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In The News: Healthy Eating & Restaurants

Posted Aug 25 2008 6:55pm
The January 2008 issue of trade publication Restaurant Startup & Growth Distributor reprints a March 2004 feature titled "Good Restaurateurs Are Always Learning," which discusses successful strategies and business models.

One sidebar -- with the header "SevenBasic Menu Design Tips You Can Take to the Bank" -- begins with the following bullet point: "You Own a Restaurant, Not A Health Club."

" Be aware that people talk about healthy eating, but pursue food that is tasty, " reads the explanation.

It is unfortunate that so many people view these two concepts -- healthy eating and great-tasting food -- as mutually exclusive. Nutritious eating is not relegated to salt-free rice crackers and steamed carrots.

In this blog, I have highlighted several delicious, healthy recipes.

Even mainstream great-tasting fare like a whole wheat burrito with black beans, vegetables, guacamole, and salsa falls under the health umbrella. Restaurants should not look at offering healthy options as a reinvention of the wheel.

According to this article, " focus groups tells us that a menu speckled with 'heart-healthy' icons is not well-received. In fact, if you want to sell less of an item, put a 'heart' on it. "

Interesting. I wasn't aware of this statistic. The reasoning here is that people go to restaurants as a treat and do not want to be reminded of dietary restrictions.

Fair enough, but this should not give chefs a free pass to drown vegetables in half a stick of butter, smother pasta in Alfredo sauce, or rely on sugary sauces to make meats taste good.

Fat and sugar can make anything taste good. A true culinary talent can bring out the naturally delicious flavor of food with healthy items like spices, herbs, olive oil, and lemon juice.

Lastly, readers are encouraged to " place healthy items in their own category. "

While I can see how this helps customers (someone looking for low-calorie options knows what their choices are), it could very well dissuade many from selecting that menu item.

I have learned that whenever I make a healthy variety of something (one of my tried and true classics is a whole grain pizza with salt-free tomato sauce, which I then spice the heck out of), it is best to remain silent until people taste it and comment on how great it tastes.

Everyone who has tried my vegan chili, for example (which uses soy beef crumbles) has told me it is the best chili they have ever tasted. Even the most hardcore carnivores are surprised they are eating -- and liking! -- soy beef.

I made the mistake of telling a few people the ingredients before they tasted it, and they immediately grimaced, saying "I don't like that fake meat stuff, it's nasty."

The psychology of food is quite interesting. Some people, sadly, automatically relate nutritious meals to tasteless cardboard, and might be discouraged from trying something simply because it is under the "heart healthy," "low calorie," or "low fat" category .

Then there's the gender politics of food. You know, like the belief that "real men" eat a pound of semi-raw steak for breakfast and avoid anything that is naturally green and has leaves?

It saddens me to think that the restaurant industry typically views nutrition as a liability to their business.

In the meantime, here are some tips I published last year on how to enjoy restaurant fare while still tending to your health.
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