Restaurants offer healthful alternatives

07/17/2013 02:04:00 PM
Tom Burfield

If you don’t eat healthy when you dine out, don’t blame the restaurant.

That’s the opinion of Verne Lusby, president of FreshPoint Southern California, Industry, Calif., and others who supply fresh fruit and vegetables to the foodservice industry.

Restaurants are trying to help their customers eat more healthfully, Lusby said. No longer is it impossible to find anything healthful on the menu.

Restaurants offer a wide range of salads and make more vegetable entrees than ever, said Vince Choate, director of marketing for Hollandia Produce LLC, Carpinteria, Calif.

Even steakhouses offer healthful alternatives, he said.

“I don’t think there’s a restaurant you can go to, especially outside of the fast food chains, that don’t have some healthy alternatives on the menu these days,” Choate said.

A lot of restaurants focus on offering nutritious menu selections, said Jeff Olsen, vice president of The Chuck Olsen Co., Visalia, Calif.

He’s noticed more fruit showing up in salads, which helps suppliers move more fruit, and he said many eateries seem to balance meals that are high in fat and calories with more healthful alternatives.

At West Pak Avocado Inc., Murrieta, Calif., Dan Acevedo, director of business development, said some restaurateurs are turning to avocados to help ramp up the nutrition content of their menus.

“The perception of avocados today is that their taste profile is hard to duplicate, and their (health) benefits are much more realized,” he said.

More mainstream restaurants use avocados today, and they’re not just using them in guacamole.

“It’s definitely an add-on component to salads and burgers,” Acevedo said.

A recent study has dispelled the notion that about one-third of Americans’ caloric intake comes from restaurants.

Research conducted by Adam Drewnowski of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle on behalf of the National Restaurant Association determined that food purchased from restaurants accounts for up to 26% of Americans’ total caloric intake, based on age group.

The study said up to 70% of caloric intake in the U.S. diet came from purchases made at supermarkets, grocery stores and convenience stores.

“Restaurants are trying to help in a lot of ways,” Lusby said.

He cited the SkinnyLicious menu at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain as an example.

The menu, launched in 2011, features dozens of lower-calorie items, including a SkinnyLicious turkey and avocado sandwich, chicken lettuce wrap tacos and SkinnyLicious fresh vegetable salad.

Wendy’s has brought back its berry almond chicken salad, featuring fresh, handpicked U.S. blueberries and California strawberries. It combines a grilled chicken breast on a blend of 11 types of field greens topped with shaved Asiago cheese and California roasted almonds.

It’s served with a fat-free raspberry vinaigrette dressing that includes red raspberries, acai juice and balsamic vinegar. The offering will be available throughout summer.

Chipotle Mexican Grill said it has introduced Tofu Sofritas in its California stores.

They’re made from “organic tofu from Hodo Soy that is shredded then braised with chipotle chilies, roasted poblanos and a blend of aromatic spices,” according to the company’s website.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s efforts to counter its image as a purveyor of fast food that is high in calories and fat by adding salads to its menu have met with less than stellar success, Bloomberg news reports.

The eatery’s salads account for less than 3% of its U.S. restaurant sales, while its Dollar Menu generates up to 14%, said Don Thompson, president and chief executive officer.

“I don’t see salads as being a major growth driver in the near future,” he said at the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Strategic Decisions Conference in New York.

Instead, he said the company will try to sell more fruits and vegetables through items like its new McWraps, which include tomato and cucumber slices as well as shredded lettuce.



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