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Is it Time to Brag About Your Healthful Menu Items?

I'm getting older. I'm not complaining, but I wish birthdays wouldn't fly by so quickly as I speed along the highway of life. But that's life. What scares me is that my parents, like your parents, are getting much older. Their visits to the doctor and hospital are coming more frequently. When you look at them, you can't help but see your future. It's why I, and maybe you, are thinking more than ever about eating smarter.

When talk of eating better comes up, it inevitably turns to dining in restaurants. Lately, I've been chatting with a number of people inside and outside the business who question the marketing of healthful foods on menus. Just about everyone mentions attempts years ago to designate heart-healthy menu items with a small red heart next to the item. It's universally agreed that doing so was the kiss of death for that menu item.

Many agreed last month at a Culinary Institute of America conference, "World of Healthy Flavors," that describing a menu item as healthy is bad for business. Go ahead and make menu items healthy, just don't sell them as healthy. Sell the menu item because it's interesting and tastes good, was the underlying message of the program.

That's the bottom line. No matter what you sell on your menu, if it doesn't taste good, it won't sell. But does that mean you can't sell healthful food items?

It's my belief that those menu items with little red hearts next to them didn't fail because they were healthy, but rather they simply tasted bad. I say you can sell healthful menu items on your menu, and you shouldn't be shy about it. You are in the service business, and this is just one more service you should offer. Most people aren't nutritionists. They need your help. They want your help. It's not hard to identify the splurge foods on your menu, but locating healthful menu items is not so easy.

By the way, if your chef or cook can't prepare flavorful, healthful menu items, then you may need to question his or her skill. I digress.

I mentioned up top about the concerns that come with getting older. But I've talked with Generation Y kids and they say eating healthfully is not a sport solely for Gen. X and above. "Eating healthy is on our radar. How can it not be?" asked a 22-year-old colleague. "Everybody now knows the importance of eating healthy for a long life."

We humans love our vices. But as hard-headed as we are, we eventually come around. Is this generation smoking nearly as much as the generations before us? No. It's stupid and we know it. We are finally coming around to the importance of a smart diet. Does a smart diet include cheeseburgers? Hell yes! But not everyday. On the days customers want to eat smart, are you going to make it easy for them? With all that said, I don't own or operate a restaurant. You do, so tell me what you think. Am I just spouting pie-in-the-sky b.s., or am I on track? I definitely want to hear from those who are marketing healthful menu items and are not shy about it. I know I'm going to take heat from some of you, but Jared, the fat-guy-turned-thin guy from Subway, has my back. Don't you, Jared?

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