) or the seasonal sponge or seasonal crumble, both of which the menu said I should ask my server for the choice and calorie information.

I asked my very helpful server, Nikki, about the seasonal crumble and she went to find out the information. It was an apple, plum and damson crumble which came in at 527 calories with another 120 for the custard. That was a further 647 calories on top of my main course, which pushed me over the daily recommend intake level to 2,339 calories.

It was full of fruit and very tasty, but I only used half of the generous jug of custard. Maybe that little quiet voice urging me to make better choices was having an effect after all.

And on top of all that food, I didn’t manage to find out how many calories were in my Pepsi – but that could easily be another couple of hundred. Fortunately I was already so full that I didn’t refill it – but it clearly tipped me over the 2,500 calorie mark.

Reading that back now, as I type these words in black and white on the screen in front of me, does shock me a bit. Not so much because of the health impact of the gluttonously calorific meal that I easily put away in one sitting – I don’t eat like that every day after all – but because I know there are so many people out there who are hungry.

I feel somewhat repulsed by the fact that it was so easy to consume such a massive amount of food completely unnecessarily when so many families in the city can’t feed their children and are relying on food banks. If I was supposed to feel guilty after seeing the calories on the menu, the Government’s idea has worked.

But the guilt I feel doesn’t relate to my waistline as much as the inequalities so prevalent in society. I didn’t expect a simple meal out for work one lunchtime to provoke a crisis of conscience, but I’ll be donating to a food bank this weekend and reminding myself that I’m fortunate to have more than I need.

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