1. Be transparent about sourcing and preparation.
Providing customers with abundant information about food production methods, sourcing strategies, calorie and nutrient values, labor practices, animal welfare, and environmental impacts is a necessity in our technology-driven and networked era. Consumer engagement is driven by the rise in food safety and fraud alerts, a growing interest in sustainability and food ethics, and a hyper-connectivity that yields instant access to information such as impending crop failures or the latest farm-labor conditions across global supply chains. Consumers can learn about what they eat regardless of what chefs and businesses share. Given that, food operators can build trust by learning about environmental and social issues in the food system and sharing information about their own practices. Identifying the farms that grow key ingredients, for example, is a strategy that creates value and brand identity and one that is quickly becoming a standard practice. Going further and explaining how food is produced and the rationale for sourcing decisions are the next steps, while limiting or restricting information on hot-button consumer issues such as calories, trans fats, genetically modified ingredients, or processing methods are approaches not likely to survive over the long term. Operators who do not adjust business models and strategies to anticipate the impacts of this accelerating trend risk disappointing the dining public and having to play costly catch-up as such issues assume greater urgency with the public.
2. Buy fresh and seasonal, local and global.
For chefs, peak-of-season fruits and vegetables can help create unbeatable flavors—and marketing opportunities. When designing menus, draw ideas and inspiration from local farmers and their crops during your growing season as well as the varieties and growing seasons of more distant regions. The advantages of local sourcing include working with smaller producers who may be more willing to experiment with varieties that bring interest and greater flavor to the table. A focus on local foods also can play an important role in building community by
encouraging school children, retailers, media, and others to learn how to grow food, steward the land, and adopt healthier eating habits. But designing menus to draw on in-season fruits and vegetables from more distant farms also is a key strategy for bringing fresh flavors to menus throughout the year.
3. Reward better agricultural practices.
Sourcing sustainably grown foods is complex, but there is one important rule of thumb: the environmental cost of food is largely determined by how it is produced. The best farms and ranches protect and restore natural systems through effective management practices, such as choosing crops well-suited for their local growing conditions, minimizing use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and avoiding the use of groundwater for irrigation. Bettermanaged farms sometimes qualify for organic or other sustainable-farming certifications. But many—including smaller farms—simply adopt better practices. The most powerful strategies for supporting better farms include aligning menus to emphasize fresh foods during the peak of their local growing season and shifting purchases toward farms that have responsible management programs.
4. Leverage globally inspired, plant-based culinary strategies.
Scientific research suggests that the most effective way to help diners make healthy, sustainable food choices is to shift our collective diets to mostly plant-based foods. Growing plants for food generally has less of a negative impact on the environment than raising livestock, as livestock have to eat lots of plants to produce a smaller amount of food. In fact, no other single decision in the professional kitchen—or in the boardrooms of foodservice companies—can compare in terms of the benefits of advancing global environmental sustainability. From the wellresearched Mediterranean diet to the cuisines of Asia and Latin America, traditional food cultures offer a myriad of flavor strategies to support innovation around healthy, delicious, even craveable cooking that rebalances ratios between foods from animal and plant sources.
5. Focus on whole, minimally processed foods.
In general, consumers and chefs should first focus on whole, minimally processed foods. Such foods are typically higher in micronutrient value and less likely to contain high levels of added sugars, saturated or trans fats, and sodium. (Indeed, nearly three-quarters of the sodium in the U.S. food supply is estimated to come from processed foods.) Whole, minimally processed foods are also typically slowly metabolized, preventing sharp increases in blood sugar that over time may lead to insulin resistance. That said, some minimally processed foods—lowsodium
tomato paste, wine, nut butters, frozen fruits and vegetables, mayonnaise, dark chocolate, canned low-sodium beans, 100 percent wholegrain crackers, fresh-cut vegetables, spice mixtures, yogurt, reduced sodium sauces, many kinds of canned fish and shellfish, among other things—can be incorporated into healthy meals. Processing can also be used to extend the season of local and sustainably grown produce and to make use of cosmetically imperfect foods, especially produce.
6. Grow everyday options, while honoring special occasion traditions.
The foodservice industry historically developed around special occasion dining. Today’s industry, however, is increasingly responsible for providing everyday food choices to a substantial segment of the U.S. population. From a health and environmental perspective, there will always be room in the industry for indulgence and special occasion foods. However, the real opportunity in menu and concept development is the expansion of everyday food and menu choices that embrace current nutrition and environmental science, as well emerging consumer values about how food is produced.
7. Lead with menu messaging around flavor.
To sell healthy and sustainable food choices, lead with messages about flavor, rather than actively marketing health attributes. Research shows that taste trumps nearly all, even if customers want chefs, on some level, to help them avoid foods that increase their risk of chronic disease. Messages that chefs care and are paying attention to how and from
whom they are sourcing their ingredients—such as by naming specific farms and growing practices (e.g., organic)—can enhance perceptions of healthier food choices (if, in fact, these choices are healthier— i.e., that they are also consistent with guidance for optimal nutrition).
Moderating portion size is one of the biggest steps foodservice operators can take towards reversing obesity trends and reducing food waste. This is different than offering multiple portion
10. Design health and sustainability into operations and dining spaces.
Food and menu design are not the only ways to advance sustainability in foodservice. Choices that affect the way restaurants and other foodservice operations are designed, built, and operated are also important. These include imagining kitchens that support the optimal preparation of fresh, healthy foods and selecting energy- and water-efficient equipment and environmentally friendly building materials. As behavioral economics studies have shown, dining-room operations and foodservice eating spaces also deserve more attention: design,
Focus on fruits and vegetables first—with great diversity across all meals and snacks. Recognize that customers aren’t eating nearly enough—they should be filling half their plates with produce. Menus should feature green leafy vegetables and a mix of colorful fruits and vegetables daily. Fruit is best consumed whole or cut, fresh and in season, or frozen and preserved
Menus should offer and highlight slow-metabolizing, whole and intact grains, such as 100 percent whole-grain bread, brown rice, and whole grain/higher protein pasta. Use white flour and other refined carbohydrates sparingly, as their impacts on
Current nutrition science reverses the mistaken belief that we need to limit all fat. Moderate and even high levels of beneficial fats in the diet—from (most) non-hydrogenated plant oils, nuts, nut butters, avocados, and fish—are associated with optimal nutrition and healthy weight. Beneficial fats paired with an abundance of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts can give our diets a baseline of slow-metabolizing, healthy foods, which are associated with increased satiety. A more liberal usage of healthy fats, offering the potential to deliver high-impact flavors, might represent the difference between consumers liking—or not liking—healthier and more environmentally friendly foods. Even small, occasional servings of deep-fried foods and condiments are appropriate offerings if operators use healthy, nonhydrogenated oils, and avoid potatoes, breading, and other refined carbohydrates in favor of fish, vegetables, legumes, and legume flour. Research confirms that the vast majority of people report better adherence to a moderate- or higher-fat, healthy diet.
Chicken and other poultry in moderation is a good choice for healthier protein with a far lower environmental footprint than red meat. Chefs should avoid or minimize the use of processed
Red meat,beef, pork, and lamb—can be enjoyed occasionally and in small amounts. Current guidance from nutrition research recommends consuming a maximum of two 3-ounce servings per week. Chefs and menu developers can rethink how meat is used by featuring it in smaller, supporting roles to healthier plant-based choices, and experimenting with meat
Consumers crave sugar, and the foodservice industry responds by selling processed foods and sweets that are loaded with it. But sugar’s role in spiking blood-sugar levels and increasing rates of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases means that professional kitchens should substantially restrict its use. Various strategies include: choosing processed foods with little or no added sugar; favoring healthy oils over sugar in products such as salad dressings; featuring smaller portions of dessert augmented with fruit; and substituting whole, cut, and dried fruit for sugar in recipes. There is nothing wrong with an occasional dessert; but pastry chefs and dessert specialists need to take up the challenge to create sweets centered on whole grains,
The foodservice and foodmanufacturing sectors have long been too reliant on salt to do the heavy lifting to create high flavor impact and customer satisfaction. Single items, such as a sandwich or entrée, might contain more than 2,500 milligrams of sodium, well above the current maximum recommended intake of 1,500 milligrams to 2,300 milligrams for the entire day. Chefs should focus on a range of other strategies to deliver flavor including: sourcing the best-quality, high-flavor produce; working with spices, herbs, citrus, and other aromatics; and employing healthy sauces, seasonings, and other flavor-building techniques from around the world. Many chefs are finding success in focusing their innovation where they have the highest aggregation of sodium (e.g., processed meats, cheese, and bread) in a single menu item. Others are making progress in implementing an across-the-board incremental 10 to 20 percent sodium reduction in their preparations. Still others are focusing on collaborating with manufacturing partners to reduce sodium using alternative strategies to create desired flavors and textures.
A drastic reduction in sugary beverages represents one of the biggest opportunities for foodservice operators to help reverse the national obesity and diabetes epidemics. Sugary beverages add no nutritional value and contribute negligible satiety. Yet they are a prime source of extra calories in the diet and a principal contributor to the development of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. Smaller portion sizes and less frequent consumption are steps in the right direction, but nowhere in foodservice is there a greater need of creative,
Water is the best choice to serve your customers, either plain or with the addition of cut-up fruit, herbs and aromatics, or other natural flavors—but no sugar. Served plain, coffee and tea are calorie-free beverages containing antioxidants, flavonoids, and other biologically active substances that may be good for health. Wine, beer, and other beverage alcohol present a more complicated story of benefits for many individuals, with some offsetting risks. Current nutrition guidance suggests a maximum of two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women.
For more information visit; http://www.menusofchange.org/