As consumers’ interest in better-for-you foods grows, healthier fare is sprouting up on more restaurant menus. Operators already offering healthy eats understand the value these options bring to the menu. But diners expect far more than a grilled chicken salad with low-cal dressing or broiled fish with steamed vegetables. Healthier menu options can’t lack flavor or appeal. The best items are ones that have good nutrition and good taste.

To capitalize on this better-for-you food trend, operators don’t need to re-engineer their entire menu or rebrand their concept. Instead, they need only add a few key items or add a healthy twist to an existing item. Just as important as creating the full flavor options is marketing them. Customers don’t want to feel like they are ordering off of a diet menu. Feature healthy attributes in menu descriptions and make diners feel good about ordering them.

Here are a few ways some successful operators have made their menus better-for-you friendly:

  • Modify an existing favorite to make it healthier. Among the easiest ways to get a healthy menu is to take a great-tasting favorite and make it better-for-you. Swapping spices and herbs for salt and fat results in flavors that are vibrant enough to stand on their own. Ruby’s Diner has been grilling up the GoFit Burger, a vegetarian, reduced fat and calorie version of its beef-laden Double Deluxe Burger. The Cheesecake Factory, a restaurant best known for hyper-indulgent, oversized dishes, recently reworked a number of its favorite dishes to fit its new 590-calorie SkinnyLicous menu.
  • The best items are the ones that have good nutrition and good tasteGo Grainy. For an instant nutrition boost, use whole grain bread, pizza dough, wraps, or tortillas, or add whole grains to salads. For example, Paradise Bakery Café recently introduced a limited time offering called a Breakfast Power Sandwich made with eggs, cheddar cheese, smoked lean ham, and freshly baked whole grain bread. Daily Kitchen, a new better-for-you-concept, has swapped out lettuce for grains in salads such as the Sugar Snap Pea and Quinoa salad; and, institutional and business foodservice provider Compass Group recently launched Whole+Sum, a new program that allows consumers to choose whole grains, vegetables and other proteins to make filling, flavorful meals under 600 calories.
  • Let customers customize. To meet diverse dietary needs, diners offer a variety of ingredients or sides to choose from, with options that range from healthy to indulgent. For example, Villanova University recently transformed its dining hall from ‘all-you-care-to eat’ to ‘made-to-order’, giving students the chance to choose healthy or indulgent ingredients for customized sandwiches, stir fry, pasta, pizza, even smoothies. Potatoes are a great way for operators to experiment with a variety of unusual flavors and seasonings that boost nutrition, like Zucchini Garlic Mash or Spinach and Parmesan Mashed.
  • Right-size a dish. To appeal to consumers wanting reduced waistlines, try adding smaller portion sizes. Bite size or small plate portions of richer foods let consumers indulge without over-eating. Many chains have recently begun offering diners the option to order reduced- or half-sized options. For example, last August, Pei Wei Asian Diner began offering Diner Selects, reduced portions of combo meals; and in June Jason’s Deli added the new Zucchini Garden Pasta that is also available in a “lighter portion size”.
  • Veg Out. Make room for more green (and red and orange)
    on the plate. While Meatless Mondays took off as a cost savings idea, consumers are seeing the tasty benefit. Meals starring vegetables or offering protein substitutes like hummus and beans are showing up on menus from fine dining to K-12 schools. Brussel sprouts are featured at Frances, Market Table and Publican. Cities like San Francisco and public schools in Baltimore, Oakland and New Haven have adopted Meatless Mondays and celebrity chef supporters like Mario Batali are encouraging people to follow their lead.

As you can see, there are many ways to make your menu appeal to consumers’ desire for better-for-you foods. The key is to find the recipes that resonate with your customers. Click here to see some standout options created by Basic American Foods.