A famous steak house chain went decades without serving so much as one Brussels sprout. Nor, for that matter, a slice of butternut squash.

But this year, its new Brussels Sprouts Au Gratin has emerged as its most popular side dish. In January, when it plans to roll out butternut squash risotto, they probably will also be the largest seller of butternut squash in the country.

Americans are eating — make that, demanding — fresh veggies at the one place no one expected them to: the restaurant. Gone are the days when meat ‘n’ potatoes basked in all the menu glory and an indistinguishable medley of peas, carrots and green beans were pushed to the wee corner of the plate. When Americans go out to eat — when most folks prefer to splurge — they’re increasingly splurging with vegetables.

So much so that vegetable offerings on restaurant menus nationally have jumped 11% over the past three years. Chief among them is kale, the leafy, dark-green vegetable that has seen a remarkable 400% increase in appearance on restaurant menus over the past five years. About 67% of Americans says a vegetarian meal can be just as satisfying as a non-veggie version.

Credit a new generation of eaters — 80 million Millennials with a combined spending power of $1.3 trillion annually — who garner a big hunk of their social media cred by what they eat and what they post about what they eat. Credit the Food Network, which constantly reminds cable viewers that vegetables are no longer second-class citizens. Credit hundreds of farmers markets and locally grown sections at grocery stores that drumbeat the same message. And credit Michelle Obama, for planting a high-profile vegetable garden right smack on the White House lawn.

Culturally, vegetable dishes are becoming the new normal. Vegetables are moving to the middle of the plate.

Mainstream chains — the ones that serve the typical American consumer — are giving vegetables serious creative reinvention.

No longer reserved for the perimeter, vegetables are featured more often in center-of-the-plate arrangements. They are stealing the spotlight.

One in 10 consumers say that menus containing a full serving of vegetables are more healthful. But that may not always be the case.  Vegetables that are slathered, smothered and buttered come loaded with calories, so what’s the gain?

Even so, the veggie fan club is a rapidly growing one, whether the vegetables are pristine or not. Parents, too, are driving this trend.

About 80% of kids’ meals were served with fries just a handful of years ago. Now, more than 40% are served with veggies, and that number keeps growing. We want to have kids consume more fruits and vegetables around the world — and we want to make access easier.

The palate is changing. Non-vegetarians want to eat more vegetables.

Much of this is about keeping Millennials happy. They get much of their peer credibility — both online and off — from eating the right stuff, then sharing the experience via social media. And vegetables, everyone knows, can look super colorful — and super cool — in shared photos.

In college, just a few years ago, there were days when students didn’t have a single piece of produce unless it was in some processed food they were eating. Now — just a few years later — it’s changed dramatically.

In many cases, restaurants are starting with the vegetables — not the meat — and builds a meal around them. 

At most restaurants waiters are much more prepared to answer my questions about fresh, local produce without having to go back and ask the chef.

What’s next?

Some are already seeing it: veggies at breakfast!  Yum.

Source:  usatoday.com,  11-11-13