Restaurants Up the Ante on Healthier Menu Options

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Restaurants Up the Ante on Healthier Menu Options

Consumers are telling restaurateurs they’re looking for menu items lower in calories, more nutritious and, in some cases, smaller sized, and restaurateurs are listening.

Earlier this year, the National Restaurant Association released its annual What’s Hot Culinary Survey of more than 1,000 U.S. chefs and restaurateurs. The research found that eight in 10 operators said customers pay more attention to nutritional content than they did two years ago. The survey also discovered 71 percent of consumers said availability of healthy menu choices made it more likely they’d choose one restaurant over another. As a result, restaurateurs planned to add more of those options to their menus. For example:

  • 55 percent of family-dining operators said they would add healthier items
  • 57 percent of casual-dining restaurateurs planned more healthful options
  • 55 percent of fine-dining were making menu changes
  • 49 percent of fast-casual said they would add more nutritious items, and
  • 41 percent of quickservice operators said they planned to serve healthier options

“Restaurateurs are offering more choices for diners than ever before,” says Jeff Clark, the Association’s nutrition and sustainability manager. “They understand there is more demand for different kinds of items that are nutritious, lower calorie and, in some cases, smaller-plate options that satisfy without eliminating flavor. At the end of the day, restaurants want to provide their guests with something they can enjoy. That’s the goal: satisfy each and every guest.”

A number of chains are creating better-for-you menus featuring alternative proteins, lower calories and veggie-forward dishes. Here’s a short list of some popular chains and the healthful, lighter options on their menus:

Chili’s: Guiltless Grill

Chili’s offers several Guiltless Grill menu items that are 630 calories or less. Customers can choose mango chile chicken with rice or a 6-ounce classic sirloin in spicy citrus-chile sauce with grilled veggies and avocado or seared ancho salmon served with Mexican rice and steamed broccoli.

Denny’s: Fit Fare

At Denny’s, customers at can order a hearty breakfast from its Fit Fare menu. These more healthful items include a 430-calorie Fit Slam – egg whites scrambled with spinach and tomatoes, served with turkey bacon, fruit and an English muffin. The meal contains less than 15 grams of fat and more than 20 grams of protein. The Fit Fare Loaded Veggie Omelette, featuring egg whites, fresh spinach, mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes and melted Swiss cheese, weighs in at 490 calories – with English muffin.

Cheesecake Factory: Skinnylicious

The Cheesecake Factory offers a Skinnylicious menu with 50 dishes that are 590 calories or less. Items include small plates such as Greek salad, fresh beets with goat cheese, apples, arugula, pecans and vinaigrette; and seasonal grilled artichoke with lemon-garlic aioli. Full-sized entrees include a Skinnylicious turkey or veggie burger with salad and grilled veggies; chicken lettuce wrap tacos; and lemon-garlic shrimp with asparagus and angel hair pasta.

Panera: Food As It Should Be

Panera Bread offers items that are protein rich, plant based and nutrient packed. Plant-based items include a 380-calorie soba noodle and edamame bowl and a 440-calorie Mediterranean veggie-feta sandwich on whole grain bread. Protein-rich items include a 260-calorie turkey chili and a 400-calorie ancient grain, arugula and chicken salad.

Pita Pit: 6-inch Artisan Sandwiches

The Pita Pit offers a downsized 6-inch version of its traditional Artisan 8.5-inch pita. Smaller-sized sandwich options include a 270-calorie Thai chicken pita, featuring grilled chicken in satay sauce with spinach, carrots, cucumbers and roasted peppers in mojito-lime sauce; and a 320-calorie chicken pesto pita with grilled chicken, romaine, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, onions and feta in Greek seasoning.

What’s the takeaway? These are just a sampling of chains working to offer a variety of food items that guests say they want — on their menus and their plates.