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National Restaurant Association - 9 ways to boost nutrient content on menus

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9 ways to boost nutrient content on menus

Make sure you dedicate as much culinary strategy and talent on healthful items as you do for center-of-the-plate protein, says Deanne Brandstetter, vice president of nutrition and wellness at Compass Group North America.

Three-quarters of consumers say they’re more likely to visit restaurants that offer healthful items, according to NRA research. Four of five consumers say restaurants offer more healthful menu options now than they did two years ago. And nine in 10 restaurant operators say their guests are more interested in diet-specific food now than they were two years ago.

Brandstetter offers these easy ways to improve the nutrient content of your menu items:

  1. Increase produce on the plate. Fruit and vegetables have a huge water content, are low in calories, lower in sodium and have no saturated fat in their natural state. The more produce you place on a plate, the less you need of other items. The challenge: making produce as interesting and craveable as your proteins.

  2. Add umami with mushrooms. Mix ground mushrooms into ground animal protein to decrease calories, sodium and fat and increase fiber, selenium and Vitamin D. Let customers know about it. They’re no longer into “stealth health,” Brandstetter says. They want to know that you’re making your menu items more nutritious – and how you’re doing it.

  3. Reduce sodium by using salt as a “finisher,” rather than in every step of the preparation.

  4. Explore new salt replacements. In response to restaurant and consumer demand, food manufacturers are developing innovative products to reduce sodium, such as diamond-shaped salt crystals, which are hollow inside and have more surface area than traditional salt crystals.

  5. Improve carbohydrate quality. Use whole grains in pasta, pilaf, risotto and other dishes. Experiment with grains other than whole wheat, such as millet, quinoa and spelt. Get ideas and resources from the Whole Grains Council.

  6. Create interesting, lower-calorie beverages. Offer house-made, healthful beverages, such as ginger water, sparkling water with fruit or tea infused with fruit or herbs. Serve juice made with fruit and vegetable purees.
  7. Consider strategic calorie design. Create plates with a limited number of calories. For example, if you are designing a plate with no more than 600 calories, make sure every element builds flavor, satisfaction and craveability. The 42,000 restaurant locations that participate in the NRA’s Kids LiveWell program offer an entrée, side option and beverage for 600 calories or less.

  8. Rethink desserts. Instead of serving a large slice of cheesecake with a strawberry garnish, create a miniature cheesecake surrounded by strawberries. “The CIA calls it the ‘dessert flip,” Brandstetter says. Customers appreciate tiny dessert portions rather than low-calorie versions, she says.

  9. Allow for indulgence on a small scale. Instead of a platter of all fried seafood, serve a few fried shrimp and many, many more grilled shrimp on skewers. “It balances it out a little bit,” she says.

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