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Help Your Customers to Eat Healthier

Photo: Thinkstock

Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, paleo. Everyone seems to have a dietary intention for how they want to eat healthier in the new year.

I'm regularly asked which "diet" is best to follow. My answer: the dietary lifestyle that works and feels best for you.

I know all you foodservice professionals were hoping I'd hone in on one special diet, as that would make your life easier. I don't blame you.

But there are steps you can take to help your customers succeed at whatever dietary lifestyle they need or choose. And doing so will create loyal fans. Here are some tips:

Offer allergen-free options wherever possible
Food allergies and sensitivities have been on the rise for many years now and, unfortunately, that trend is likely to continue. Offering allergen-free options is easier than you think and can bring in considerable more customers to your dining facility. For many recipes, removing an offending allergen won't even be noticed by customers who don't have to avoid that food. Making all soups gluten-free by using beans, purees or non-gluten flours to thicken them is a relatively easy solution to using a wheat-based roux and makes a big difference in expanding the options available to these customers. Another simple solution: use a gluten-free soy sauce or tamari for Asian meals, which are quite popular. Offer sunflower butter as an alternative to peanut butter. Nut milks and creams are an excellent and well-accepted alternative to dairy products, and the variety of options for replacing eggs in sauces and baked goods is wide. Do a complete review of your recipes to see where substitutions for the top allergens can be implemented. There might be a labor learning curve and food cost increases to start, but the number of new customers entering your operation is likely to improve dramatically.

Balance nutrients and flavors in every dish
One of the things I hear most from people trying to eat healthier is they aren't satisfied from their meals, which leaves them wanting more, which usually leads to overeating. If there is one thing chefs learn in culinary school, it is how to flavor meals using many, if not all, of the five tastes. I truly believe that balancing the five tastes at each meal is just as important as balancing nutrients when it comes to being satisfied from our meals. So, while your guests may be asking for overly sweet breakfasts (i.e., yogurt with fruit and granola) or lunches without much flavor at all (i.e. plain grilled chicken with steamed vegetables), they are likely not satisfied from these meals. Do what you do best. Make meals with a variety of flavor in them. For your breakfast omelet station, offer add-ins with a wide variety of tastes. When making stir-fries, use marinades and sauces that offer salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami and pungent elements. Think from a flavor perspective when selecting ingredients for grab-and-go salads. You get the idea.

Get creative with plant-based meals
If there is one thing every person can do to improve his/her health, it is eating a more plant-based diet. And there is a mountain of scientific evidence showing the benefits of doing so. Americans are finally hearing this message, but they need to experience for themselves that fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds can be the foundation of delicious meals. Do your bottom line a favor and don't assume that people wanting to eat healthier are willing to compromise on taste, creativity, variety and quality in order to do so. Challenge your team’s culinary creativity and offer delicious and innovative plant-based dishes at every station. It will make plant-based eating a lot easier for those it doesn't come to naturally. And they’ll thank you by coming back for more.

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