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National Restaurant Association - Ask the Nutritionist: Freshen up menus with summer produce

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Ask the Nutritionist: Freshen up menus with summer produce

The National Restaurant Association's Director of Nutrition & Healthy Living Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., provides regular commentary on the NRA News blog. Tips for incorporating summer produce into menus is the topic of this latest installment.

When preparing menu items for your restaurant patrons, is 1/2 the plate filled with fruits and vegetables? The 2010 Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate encourage everyone to consume more fruits and vegetables. Research shows that those who consume more fruits and vegetables reduce their risk of chronic disease, including heart disease and cancer.

As part of the restaurant industry’s commitment to supporting the healthy lifestyles of our guests, consider bulking up your offerings of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables. This can be a sound profitability strategy, as in-season produce is typically very affordable and can freshen up plate compositions. Three out of four consumers say they’re trying to eat more healthfully in restaurants now than they did two years ago, so serving more produce can also help attract those guests.

Now that it's summer, there is an array of fresh produce available that can be incorporated into your menu, be it as a seasonal offering or as a tweak to an existing dish. While the types of seasonal produce available might differ a bit depending on where you are in the country, staples include zucchini, eggplant, avocados, strawberries, tomatoes and cucumbers. Below are a few tips and ideas to make the most out of summer fruits and vegetables:

• Wash fruit and vegetables under running water before cutting and/or cooking them.
• Keep fruits and vegetables separate from other raw foods in the refrigerator to avoid cross-contamination. Fruits and vegetables should also be stored separately from each other as fruits release ethylene gas, which can shorten the shelf life of vegetables.
• Refrigerate fruits and vegetables in perforated plastic bags to maintain moisture and air flow.
• Add fresh or frozen fruit to your breakfast items, such as pancakes, waffles and hot or cold cereals.
• As an alternative to traditional salads and side starches, add fresh vegetables or fruit into a cold, whole grain mixture (quinoa, wheat berries, brown rice, etc.) and mix with dressing to enhance the flavor. Use a more acidic dressing for vegetables and a sweeter one for fruit.
• Offer seasonal fresh fruit and berries as a dessert option, or top fruit salad with a small scoop of sorbet or low fat ice cream. 
• Grill fruits and vegetables you would normally sauté, bake or boil. In addition to reducing the need for fats in preparation and adding a nice smoky flavor, grill marks look great on a plate!

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