Not so very long ago, having a “healthy” menu was all about calories. But while the regulatory environment still seeks to define healthy eating by calorie counts, the real world is a lot more subtle than that.
The crux of today’s nutrition challenge: Figuring out what your customers want when it comes to healthy options. What’s fair to say is that the market for healthy foods is evolving from weight-driven considerations to a sense that the right food as part of an overall healthy lifestyle can enhance both enjoyment and longevity. And social consciousness—embracing such issues as humane animal treatment and fair trade for workers—is also part of the equation.
The Good Protein
Through all the ebbs and flows of carbs and sugars and fats in recent years, protein is emerging with a healthier halo around it. Foods that are both high in protein (such as meat) and that represent high-quality protein (i.e., heirloom pork or wild salmon) hold particular appeal.
- Yogurt – Driven by the surging popularity of Greek yogurt, this tangy dairy product option is moving into food service as a health high-protein (and vegetarian) menu-maker
- Grains and Beans – The ancient grain quinoa is notably loaded with protein and other nutrients, but so are lentils, chickpeas, oatmeal, brown rice, soybeans (aka edamame), and others—and they’re all gluten free and vegan to boot
- Seafood – Consumers are getting savvy to the nutritional profile of fish and shellfish, which is naturally low in fat and packed with beneficial nutrients like Omega-3s
- Grass-Fed Beef – It’s not just about the humane treatment of animals; grass-fed beef is leaner than standard beef, and it has come to represent the socially and nutritionally conscious way to enjoy burgers and steaks, as well as lamb and bison
- Antibiotic- and Hormone-Free Chicken – Another example of the American consumer’s turn away from “factory” meat production, naturally raised chickens are becoming part of the shorthand for healthier proteins.