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The Rise of Healthy Kids Meal Options

The Rise of Healthy Kids Meal OptionsRestaurants focus on developing healthy kid meal options that are more appealing to families.

Pizza, hot dogs, chicken fingers and grilled cheeses are just a few kid-friendly foods available when eating out. Recently, these are the same foods that have come under scrutiny from parents and nutritional experts who worry about what kids are eating.

Chefs and restaurateurs have both business reasons and true concerns for what kids are eating, this is one of the reasons children’s nutrition was projected to be a major trend at foods service establishments during 2012.

The National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot” survey of professional chefs determined that healthful meals for young people would be the No. 4 trend in the industry this year.

The National Kids LiveWell Program works in collaboration with Healthy Dining to help parents and children select healthful menu options when dining out. The restaurants that participate in the voluntary program commit to offering healthful meal items for children, with a particular focus on increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and limiting unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium.

The big question that remains is: Are kids eating these healthier meals? From early research the answer is, yes. Teaching kids to eat healthy foods from a young age will help them develop healthy eating patterns for life, offering kid-friendly meals with a variety of vegetables, using proteins that are naturally lower in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals will ensure kids choose healthy foods over processed, fatty foods.

I’m a restaurant owner, how do I join the Kids LiveWell Program?

The Rise of Healthy Kids Meal Options

According to Restaurant.org: “Restaurants that join Kids LiveWell agree to offer and promote a selection of items that meet qualifying nutrition criteria based on leading health organizations’ scientific recommendations, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines.” Kids LiveWell Nutrition Criteria for a full meal:

  • 600 calories or less
  • ≤ 35% of calories from total fat
  • ≤ 10% of calories from saturated fat
  • < 0.5 grams trans fat (artificial trans fat only)
  • ≤ 35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring)
  • ≤ 770 mg of sodium
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Local Produce: A Fresh Marketing Approach

Fresh. Organic. High-quality.

These are a few ideas associated with local produce. They are also three reasons why your restaurant should invest in the local food movement today. Not only will you improve your ingredients but you will also communicate that your restaurant supports the surrounding community and is aware of what diners want.

Thousands of restaurants nationwide are embracing this trend and investing in local produce. According to a study from the National Restaurant Association, 90% of fine-dining establishments offer some form of local produce on their menu.

But this trend is not limited to upscale restaurants. The NRA also reported that 63% of casual dining, 56% of family-owned restaurants, 45% fast-casual chains and 28% fast food restaurants have all invested in local produce. Two examples of restaurants that already use local produce are Chipotle and McDonald’s.

Here are some of the reasons a local produce campaign will market your company to customers.

Support of the Local Community

This is very simple; investing in local farming shows you are part of the community. This may be the most beneficial marketing point for investing in local produce. People like to support their local community and when they see a company doing the same they will return the favor and help support that company. Communities tend to take care of a company they can call their own and investing in local produce will make your restaurant one of those companies.

High-Quality Ingredients

Using local produce also means using high-quality ingredients. The quality of industrial farmed produce suffers because it is mass-produced. Locally grown food is sustainable and isn’t exposed to the pesticides, hormones and harmful farming practices factory farms frequently use.

Some factory farms do not rotate their crops, like sustainable farms do, but instead they will continue growing on the same land repeatedly without giving the land a break. This practice reduces the nutrients and minerals the crops contain. Another example of harmful industrial practices is rBGH, an artificial growth hormone that is used in milk production on some factory farms. If you are buying your produce locally from a farm practicing sustainable methods it will be higher quality and your customers will appreciate this.

Giving the Public What they Want

Bon Appétit Management Company, a large food service provider that makes $350 million worth of food purchases per year, recently demanded a food and farm bill that would change harmful farming practices and improve food quality. The company supply’s kitchens in 31 states and made it clear that they would no longer buy from farms that did not meet their food standards.

Bon Appétit  is not alone in their demand for higher quality food.  American diners are becoming more interested in the quality of their food and knowing where it is coming from. In a national poll last year 78% of people said they believe making healthy food more affordable and accessible should be one of the main objectives in the new farm bill.

These are just a few of the advantages to supplying fresh local produce in your restaurant. Diners will appreciate and respond to your investment in sustainable produce. So make a bold statement today to improve your brand image along with your ingredients and buy locally.

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Go Green, Save Money, Serve Better Produce

Go Green, Save Money, Serve Better ProduceAs the past few years have shown, produce can be a food safety liability for anyone in the food service industry. Easy spoilage also makes produce a very difficult item to manage on your inventory. On top of all that, produce takes a lot of time and labor to prep.

Yet fruits and vegetables are also a vital ingredient on any restaurant’s menu, and most of you out there have mastered the fine art of serving clean, healthy, fresh produce to your customers on a daily basis. Mastery of that art comes at a price, however. Chemical sanitization, cleaning, and spoilage all cost money and cut into your food margin.

Locally and organically produced produce don’t help your cause any either. Typically local and organic produce spoils faster even though it arrives fresher. And nobody wants their organic produce sanitized with chemicals after arriving through your back door.

There must be some kind of product that addresses all the issues you have dealing with fresh produce in your restaurant.

Well, I’m glad you asked.

The Saf-T-Wash by San Jamar addresses all three of your main food service sanitation concerns when it comes to produce: sanitation, freshness, and spoilage. How does it work? The Saf-T-Wash adds ozone to water and attaches directly to the faucet in your kitchen, allowing you to wash fresh produce and sanitize it at the same time while extending shelf life.

Ozone is a natural element that’s been used for years in the bottled water industry to kill pathogens during the bottling process. Ozone kills at least 99.99% of the major pathogens found in produce within two minutes of exposure, which is significantly more effective than a chlorine treatment. And ozone removes enzymes from fruits and vegetables that cause spoilage, improving shelf life after prep has been completed.

You also don’t have to use as much ozone treated water to clean produce during prep, saving you money on water. In general, treating your fruits and vegetables with ozone treated water is a more effective and efficient way to prep produce for serving. According to San Jamar, the money saved in water and labor savings plus reduced spoilage means the Saf-T-Wash pays for itself in 3 months.

Using the Saf-T-Wash also gives you a unique opportunity to market your restaurant as a green operation to your customers. Despite the economic downturn, studies still return consistent results when it comes to customer attitudes regarding green practices in food safety: consumers want more of it and they like restaurants that participate in green programs. If you’re serving organically grown produce washed with ozone treated water, you’re creating a great opportunity to add value to your restaurant brand in the eyes of your customer. And in an age of price wars and increasingly brutal competition, anything that sets you apart and adds value is something that might give you an extra edge over your competition.

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Menu Trends: Restaurants Are Introducing A South American Super Crop

Menu Trends: Restaurants Are Introducing A South American Super CropThis is a story about how an Incan super crop is starting to take over health food stores and trendy restaurants in the U.S.  The rest of the world is already on board with this mysterious super plant; we’re just now catching up.

What’s so great about this plant?  Well, it doesn’t rot, doesn’t need refrigeration, is a complete protein but is dairy and gluten free, and is rich in important vitamins like iron, magnesium, and riboflavin.  It’s easy to cook and also very affordable.

So what’s the name of this super crop?  Quinoa is a grain from South America that was once cultivated by the Incas.  It’s been around in the U.S. for 20 years, but has only very recently started to gain momentum among professional chefs.

That momentum, however, has started to reach terminal velocity.  Quinoa is very versatile from a cook’s perspective, and its ability to absorb the spices with which it’s cooked means it can be prepared in an infinite number of ways.

Give a chef an opportunity to get creative with a new ingredient that’s hearty and healthy, and you won’t need a second explanation.  That’s precisely why quinoa has started popping up in restaurants across the country.

Quinoa is available in white, red, and black varieties and also comes in flour and cereal form.  I guess it’s not called a super crop for nothing.

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Healthy Menu? Don’t Tell Your Customers

Ask anyone sitting on their couch around dinnertime if they want a healthy pizza, and you’ll probably get a lukewarm response.  Not that people don’t want to eat healthier.  Study after study has shown that consumers, when asked when they aren’t actively ordering food at a restaurant, want healthy menu options.  But as I have discussed in the past, that doesn’t always translate well to the moment of truth when a patron actually makes their decision.

A New Orleans pizza concept learned this lesson the hard way.  Calling themselves World’s Healthiest Pizza, they formed a menu based on the premise of making healthy taste great.  Response was lackluster from the start.  That’s because nobody wants to eat healthy pizza.  They want a pizza that tastes awesome, calories and fat be damned.  To most people, the word “healthy” doesn’t mean “enjoyable” or “tasty.”

For this reason, many restaurant chains don’t even tell customers new menu items are healthy, and they don’t make a big deal when they change the ingredients of existing meals that make them healthier.  The reasons are very simple: customers order things they think will taste good.  Customers also don’t associate healthy with good taste.

There is a small contingent who care passionately about eating healthy, reduced calorie and fat foods.  They are the ones who will read the nutrition facts on your menu and be satisfied when they discover just how healthy your menu is.  For the vast majority of patrons, however, your primary objective is to convince them that the items on your menu taste absolutely amazing.  After they fall in love with your menu, hopefully they’ll realize their favorite meals are also healthy eating, and you’ll have a customer for life.

As for World’s Healthiest Pizza, they changed their name to Naked Pizza earlier this year.  The concept’s owners remain dedicated to making great tasting pizza that’s also good for you.  They just don’t tell you about it until you’ve discovered just how great healthy tastes.

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NYC Restaurants Make Smooth Transition Away From Trans Fats

NYC Restaurants Make Smooth Transition Away From Trans FatsBack in 2006, despite objections from industry groups like the National Restaurant Association (NRA), New York City banned the use of trans fats in all foods served in the city’s restaurants.  At the time, the NRA said that municipal government had no place regulating restaurants, and the ban would put an undue burden on business.

The deadline for compliance with the new ban was last summer, and a new study came out recently that has shed some light on how valid the food service industry’s fears were when it comes to new regulations like this one.  The study found that 98% of NYC restaurants are compliant with the ban.  It also found that the transition away from trans fats has been cost neutral.  Restaurants were helped by manufacturers marketing trans fat free alternatives during the transition.

Trans fats are present in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a staple in many processed foods for the past 20 years.  They also occur naturally in meat fats and some dairy products.  Trans fats negatively affect cholesterol levels in humans because they raise LDL (so-called “bad” cholesterol) levels and depress HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels.

Other municipalities and local governments across the nation have started to follow New York’s example.  Given the fact that New York restaurants were able to accomplish a full transition away from trans fats in two short years in a way that did not negatively impact business, the entire U.S. should be seriously considering ways to follow suit.  High cholesterol levels contribute to many health problems, including heart disease, obesity, and heart attacks.  There’s no reason why industry groups like the NRA, who once cried foul over trans fat bans, shouldn’t start to take the lead on such an important, and easily fixed, national health issue.

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Healthy Menus: Are Customers Saying One Thing Then Doing Another?

Healthy Menus: Are Customers Saying One Thing Then Doing Another?Healthy this.  Healthy that.  We want nutrition information.  We want healthy menu choices.

The drumbeat coming from consumers and consumer groups over the last five years has steadily increased, demanding healthier options from restaurants in all segments of the food service industry.  Heavyweights like McDonald’s have bent under the pressure, and everyone across the industry has heard the call for healthy menus and responded.  This should be a classic example of the customer asking and then receiving exactly what they wanted.  Responding to the needs of customers is what success in food service is all about, right?

But what if customers are saying one thing and doing another?  A recent study conducted by Mintel Menu Insights reveals that 8 in 10 adults in the United States say eating healthy is important to them.  But when it comes to sitting down to a meal at a restaurant, only 20% of diners are thinking about healthy options.  Taste (at 77%) and hunger satisfaction (at 44%) are much more important to the customer’s dining experience.  Even worse, 54% said that healthy menu items are more likely to be more expensive.

More than three quarters of the American public want to see nutrition information on menus, and legislation has already been passed in several states mandating that information be presented by restaurants.  A national bill is in the works and will probably pass within the year.  Eventually, consumers are going to demand that entrees be healthy AND have superior taste and hunger satisfaction.  The more readily available menu nutrition information is, the faster that time will come.

So customers may be saying one thing and doing another currently.  That will probably change as menus help inform customer decisions with calorie and nutritional information.  As that time approaches, restaurants will do well to figure out how to take the taste and satisfaction that comes from traditional preparation  methods like frying and infuse it with lighter, healthier fare.

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LEAN Act Gaining Popularity In Congress

The Labeling Education and Nutrition, or LEAN Act, is gaining sponsors and votes in the United States congress.  The legislation would create a national standard for labeling menu items across the entire food service industry.  Consumers overwhelmingly support menu labeling, with some polls showing a 75% majority in favor of nutrition information on menus.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) and its offshoot, the Coalition For Responsible Nutrition Information (CRNI), support the LEAN Act and are lobbying congress for its passage.  As more and more municipalities and states have passed menu labeling laws, restaurateurs, and especially national chains, have recognized the need for a national standard that will eliminate the growing patchwork of local laws.

The biggest issue many restaurants have with menu labeling is the complicated and sometimes expensive process of analyzing the nutritional values of menu items.  Each ingredient must be separately assessed for its nutritional value, and even slight variations in portions can alter the numbers.

Traditionally, ingredients were analyzed in a laboratory, which usually translated into a lot of time and money to get each ingredient’s nutrition information.  Recently, some companies, like MenuCalc, have compiled databases of ingredient nutrition information from USDA labs, eliminating the need for expensive laboratory testing.

No matter what, menu labeling is coming, and restaurants are going to have to deal with that reality.  A vote on the LEAN Act is expected during this session of congress, and we could see a national standard for menu labeling by as early as next year.

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Menu Labeling Law Being Considered in Congress

The movement to accurately label menu items with nutrition information is gaining ground at a remarkable pace.  In 2008, the state of California, the cities of New York and Philadelphia, and two counties in Washington and Oregon passed legislation requiring restaurants to provide nutrition information to their customers.

20 more cities, counties, and states currently have similar laws on their dockets.

Studies have shown that 75% of consumers favor mandatory menu labeling in food service establishments.  Consumers are already familiar with nutrition labeling since it became standard on food products, and most want the same information when they dine out.

Critics cite the cost of analyzing menu items for their nutritional content as being prohibitively expensive for most small and mid-size food service businesses.

They also say menu variety will disappear because once a recipe is analyzed for its content, it cannot be changed even slightly since this will alter nutrition information.

However, the NRAsupports menu labeling legislation, but has chosen to lobby for a national bill that will preempt the growing patchwork of local and state laws regulating menu labeling and set a single national standard for menu labeling.

Menu Labeling Law Being Considered in Congress

The LEAN Act is currently being considered in Congress

The Labeling Education and Nutrition (LEAN) Act was introduced in 2008 and sets a national standard for restaurant menu labeling.  It is supported by the NRA and the Coalition for Responsible Nutrition Information (CRNI), an NRA-led advocacy group.  LEAN is currently in front of Congress and awaits a vote.

As restaurants in places like California begin the process of evaluating their menu nutrition information, a new industry has sprung up around nutrition.

One of those companies is MenuCalc, a San Francisco based organization that has compiled a huge database of laboratory analyses of common food ingredients.  Restaurateurs can use this information, which is accessible through the web, to create their own menu nutrition data.

No matter what, menu labeling is probably a trend in the food service industry that is beyond the point of no return.

It’s likely that in 10 years nutrition information will be as common on menus as Nutrition Facts labels are on food products today, and that leaves restaurateurs two choices:

Analyze and post nutrition information for their menu items today, or put it off for tomorrow.

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Hot Restaurant Trend: Menu Nutrition Labeling

Nutrition labeling is nothing new in the food industry.  Nutrition Facts have become ubiquitous on everything from milk cartons to candy bars.

But up until recently nutrition information on menus was largely absent.

That’s changing, and places like California and New York city have already passed legislation requiring nutrition information be displayed on menus.

Complying with new regulations is a compelling reason to begin recipe analyses, but it shouldn’t be the only reason why you start labeling your menu items with nutritional information.

Providing nutrition information creates customer loyalty and gives healthy menu claims credibility.

In an increasingly health conscious society, consumers want access to nutrition information.  The advent of nutrition labeling on grocery products has made them familiar with nutrition information and restaurants that have tried labeling have received an overwhelmingly positive response.

And menu labeling is a great way for you to market healthy menu choices because customers have all the information they need right in front of them.

Conducting recipe analysis will help you improve ingredient choices and streamline food preparation.  The process of analyzing the ingredients and preparation process you use for each recipe on your menu means you can reassess how you prepare menu items.

Often better ingredients can be employed to improve a recipe’s nutritional value.  Simple changes in food preparation methods can also improve nutritional value.

Perhaps most valuable to restaurateurs is the standardization of the food preparation process.  Small changes in how food is prepared, like variations in sauce and ingredient amounts and cooking times, can drastically change the nutritional value of a menu item.  Recipe analysis means you must prepare menu items the same way every time to maintain accurate nutritional labeling, and this has the valuable side effect of improving kitchen efficiency and reducing waste.

Laboratory Analysis vs. Database Analysis

Restaurateurs have two choices when deciding how to analyze their menus: a laboratory analysis of nutritional content or the computer database analysis of recipe ingredients based upon previous laboratory analyses of those ingredients.

Laboratory analyses are conducted by an independent laboratory, where each ingredient in a recipe is studied and it’s nutritional value calculated through testing.

This method is:

  • Generally used for standardized products with large distributions
  • Used by many large chain restaurants
  • Necessary for fried food products, because the variations in cooking times and the fat absorption qualities of individual foods require case-by-case analysis
  • Typically do not provide nutritional breakdowns of individual ingredients in a recipe, making it more difficult to adjust preparation methods and ingredients to achieve more healthy combinations
  • Requires a standardized food preparation method to ensure the accuracy of the analysis.  Slight variations in food preparation or ingredient amounts
  • Is much more expensive and time consuming than a database analysis

Database analyses collect the results from lab tests already conducted on a wide range of common recipe ingredients, eliminating the need to pay a laboratory to conduct a new test.

Access to database analyses:

  • Are much more affordable and less time consuming than lab analyses
  • Yield breakdowns of different recipe elements like sauces and condiments, giving you a more accurate picture of the nutritional content of each menu item
  • Allow you to adjust recipe ingredients and preparation methods to improve nutritional content and market claims like low sodium, fat free, etc.

Hot Restaurant Trend: Menu Nutrition LabelingMenuCalc is an online tool that uses database analysis to calculate the nutritional value of your menu’s recipes instantly.

You can do the analyses yourself using their wizard style interface and also get help from their experienced staff to create accurate menu labeling for your business.

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