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National Restaurant Association - Nutrition study group: laser-focused on restaurant challenges

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Nutrition study group: laser-focused on restaurant challenges

Cheryl Dolven, director of health and wellness for Darden Restaurants, is among the speakers at the National Restaurant Association Nutrition Study Group. She shares her thoughts on agenda topics and the importance of participation. The meeting is March 11 and 12 in Atlanta.

Q. How long have you been involved in the nutrition group?
 I got involved with the Nutrition Study Group three years ago when I started in the restaurant industry. I was an army of one when I started at Darden, and I had to create a vision for our health and wellness initiatives. I sought out colleagues in the restaurant industry and found them through the nutrition study group.

Q. What are you are most excited about for the upcoming meeting?
 I’m especially interested in the gluten conversation. The industry is working to comply with the new gluten-free regulation, which specifies the standard all companies must meet in order to label an item gluten-free. That’s a tall order in a restaurant environment. At these meetings, nutrition professionals learn from each other to make sure we’re doing the right thing for our guests.

Q. What are the biggest challenges facing nutrition professionals in the restaurant industry?
 Food allergies and intolerances stand out to me. We are going to need to better understand these allergies and intolerances to serve our guests’ needs and changing diets. As with any business, it’s important to evolve with the guests.

Q. What’s the focus of your menu-labeling presentation?
 Darden has done a lot of research to understand how consumers will react to menu labeling and to make sure we’re providing guests with accurate calorie numbers. In my presentation, I’ll share the results of the message testing we’ve done, our nutritional analysis work, and our culinary execution guidelines.

Many people would consider Darden’s research proprietary, but the organization is willing to share it because it’s the right thing to do. We supported the federal menu-labeling law from the beginning, so we want to help make it successful.

While we’re going to initially be focusing on compliance, our industry should be thinking more broadly about menu labeling. How can we educate food and nutrition communicators on menu labeling so that they are prepared to talk to consumers about it?  Can we create best practices for recipe nutrition analysis so that we have a shared standard across the industry? I’ll devote about half of my session to discuss these issues and brainstorm ideas together.

Q. What would you say to encourage a colleague to get involved in the nutrition group?
 We have a lot of competitors in the same room, but we’re professionals working toward the same goals on many issues. Working together for the good of the industry makes sense.

NESG is a welcoming and collaborative group. During the meeting, small workgroups and discussions enable attendees to learn, work with others tackling the same issues, and network at the same time. You can continue to build relationships with your peers in the industry after the meeting ends.

What I love about this group is that there is no other meeting that’s laser-focused on your issues in your business. It’s time well-spent.

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