Menus missing healthy highlights

by Bob Sims
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Zoes Kitchen healthy menu
Consumers are calling for more easy-to-find healthy options on restaurant menus.

CHICAGO — Nearly half of consumers agree finding healthy items on restaurant menus is too difficult, and 68% of consumers think restaurants should call out healthy claims on menus, according to new research from Mintel, Chicago. Additionally, 64% of consumers believe healthy restaurant options are too expensive.

Still, 86% of consumers view dining out as an occasion to indulge, and 62% agree that taste is more important than nutrition when eating at a restaurant. Restaurants may offer healthy side dish substitutions as a way to satisfy consumers looking to balance indulgence with health, Mintel said.

Caleb Bryant, Mintel
Caleb Bryant, food service analyst at Mintel

“As Americans adopt a more holistic approach to their diets, they expect clarity from food service establishments, specifically by making healthy items easily identifiable and including more nutritional claims on menus,” said Caleb Bryant, food service analyst at Mintel. “At the same time, many consumers view dining out as a way to indulge. Restaurants should offer consumers a way to indulge and also incorporate nutrition by expanding menus to include more healthy sides, while also showcasing healthful preparation methods, such as grilled instead of fried foods. This provides options for whatever mood diners are in, whether they want to eat healthy, are looking to indulge, or possibly do both.”

Parents regard the healthy options for children as a top priority, with a 39% increase in ordering healthier food options for children over last year, and 66% of parents saying they would pay more for healthy menu options. Twenty-five per cent of parents say they allow children to eat unhealthy foods when dining out as an indulgence.

Subway healthy kids meal
Restaurants like Subway have moved toward healthier children's meals by offering alternatives to soda and sides.

“Kids’ meals are notorious for having low nutritional value, and restaurants have taken steps to add more healthful menu items for children in recent years,” Mr. Bryant said. “But while healthy dining is very important to families, restaurants need to remember that dining out is also considered a treat by many and an opportunity to indulge, even for children. Like adults, restaurants should look to cater to children who want nutritious items and those looking to treat themselves.”

Food service operators also may consider offering better-for-you alternatives to sugary beverages. Twenty-three per cent of consumers are ordering fewer carbonated soft drinks at restaurants compared to a year ago, and 38% agree that most soft drinks contain too much sugar. Consumers say they would like to see more all-natural beverages (38%), more iced tea options (31%) and more flavored waters (25%) served in restaurants.

Pitcher of iced tea at Olive Garden
Consumers say they would like to see more iced tea options at restaurants.

“As evidenced by struggling retail sales of carbonated soft drinks, consumers are looking for alternatives to high sugar drinks,” Mr. Bryant said. “As soft drinks have been a major revenue stream for the restaurant industry over the years, it’s important that restaurants adapt to consumers’ better-for-you preferences. All-natural beverage options like iced teas and flavored waters offer a healthier alternative for restaurant goers while providing a chance for restaurants to tap another revenue source.”
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