Top 10 tips for heart-friendly dining options

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By Samara Foisy, Heart and Stroke Foundation registered dietitian

With Canadians making 18 million visits to restaurants daily, it is no surprise that people like to eat out. As consumers juggle family responsibilities and career and social obligations, cooking at home seems to be on the decline. But that doesn’t mean that nutrition has to be. While convenience sometimes dictates where a family might eat, it does not dictate how nutritious the food can be. Canadians say they want to have healthy choices available in restaurants, and consumers are becoming increasingly savvy about nutrition. Nutrition is among the top 10 trends in CFRA’s 2013 Chef Survey and is increasingly being reflected on Canadian menus.

Ten tips for creating healthy options on your restaurant menus

  1. Offer healthy and tasty choices – According to an International Food Information Council Foundation survey, taste remains the number one factor for customers. But healthier food can and should be tasty. Make your healthy food as appealing as some of your most popular items by using menu descriptions to make them sound appetizing and get your consumers excited.
  1. Give them the facts – According to a 2012 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation, half of Canadians want restaurants to offer healthier choices on their menus. Provide nutrition information for your guests when possible, so they can make an informed decision.
  2. Watch the fat – If you are using fat, be sure you use smaller amounts and healthier types of oil like olive or canola. Use lower-fat ingredients or substitutions in recipes, and try healthier cooking methods like roasting, poaching, grilling and steaming. Add flavour and nutrition by using lower sodium broth, juices, or fruit and vegetable purées in dressings and sauces. Also skim fat from stock, trim fat from meats and remove skin from poultry.
  1. Shake the salt habit – Minimize the use of processed foods, use fresh or frozen ingredients when possible or look for no or low-salt alternatives. Limit the amount of salt added in prep and cooking by exploring a variety of herbs, spices and other salt-free seasonings.
  2. Keep it simple – Use simple, back-to-basics prep and cooking methods such as steaming to minimize added fat and sodium and maintain the nutritional integrity of foods. If needed, add well-proportioned amounts of low-fat garnishes, sauces and condiments with just enough to enhance the food.
  3. Up the nutrition – Increase the amount of fruit, vegetables and whole grains in your dishes and feature them more prominently. Fruit and vegetables are not only versatile and loaded with nutrition, but also add colour, flavour and texture. Most whole grains are nutrition packed and work well in all food categories. Additionally, these whole foods provide fibre and a feeling of fullness.
  4. Balance the plate – Fill half the plate with fruit and vegetables, one-quarter with protein rich foods and one-quarter with grains (preferably whole grains) for a balanced and healthy plate. Offer meat alternatives such as legumes and soy products for appetizing mains and nutritious vegetarian options.
  5. Cut the calories – Many consumers are looking for lower calorie options when dining out. Prepare foods simply using the healthier cooking methods mentioned above, watch the added fat and minimize use of highly processed foods, which are often high in calories, fat and sodium. Offer appropriate portion sizes.
  6. Watch the size – Over the years, some restaurant menu item portion sizes have increased in an effort to provide more value and as a result, some Canadians could be eating much more than necessary. But diners are now expecting value not just in terms of quantity, but also in quality. Focus on “better” not “bigger.” Instead of filling up the plate, plate your food in a creative and appealing way.
  7. Offer healthy choices for kids – More and more Canadians want healthy options for their kids when dining out. Promote and cook up some appetizing and healthy options for kids. Instead of fried foods combined with soft drinks, develop tasty lower fat and sodium options with more fibre. Include nutritious sides of whole grains and vegetables and fruits with nutritious yogurt-based dips. Offer milk or 100 per cent fruit juice as children’s beverages. Get creative with your menu names to appeal to your young customers. Make it fun.

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About the author

Samara Foisy is a registered dietitian of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. She works with the Foundation’s food information program, Health CheckTM, to help restaurants provide healthier options for their diners.

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