9 Ways to Make Your Restaurant Healthier

Healthy RestaurantHealth food. Ew.

Those two words conjure up images of tasteless grain combinations and bland green stuff that you were forced to eat as a child, and certainly never something you’d pay to eat.

And it’s attitudes like this that got us in the obesity pickle we’re in.

So much so, that healthy eating options have become a huge factor when people decide where to eat. The most recent Restaurant Industry Forecast from the National Restaurant Association showed that 71 percent of adults are trying to eat healthier at restaurants than they did two years ago. 

Which means, of course, your restaurant business needs to be offering healthy options in addition to tasty ones. How do you do that? Here are nine quick things you can do to make your restaurant healthier.

Offer Selections That Meet the Healthier Restaurant Meal Guidelines

You see a lot of chain restaurants putting little “hearts” next to items on their menus these days. It’s not because they’re sure you’ll love them, since, after all, it’s a chain restaurant. It’s denoting that the items meet guidelines set out by RAND Health, including:

    • ≤ 700 calories


    • ≤ 10 percent of calories from saturated fat


    • < 0.5 grams of artificial trans fat per meal


    • ≤ 35 percent of calories from total sugars


    • No sugar-sweetened beverages


    • ≤ 770 milligrams of sodium


    • ≥ 1.5 cups of vegetables and / or fruits (no more than 1/2 cup of white potato)


    • Whole grain, where applicable

So when you’re planning your menu – or maybe revamping it – make a point to have at least one healthy mean in each menu section that meets these criteria. Then denote it with some adorable icon on your menu. Or a heart.

Use Natural Flavor Enhancers

Yes, ok, technically salt is natural since it comes from the sea. But instead of drenching your food in sodium, find strongly flavored herbs and vegetables that can bring out flavors in a healthier way. Lime, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, and citrus are just a few starters. And even if you think those don’t traditionally fit into the cuisine you serve, try it. It’s called innovation, and people like it.

Utilize Brightly Colored Vegetables

Those bright colors aren’t just for show, either. They’re signs that the vegetables are much more nutrient dense, and will make for a healthier meal. So instead of serving up sides of cauliflower and potatoes, go for stuff like red and yellow peppers, broccoli and spinach. You can’t make kids eat it, but, hey, at least you tried.

Use Fresh Juice in Everything

Much like those flavor enhancers we mentioned above, fresh juice and sweetness add strong flavor to everything. Also, the natural sugar in fresh juice will be a much healthier way to sweeten everything from your desserts to your breads to your stocks. It’ll also give you (or your chef) a chance to get a lot more creative with those flavors.

Use As Little Fat As Possible

Yeah, butter tastes better, but olive oil is a much healthier fat that will lower the cholesterol count of your menu considerably. Grape seed oil, though more expensive than olive oil, is an even healthier option. Or, you can skip the fats altogether in some instances and season your pans. This will not only make your food less greasy, but give the menu items at your restaurant a distinct flavor people won’t be able to find elsewhere.

Keep Your Portions Smaller

Unless you’re trying to be one of those uber-trendy spots that charges $58 for a tablespoon of seaweed, people usually don’t complain if your portions are a normal size. Normal, of course, is relative, but giving people enough food so that they’re satisfied isn’t going to lead to a bunch of bad Yelp! reviews. Using three to four ounces of protein should be enough, but offering more of that and less of starches will actually leave diners more satisfied while consuming fewer calories. And what chef feels bad when people don’t leave leftovers?

Allow People to “Create Your Own” Menu Item

In case you missed it, the ability to craft one’s own meal is one of the things millennials look for in a restaurant. But beyond being a big selling point to millennials, it allows your restaurant’s customers to forego the bacon, cheese, sour cream, fried stuff and whatever else they may deem “unhealthy.” And it gives you nearly-limitless healthy options on your restaurant menu.

Never, EVER, Use American Cheese

While America is known for a great many innovations that have benefited the world, from the automobile to penicillin to air travel, one innovation nobody is thanking us for is heavily processed food.  The best example of this is our namesake cheese, which is made with corn starch, partially hydrogenated oils, and trace amounts of ACTUAL dairy. There’s a lot of better options out there, and while nobody would pass them off as health food, they’re not the diabetes magnet that American cheese is.

Substitute Healthier Options for Traditional Ingredients

This is a pretty broad statement. So the good people at THE Ohio State University actually made a nice, four-page chart that lays out the healthier ingredient options you can feature in your restaurant’s cuisine.

But on a universal level, consider offering brown rice instead of white rice, olive oil and vinegar instead of creamy ranch, Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, or applesauce or mashed bananas in place of butter at your restaurant. There are more than that, obviously, but it’s a good start.

As a restaurant owner, it’s critical to stay informed on the latest food trends and resources for restaurants so you can adapt accordingly. While it’s challenging to create healthy options on your restaurant’s menu and still have food people crave, it’s not impossible. Look at it as an exercise in creativity. Because once you can create something that’s tasty and not complexly guilt-ridden, your chances for success have immediately become a lot higher.

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