I have been thinking about what the menu would look like if I have my own restaurant…
…and what your healthy menu probably ought to look like as well.
We should all get the healthiest options from the restaurants we choose to patronize. We don’t have to pick the lowest calorie food each time we eat a meal out, but healthy menu choices should be available when we want them, whether we choose these selections every time, occasionally, or only rarely.
If your family is like most others, you may eat a meal outside of the home 4-5 times a week.
In fact, one study found that 34% of kids between the ages of 2-19 eat fast food on any given day!
Depending on where you live, the dining out options for any meal may be vast and very tempting. Other people may eat out less often because the options for food they are willing or interested in eating are few and far between where they live.
As a dietitian, I personally set a high standard for the restaurant where I eat. Not only does it need to be clean, but I also want healthy food. Not just any place will do for me to enjoy a meal whether I am in my home town or traveling.
This Dietitian’s Dream Restaurant Menu
I have written many menus in my career for healthcare facilities, camps, schools, and individuals. I even wrote a healthy cookbook to help others create healthy recipes. I realize that what I know is healthy is not always what the people being served the food may want.
I am professionally held to a particular standard of health but I also personally choose it. Menus should have lower fat and calories, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, cooking techniques that don’t add fat or salt, and a rainbow on the plate.
My restaurant menu would include the following:
- Low (or no) calorie drink offerings including fruit infused water (and be sure to wash the lemons before you cut them and float them in my drink). My personal favorite is water with lemon or lime, but strawberry, pineapple or blueberry in my water works well or even cucumber!
- No soda on kid’s menu (or fake juice). Low fat white or chocolate milk or water works best for kids.
- Fresh fruit, raw veggies, and other healthy options on kids’ menus and adult menus; I would love a fresh fruit cup for dessert. Perhaps smaller versions of what is on the adult menu instead of processed nuggets or other ‘kid’ foods would be better for families.
- Calorie count on menus for all items served including bread basket and beverages. Nutritional information similar to a fact panel on food labels is a dream coming to reality so that we know how much sodium, carbs, and fiber per meal.
- Less salt on everything! Stop using so much salt! Our taste buds will sing if we can actually taste the freshness of the food instead of the zing of sodium. Try fresh herbs or cracked pepper and don’t rely on high fat sauces to be the only flavor. Marinating protein with low sodium marinades will add flavor without sodium.
- More reasonable portions sizes (and prices for those items). Stop serving huge portions that cause me to eat too much because I paid for it or carry it home hoping it doesn’t sit in my hot car too long until I get to my refrigerator!
- Salad that doesn’t drip in dressing. I always ask for the dressing on the side but sometimes get it swimming in dressing anyway and it is too late to get a new salad before the entrée arrives. Don’t forget to put real greens in my salad bowl, too, not just iceberg. I want nutrition in every bite.
- Variety in sides offered. When the menu option is to add one side to the entrée it can be tough because the choices are usually French fries, sweet potato fries, or mayonnaise laden coleslaw. How about quinoa, farro salad, fresh fruit, raw veggies, roasted vegetables or other less calorie or fat items?
Some of the changes I want as dietitian aren’t that difficult to achieve.
Why Aren’t More Restaurants Going in This Direction?
Many chefs are becoming more knowledgeable in nutrition and how to create foods that taste as good as they are healthy. Bravo to them!
Unfortunately, much of the time these positive changes are in high end eateries and not in the chain restaurants most of us with families can afford or have time to patronize. The change in large chains needs to come from the top because they are directed in the menu items and food products they can serve.
Every item on the menu doesn’t have to meet my desires or those of other health-conscious individuals, but I think half should. Don’t think that putting one or two low calorie choices on the menu will make me happy. I may not be in the mood for grilled chicken salad every time I eat out. I like choices, too.
Imagine how much more enjoyable and easier it would be to meet our health goals while relaxing and letting someone else cook for us.
We just might feel comfortable taking our families out to eat more often.