On the nutrition radar

Levon Kurkjian, vice president of marketing at Kettle Cuisine, wholeheartedly agrees: “In an era when food sensitivities are headline news, menuing a selection of gluten-free items no longer gives a foodservice operator competitive advantage; it’s now an expectation and a baseline point of entry.” The company was founded by Jerry Shafir – whose daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease about 20 years ago – and is the only foodservice gluten-free soup vendor in the United States. Products are available to Canadian consumers at retail, with future plans to penetrate the Canadian foodservice sector.

Call to action: Expand your offerings to include gluten-free grains like amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff and wild rice. Think about using these ingredients in your breads, buns, noodles, and side dishes. Be mindful of hidden sources of gluten in your menus.

Local

Locally sourced food topped last year’s CRFA Canadian Chef survey of hot trends, and it’s a trend that’s definitely here to stay.

While there’s no official definition for “local,” consumers feel that local is good for the economy, environment and our farmers. Loblaw’s’ feel-good “Grown Close to Home” campaign and Walmart’s recent commitment to sourcing locally grown produce both speak to the country’s emotional connection and growing demand for this trend.

To Burkhard Mausberg, president of Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation in Ontario, local means “fresh, healthy and less travelled.” The Greenbelt protects 1.8 million acres (720,000 hectares) of countryside where farmers produce everything from fruits and vegetables to dairy, meat and maple syrup. Mausberg especially sees a growing demand for local world crops such as okra, yard-long beans, fuzzy melon and callaloo to satisfy the palates of our expanding multicultural communities.

Call to action: Add local food and ingredients to your menu. It can be as simple as locally grown tomatoes or strawberries, or more upscale like locally grown veal and wine. Get the word out and let the customers know you offer locally sourced menu items.

Organic

When it comes to offering organic food, a key challenge for restaurateurs is cost.

“Organics are more difficult to source and generally more expensive, especially meat and dairy. It requires commitment on the part of the restaurant,” says Elizabeth Chrumka, chair of the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Organic Growers, a national, charitable organization with a vision of a sustainable organic food system.

A commitment to organic is one of the key values at Camros Organic Eatery, a small quick-service and take-out restaurant found in the heart of downtown Toronto. Owner and chef Mojdeh Shams says that “most of our customers come here because they share the same values, so having an organic menu is very important to our customers.” The menu is 100 per cent organic and includes homemade, gluten-free Persian-inspired dishes. A list of their third-party organic suppliers is proudly posted in the restaurant for all to see.

Suppliers like Cookstown Greens have been providing specialty vegetables like Bulgarian black carrots, candy-cane beets, baby amber turnips and purple snow peas since 1988. “Our customers choose our produce for their superior flavour and long shelf-life that comes with growing organically,” says founder and former restaurant owner/chef David Cohlmeyer. Although they are not yet certified organic, Cohlmeyer notes that they “do still follow all the organic protocols and now sell over 100,000 pounds of organic food per year.” The company distributes to upscale Toronto restaurants like the Four Seasons Hotel, Pangaea and Buca.

Call to action: Add organic menu items to appeal to your health-conscious consumers. Data from The Canadian Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report by Technomic found that almost 75 percent of health conscious Canadians are willing to pay more for organic food.

Family eating

Cook!, the latest cookbook by the Dietitians of Canada, praises the benefits of eating together.

A family meal is a good time for parents to act as role models healthy eating habits, and be adventurous with new flavours and ingredients. Families who eat together simply eat better and more nutritiously.

The benefits of family meals extend beyond food and nutrition. Eating together might help with body image and weight issues. Research shows that teens who eat dinner regularly with their parents have better self esteem and are less likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or use drugs.

So, just how many family meals is enough to reap these benefits? The magic number seems to be at least five family meals a week, and they can be breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Call to action: Think of ways to get the whole family to sit down together for meal. Offer a kids’ menu to appeal to junior-sized taste buds. Create a pleasant eating experience and environment for everyone.

Low sodium

The average Canadian eats about 3,400 mg of sodium a day, more than double the amount of sodium needed for good health. Even our kids are eating far too much sodium. High sodium intakes are linked to high blood pressure, which is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke.

Government and health associations are urging all Canadians to cut back on sodium. Healthy adults should aim for no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.

In its sodium reduction strategy report, the Sodium Working Group recommends that foodservice operators review and modify their recipes and salting practices to lower the sodium content of foods. Foodservice operators should promote lower sodium versions of their products to customers.

Call to action: Run a nutritional analysis of your menu items and see which ones are high in sodium. Remember that we want to help Canadians eat no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.  Maybe some of your menu items themselves hit this mark.

Advise your wait staff and servers to actively point out the lower-sodium menu choices. Waiters could identify which meals can be made without salt or MSG. Hamburgers, for example, could be topped with tomatoes, onions and lettuce instead of automatically covered with ketchup, mustard, pickles and other high-sodium condiments.


About the author:

Dietitian Sue Mah is a nutrition writer, consultant and president of Nutrition Solutions Inc. (www.nutritionsolutions.ca). As a consultant to the food and beverage industry, she has helped to develop national nutrition resources and media campaigns. On May 10, 2011 Sue is leading a nutrition workshop called “Nutrition for NON-Nutritionists,” designed for food/beverage, marketing, sales and PR professionals. To register, contact Sue at 416-997-8721 or sue@nutritionsolutions.ca.

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