What Are Restaurants Doing to Make Menus Healthier?

Healthy Food

As more and more consumers actively seek healthier choices at restaurants, this becomes a much more common question.  We’re now well into the New Year, and this year is promising to be driven by your demand for healthier menu choices prepared with clean, locally sourced ingredients complete with easy-to-use nutrition and allergen information. Restaurants nationwide are listening and making changes to menus to deliver on those healthier choices. Our Healthy Dining team has seen restaurants boosting the health of their menus in a variety of ways, including:

  • Analyzing recipes to provide accurate nutrition information to guests even ahead of menu labeling regulations.
  • Reformulating recipes to reduce sodium, fat and calories.
  • Working with vendors to offer more sustainable and seasonal choices.
  • Increasing whole grains, fruits and vegetables and lean proteins on the menu.
  • Creating allergen-friendly choices and training staff to safely prepare and serve these dishes.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, too!  Healthy Dining’s president, Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH, recently asked some restaurant industry trendsetters – who are personally and professionally dedicated to contributing to a healthier America, “What are you doing to “healthify” in 2016?” Here’s what they said: 

Dawn Sweeney, CEO, National Restaurant Association “I will be “healthifying” at the National Restaurant Association by instituting walking meetings so that we are walking around outside rather than always sitting during one on one meetings. We are also thrilled to be celebrating the fifth birthday of the Kids LiveWell program in 2016. This fifth year marks a tremendous effort on behalf of participating restaurants – coast to coast – to contribute to the health and well-being of our nation’s children. We are proud that the Kids LiveWell program is helping families nourish their children while enjoying the dining out experience that our industry is passionate about.” 

Tom Boucher, CEO, and Nicole Barreira, Corporate Chef, Great NH Restaurants “In 2016, our menu development will continue to focus on providing guests with healthful choices across our three New Hampshire-based concepts, T-BONES Great American Eatery, CJ’s Great West Grill, and Copper Door Restaurant, including our children’s menus. Our culinary team defines healthful as dishes and options that provide guests with not only the ‘traditional’ low-fat, low-calorie, and low-carbohydrate options, but also dishes created with superior quality ingredients, scratch-made recipes, nutrient-rich vegetables and grains, along with the freshest locally sourced items possible. All of these elements produce a variety of healthful options that matter to our guests’ individual needs and preferences.”

GJ Hart, CEO, California Pizza Kitchen “As many of us strive to make healthy choices in our lives and in our diets, the culinary team at California Pizza Kitchen is hard at work innovating with ingredients and techniques that offer full-flavor, healthful menu options. We’re helping our guests ‘eat with the seasons’ by featuring seasonal ingredients on our menu that are at their peak freshness, like hearty root vegetables and citrus in the winter and berries in the summer. We’re also using spices in unique ways, like fennel in our California Roots Cocktail, nutrient-rich grains like farro, and techniques like pickling, that amp up flavor in a healthy way. Our guests never have to sacrifice big, bold flavor for the sake of fewer calories or fats in their diet.”

Ype Von Hengst, Executive Chef/VP Culinary Operations, Silver Diner “For 2016, I am continuing the journey of fresh and local…it is still the biggest shift in the industry and will be for some time. In addition, I will test more center-of-the-plate veggie items, down-sized desserts, and recipes using African and Middle Eastern spices, all of which are becoming increasingly popular. Homemade fruit-based sodas will be a great opportunity to steer the guest away from unhealthy drinks. Finally, elevating peasant food, like we have done with our Truffled Organic Bison Meat Loaf and Upscale Pot Pie, is on my resolution list for 2016.”

George Michel, CEO, Boston Market “The world is focused on making food faster, more portable, and more profitable. Boston Market promises just one thing… to make food good.  This promise will continue to define Boston Market’s strategy through 2016 as we focus on serving ‘better for you’ meals that guests can feel good about eating and serving to their friends and family.  As part of this, we hope to grow our healthful menu, which currently features 150 meal combinations containing 550 calories or less – it’s among the largest of its kind for fast-casual restaurants. Boston Market will continue to be a proud participant in the National Restaurant Association’s “Kids LiveWell” program and a strategic partner of the United States Department of Agriculture’s “MyPlate” program through 2016.”

Meghan Dwyer, Brand Marketing, Umami Burger “Umami Burger is resolving to add two to four more vegetable-dominant dishes to our menu for some lighter fare. We are already experimenting with Asian and umami flavors on broccolini, Brussels sprouts and shishito peppers.”

Ralph Rubio, Co-Founder, Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill “I’m looking forward to our new grilled Wild Alaska Coho Tacos and Salads coming to Rubio’s this summer! Personally, I will be playing more tennis, pursuing more strenuous cardio workouts in preparation for my rec soccer season, and eating less meat (chicken and beef) and more veggies. In fact, I’ve recently started preparing my own vegetarian ground meat recipe at home using red chili, garlic and black pepper to add lots of flavor. At Rubio’s “Ocean Goodness,” whether it’s continued focus on serving quality, sustainable seafood, or creating new, bold flavors like our new Smoky Oaxacan Shrimp, “healthifying” will be a major theme for me this year.”

Fred LeFranc, CEO, Results Thru Strategy “I have been a board member and consultant with Healthy Dining for over eight years. As a result, I have become keenly aware of what I eat and how I exercise. Each year, I commit a week to visit the Ashram Wellness retreat in California for a 75-mile hike and a week of exercise and vegan cuisine. It gives me the perspective and motivation I need to be at my best for a power-packed year.” 

Nicole Abraham, Vice President of Marketing, Luna Grill “It is our mission to inspire others to feel good by eating. We genuinely care about our food, where it comes from and how we serve it. In 2016, we will continue to offer many non-GMO items, such as our oils, beef, and lamb. We are committed to using antibiotic-free, all natural free range beef and lamb. And we will continue to support locally harvested produce and local businesses wherever possible. Every day we are working to serve our guests organic, pure, real food, and we will continue to do so in 2016.”

Rod Silva, Founder, Muscle Maker Grill “Spending more time with my family and exercising outdoors with them through hiking, playing basketball and soccer! I am striving for a more stress-free, family-orientated life starting in 2016!” 

Sarah Grover, Chief Brand and Strategy Officer, BarFresh “Our CEO, Riccardo Delle Coste, is committed to offering our customers the best possible blended beverages. To make 2016 our best year yet, Barfresh is currently consulting with Healthy Dining’s team of registered dietitian nutrition experts to evaluate the full product line for optimal nutrition. We are actively working to minimize added sugars and maximize the amount of whole fruit per smoothie. Barfresh isn’t “healthifying” at the expense of flavor, either – we are planning to build an even better flavor profile by incorporating more fresh, healthy ingredients.”

David Goronkin, CEO, MyFitFoods “My Fit Foods offers our employees a 50% discount on all of our handcrafted meals.  Each meal is full of flavor and also meets our (and Healthy Dining’s!) criteria for calories, saturated fat and sodium. In addition, we have a holistic approach to health and talk to our guests about nutrition, hydration and exercise.” 

Restaurants are creating some of their best menu choices yet thanks to your demand for healthier choices to fit your lifestyle!   How are your favorite restaurants “healthifying” their menus? How are you living a healthier lifestyle this year?