Serving Better Health: the recent NRA show put the spotlight on better-for-you menu options

June 6, 2013
3 min read

The 94th annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show descended on Chicago with four days of a packed trade show floor. Better-for-you (BFY) food and beverage items ruled the show. Greek yogurt—frozen, conventional and/or both—was out in force. It showed up in new places, like cheesecake and savory dips.

greek youghurt cheesecakeThe term stealth health has circled around the foodservice world for years, but the idea seems to be gaining traction in more significant ways on the supply side, where ingredient reformulations of essentials like salt sweeteners and bread. One vendor hoped to significantly reduce sodium intake with a product that blends sea sat and potassium chloride for a formulation that contains 70% less sodium than conventional table salt, an achievement that won the show’s 2013 Food & beverage Innovations Award. A company representative pointed out that using this product in processed meat alone could significantly reduce sodium intake for most Americans.

chips healthy trend

Many packaged food companies had options to improve the nutritional profile of kids’ menus; items included bagged fresh grapes, fruit chews and gelatin squeeze-packs and again, plenty of yogurt. At least two major yogurt companies hope that adding squeezable yogurt as a side dish option on children’s menus will improve kids’ dietary health, even if chicken fingers and fries stay on the menu.

spe certification

Also represented at the show was SPE Certified, a new effort aimed at addressing sustainability and better health in the restaurant industry. Like LEED certification for buildings and the God Housekeeping seal of approval, SPE positions itself as an “independent, third-party food certification program designed to enhance the nutritional quality of foods without compromising taste.” SPE stands for the Latin “Sanitas Per Escram,” or “health through food.”

New this year, the Alternative BiteStyle specialty pavilion showcased products for individuals with special dietary needs. While gluten-free is still tops on the special diets list, other concerns, like nut allergies and lactose intolerance, were also addressed here.

Better Health was also on the menu at the educational sessions. A session called “Nutrition Trends: How Can Your Restaurant Capitalize?” provided real life roadmaps from Cheryl Dolven, MS, RD, director of health and wellness of Darden Restaurants and Chef Ype Von Hengst, co-founder and executive chef of Silver Dinner, which was recognized as 2013 Menu Master’s Healthful Innovation winner. Dolven credits better side dishes, more menu variety and ingredient transparency for some recent successes at Darden. “Guest seek balance,” Dolven pointed out.

Chef Von Hengst showed footage from a children’s menu focus group that proved kids will take more chances with food than most children’s menus would have us believe. Brown rice and teriyaki-glazed salmon was a hit with his young critics.


Anita Jones-Mueller of Healthy Dining had some tips for improving the healthfulness of restaurant offerings. She urged attendees to focus on nutrient value of the calories served. Lean protein, whole grains, beans, and legumes; unsaturated fats, nuts and avocado are ways to offer nutrient-rich foods. She also suggested that operators can reduce sodium in menu items by 10%-25% by reformulating menu items and without diners noticing the change.

For more of the latest information on healthy dining, look for Mintel’s Healthy Dining – U.S. – July 2013 to release early this summer.



Kathy Hayden
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