Thursday, September 29, 2011

Facts Up Front: More discussion on food labeling

In another move toward making nutrition information readily accessible to consumers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) have announced the relaunch, if you will, of the Facts Up Front (formerlly known as "Nutrition Keys") labeling system.

The new nutrition icons are part of a voluntary program designed to clearly showcase calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar per serving.  Read more about these changes here

Clearly these changes, in addition to the proposed changes to the FDA's Nutrition Facts Panel, are a sign of the times: America is moving toward a more educated consumer audience.  What are your thoughts on this movement?  Weigh in in the comments section, or post your thoughts on our company Facebook page!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

American Barbecue: Delicious AND Nutritious?

Summer has come to a close, but in many regions of the country, it is still warm enough to host one more outdoor barbecue.  It doesn’t take a nutritionist to discern that most barbecue fare is not traditionally seen as the picture of health.  Creamy coleslaw, buttery cornbread, cheesy macaroni, and fatty meats come to mind when most diners picture this beloved culinary treasure.

Don’t get me wrong, I love barbecue.  I really do.  I love it so much that I refuse to accept it’s bad reputation for expanding summer waistlines.  Instead, it is my heartfelt contention that barbecue is actually one of the easiest cuisines to modify to be healthier without sacrificing the taste or experience of the original. 

For one thing, barbecuing is, by nature, a very healthy way to prepare food.  The dry heat means that no oil or butter is required, and marinades and spice rubs can take center stage for flavoring the food.

For those who are gluten intolerant, barbecue is a great option.  With the exception of bread, most traditional barbecue dishes are meat or vegetable based, which is good for the carb counters out there, too.

Here are some other tips for preparing a healthier homestyle meal:

·       Choose leaner cuts of meat, and remove the skin when possible.  Rotisserie chicken is a great option with the skin removed, as it retains its full flavor.  Skinless breasts and thighs are another smart poultry choice.  When cooking ribs, choose baby back over spare ribs, as they are leaner and just as tasty.  Center-cut pork chops and lean cuts of red meat, like skirt steak, are all protein-packed, lower fat options.
·       Be carb-conscious.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to forgo carbohydrates completely in the name of health.  I will, however, entertain the idea of a baked potato instead of potato salad, or a pasta salad instead of macaroni and cheese.  These swaps are simple and still satisfying.
·       Be your own BBQ.  Many bottled barbecue sauces are full of sodium and high-fructose corn syrup.  Consider creating your own house recipe with less sugar and more spices, and it could become your signature sauce.
·       Watch the extras.  Coleslaw itself is not a dietary disaster; it’s the mayonnaise often found as the coleslaw base.  Try a vinegar-based version and get all the crunchy satisfaction without the extra calories and fat.
·       Look again.  Certain classic barbecue dishes get a bad rap for no reason.  The first example that comes to mind is baked beans.  Sure, the combination of brown sugar and molasses is not ideal, but these indulgences are balanced by all the protein, fiber, and antioxidants in the beans.
·       Veggies.  Fruit.  More veggies.  Another feature of homestyle cuisine that often gets overlooked is the overwhelming options for incorporating produce!  What could be healthier than that?  The best part is that so many of your barbecue favorites already fall into this category and you don’t even realize it.  How about some grilled corn on the cob with salt and pepper?  Or perhaps some fresh-cut chunks of watermelon for dessert?  Don’t forget the classic southern dish of collard greens, which are essentially one of the healthiest foods you could possibly eat.  For vegetarians and omnivores alike, make a substantial main course by stacking vegetable chunks on a kabob and grilling them as you would grill the meat.

Classic barbecue dishes are a national treasure and should be enjoyed by those who want it.  The beauty is that as with almost every cuisine, with just a few small tweaks, barbecue can also be served to even the most health conscious diner.      

Now what are you waiting for?  Get grillin’!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Healthy Minded Consumers and Social Media

It is clear at this point that there is a large and growing subset of restaurant diners seeking out healthy options.  The industry has gone to great lengths to market new menu items to this emerging demographic.  But what if restaurants didn’t need to makeover their entire menu in order to appeal to this group of customers?  What if some simple tactics using modern technology and communication strategies could positively affect the way consumers see a restaurant’s brand?  Studies are showing that utilizing social media to effectively communicate a restaurant’s image can do exactly that.

In a recent study conducted by DigitalCoCo, surprising statistics were reported about restaurant brands and the perceived healthfulness by consumers.  Take a look:

Surprisingly, when it comes to healthy eating, McDonald's actually scored higher than Subway by healthy consumer "tastemakers" who rated restaurants on social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare and Twitter.

Could it be that social media-savvy diners are simply more inclined to rate a brand as healthier if they are loyal to the restaurant?  Could it perhaps be the way the respective restaurants have portrayed their brands on these social media platforms?

What factors do you believe influence a restaurant brand's image when pertaining to health?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Nutrition Facts Panel is Getting a Makeover

Quite a lot of buzz was generated last week when the FDA announced plans to rework the standard nutrient facts panel found on retail food items.  

I can't help but notice that these proposed changes are part of a much grander societal shift in the way nutrition and preventative healthcare measures are addressed.  With the passage of the national menu labeling law, the recent overall of the long-standing food pyramid to the more straightforward MyPlate, and now the makeover of the nutrition facts panel, it's indisputable that the FDA is responding to the growing concern about obesity and its associated healthcare costs for America.

The evolution of the nutrition label has been a long time coming.  Though the label is nearly two decades old, discussions about changing its layout have been in the works since 2003.  A particularly fascinating contest was held earlier this year by UC Berkeley and Good Magazine, which resulted in 60 design proposals and a world of feedback and commentary.  It would seem it's not just the FDA that is pushing for change: consumers and healthcare professionals alike are rooting for a reformed design.  Heck, when you need a Registered Dietitian to decode a nutrition label, it's a sign that we're ready for change.

I'm excited to see the changes that will result from this movement.  No doubt there will be some resistance from the industry regarding the costs of such an undertaking, but with modern web-based technologies, these changes can be affordably and almost effortlessly implemented.  

What would you like to see emphasized on a more modernized nutrition label?  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Why I Love Chain Restaurants (Really!)

Let’s face it: chain restaurants don’t exactly have a glamorous reputation.  The paparazzi aren’t lined up outside of your local Applebee’s, no doubt because I’m fairly certain Angelia Jolie isn’t dining at many places that feature pictures on the menu.
Personally though, I have always found a certain charm to chain restaurants.  There is a familiarity there that is immediately recognizable, which can be very comforting for someone who is traveling, away from family, or just happens to be a sentimental fool like yours truly.

The first example that comes to mind is Mimi’s Cafe.  My affinity for it started when I was in high school, when I would often end up there for breakfast with my dad on our way to spending the day in the city.  This habit continued into college, when my friends and I would frequent the place after a night of debauchery.  I ate at a Mimi’s the morning after my 21st birthday, the morning of my sister’s wedding, and the first time my husband and I went out on a breakfast date.
I don’t know what it is about Mimi’s that I love so much.  I think of it as sort of a classed-up Denny’s.  Inexplicably I will only go there for breakfast.  Inexplicably I consider it a treat to go, despite the average breakfast entree costing little more than my daily Starbucks habit.  I don’t know exactly why I adore it, but I have a few guesses:


A chain restaurant like Mimi’s is predictable.  But that word has negative connotations.  Dependable, perhaps.  You always know what to expect, be it warm breadsticks at Olive Garden or those perfectly salty tortilla chips at Chevy’s.


Sure, I’d love to visit The Ivy one day, but my wallet would much prefer it if I stuck to places who’s menu is geared toward the everyday diner’s budget.


There is a time and a place to spend two hours trying to find that perfect little corner bistro.  While you’re exploring the streets and alleys of Florence, perhaps.  By the time Friday night at 8pm rolls around, however, I really just want to grab a (predictable, affordable) bite.


Ok, I don’t think that’s actually a word.  But because chain restaurant menus are uniform and often subject to menu labeling laws, it is increasingly easy to find nutrition information for the food I’m eating.  Big,big plus for this dining detective.


While studying abroad, I took great comfort in being able to visit a Starbucks in London and being transported back to my hometown for those 15 minutes.  Food in itself is often tied to emotions and memories…the same goes for the institutions in which we eat and drink.

How about you?  Are you a fan of chain restaurants, or do you prefer to seek out more unique places to dine?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chipotle in the news: another argument for menu transparency

You probably read the headlines a couple of weeks back about Chipotle's pinto beans, which contain bacon, but do not include a disclosure about said bacon on in-store menu boards.

The story is both a testament to the power of social media as well as the importance of transparency on restaurant menus.

From the Huffington Post:

Chipotle has always advised on its website that vegetarian and vegan customers should avoid its pinto beans. The beans are cooked with "a small amount of bacon," unlike the Mexican chain's black beans, which are vegan. But in-store menus do not indicate the porkiness of the pinto, and Chipotle's burrito assemblers are instructed to inform customers of the bacon inclusion only if they order a burrito without other meat.  
The problem arose when a meat-eating, non-pork eating customer discovered that the pinto beans contained bacon.  The patron (and magazine editor, I might add) took to Twitter and wrote a letter to the chain's CEO.  

The story was well-publicized and have caused Chipotle to make changes to their in-store menus.

Menu transparency does not just come in the form of calorie disclosure.  Allergen declaration, vegetarian/vegan symbols, and nutrition information all exist to protect both the consumer and the restaurant operator.  The Chipotle story is a powerful example of why these disclosures are so important.

As a diner, what information do you look for on restaurant menus other than a description about the food?  As a restaurant operator, what information do you feel is important to include?