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Operators use high-quality, fresh ingredients to serve up dishes that manage to be both healthy and indulgent.

Lighter menu offerings at restaurants long ago moved from being a nice option for health-conscious customers to being the expectation of a sizeable chunk of the population. Increased consumer demand for more nutritious dining choices has sparked an industry-wide movement toward health-focused menu development.

If restaurants don’t have healthier choices, they are starting to miss out. But while some brands have confined their healthy food development to whatever has a low calorie count, many quick-service and fast-casual restaurant menus are leveraging innovation and the use of fresher, higher-quality ingredients to stake a claim in the health movement.

Healthy Dining Finder’s main criteria for the food it recognizes are that it be dietitian-created and include menu choices that are rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and unsaturated fats. It’s super important to understand that it’s the value of the calorie, the nutrient density of the calorie that matters most.

Some limited-service brands have demonstrated creativity and artistry in providing healthy menu choices for customers.

Some feel the restaurant industry doesn’t get enough credit for its move toward healthy menu items.  People don’t understand exactly how much is going on in the industry. It’s doing quite a bit to make menus healthy.

Operators are taking a lot of time and care with healthier items. It used to be that a turkey burger, for example, was the answer to a healthy burger. But today’s turkey burger is more appealing, the result of more innovation with interesting dressings, sauces, cheeses, and buns, among other ingredients.

Produce is also increasingly finding its way onto menus. It’s a great look and it can increase nutrient quality, as well as perceived wellness. Vegetarian items, such as pastas, Asian-style bowls, and veggie-based burgers, are becoming so popular that we are now seeing them on menus without even being called out as vegetarian.

Two of the biggest trends in produce are local sourcing and the use of heirloom varietals. Kale, pumpkin, and butternut squash have exploded over the last couple of years, while cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and mustard greens, which are both very nutrient dense, continue to grow consistently. People are more aware of things like the seasonality of berries or the limited availability of heirlooms, and they’re willing to wait for them.

In Huntington Beach, California–a based seafood fast-casual concept, uses farm-fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the local high school’s organic garden. Its menu revolves around fresh, sustainable fish; sustainable fish is another healthy trend that’s on a lot of people’s radar.

More commercial fishing methods, which use long lines and big nets, catch large numbers of fish but also unintended bycatch. The fish also sit in the sun for long hours and are not always treated properly on the boat, which can cause bruising. Poor treatment compromises the nutrition and health benefits of fish.

Americans are becoming more familiar with the benefits of eating fish, which is making it increasingly popular. The advantages of eating seafood at least twice a week include the provision of healthier fats, including omega-3s, generally low fat content, and abundant other nutrients. Other nutrients include selenium, vitamin D in fatty fish like salmon, and vitamin B12. As a source of high-quality protein, seafood is also easier to digest than many other animal proteins, an advantage among older and younger people.

Source:  qsrmagazine.ecom, May 2014

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