Consumer awareness of issues relating to health and well-being is at an all-time high—thanks to initiatives like MyPlate and menu labeling. How will that keen awareness impact dining behavior?
"You've got a pretty savvy diner coming into your restaurant, who is armed with information on nutrition and who is looking for healthier choices," says Aliza Katz, corporate executive chef at Kraft Foodservice. "We see the demand for better-for-you options as a continuing trend affecting foodservice, driven by both diners seeking it out and by government initiatives keeping the issues front and center."
In June, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released MyPlate, a new graphic that replaces the food pyramid. With this easy-to-understand icon, the USDA hopes to guide consumers toward healthy choices. MyPlate aligns with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, emphasizing whole grains and calling for produce to occupy half the plate. Another significant marker pointing toward diner awareness of health and nutrition is menu labeling. The Food and Drug Administration hopes new menu-labeling laws will go into effect by mid 2012, and many restaurant chains, staying ahead of legislation, have already added nutritional information to their menus.
How do those initiatives impact menu design at independent operations? "It comes back to expectation," says Chef Katz. "MyPlate gives consumers a visual reminder of what they should eat, so diners will expect to see more fruits and vegetables on menus. They'll expect to see whole grains. Smaller portions. The challenge for chefs is to offer better-for-you options that are also delicious and satisfying." Indeed, Technomic's Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report (September 2010) reinforces that thinking: 47% of consumers strongly agree that they want restaurants to offer more foods that they consider to be healthy.
How to Mix Things Up: 4 Distinct Better-for-You Recipes
"Don't think of plate presentation as divided, with the protein sitting across from the produce, which sits next to the starch," says Chef Katz. "MyPlate is good for reminding us of the ideal mix, but as chefs, we can combine those elements in delicious, exciting ways."
Increased Produce on the Plate May Decrease Overall Plate Cost
We asked the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) to weigh in. "Consumers want choices when they dine out," says Kathy Means, vice president of government relations for the PMA. "They may want french fries one day and fresh vegetables the next time." She looks at an increased use of fresh produce as a great value proposition for operators. "From an operator's perspective, when you increase produce use, you decrease your plate cost because you're decreasing protein size," says Means. "When running the numbers, adding more fruits and vegetables to your plate makes good business sense."
Fresh Produce Recipes
According to research conducted by the PMA and National Restaurant Association, nearly three out of four operators (72%) said emphasizing fresh produce in their marketing efforts attracts more customers.
Here are four Healthy Living dishes from the chefs at the Kraft Culinary Centre that star fresh produce:
How to Make Grains Delicious
Chef Katz shares her culinary tips on how to add flavor and interest to whole grains:
- Cook in chicken or vegetable stock
- Add fresh herbs
- Add citrus zest and citrus juice
- Layer flavors
- Balance sweet, sour, bitter, salty
- Mix grains together, like red quinoa with white quinoa
- Add nuts for texture
- Add beans
Q: With protein shrinking on the plate, how do you convey value to diners?
A: Slice the protein, elevate it a little or consider wrapping it around something else, for visual impact.
Corporate Executive Chef
Kraft Culinary Centre
How to Make Menu Labeling Work to Your Advantage
For more information on the menu-labeling laws and how to implement nutritionals on your menu, click here.