I attended a deliciously-rich conference recently in Cambridge, Mass. While the food was fabulous, the most scrumptious part of the conference was the content served by the speakers. This Menus of Change summit highlighted a ground-breaking initiative developed by The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in collaboration with the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Since half of all meals consumed in America today are prepared by culinary professionals, a goal of the initiative is to create a practical vision for the integration of nutrition research, public heath, environmental issues, culinary arts, and business. In essence, the call-to-action is for food service establishments to serve nutritionally delicious, fresh food that is good for the consumer, environment, and the bottom line.
Does the consumer really care about this?
According to Shelley Balanko, PhD of the Hartman Group, their research suggests that the customers’ desire for healthier and sustainable foods when they visit fast food restaurants is gaining in importance. “Consumers concerned about sustainability are looking for high quality foods, freshly made and appropriately sourced, such that the meat is humanely raised and the produce is organically grown,” claims Balanko.
Interestingly, this mirrors the National Restaurant Association’s Culinary Forecast that predicted that the top 3 restaurant trends this year will be:
1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
2. Locally grown produce
3. Environmental sustainability
But can this lofty idea work in the real world of fast food and fast casual dining? You betcha. In fact, the following eating establishments are successfully doing it:
Eat. Energize. That’s the Freshii motto. Their aim is to provide fresh and nutritious meal choices that energize people on-the-go. Their menu emphasizes the foods you should eat more of and those you should avoid. Their menu includes custom-made green wraps, salads, quinoa bowls, and fresh-pressed juices, which are flavored with natural ingredients such as cilantro, lime, and spicy lemongrass sauces. Freshii’s Mission Green is to be good to the earth by eliminating excess packaging, heavy energy consumption, and greasy processed meals. Everything you take from the restaurant is either biodegradable or easily recyclable. Click here for their menu and locations.
Envisioned 12 years ago by two childhood buddies, b.good’s goal was to make fast food “real.” This meant food you could feel good about because you would know what was in it, where it came from, and who made, raised, and grew it. They are committed to sourcing from local, family livestock and produce farms, and producers who they actually get to know. While the menu features beef, chicken, veggie, and turkey burgers, sandwiches and salads, b.good’s Kale & Quinoa Bowls are the most popular item on the menu. Go figure. Click here for their menu and locations.
Founded on the belief that quick food could be quality food, Panera is committed to using high-quality ingredients without artificial additives, including added monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial trans fats, and serving menu items that have positive impact on the food system.
Nearly all of their bakery-cafes serve livestock and poultry that have been raised responsibility and without the use of antibiotics, as well as raised in reduced-stress environments. By 2016, they will be eliminating all artificial colors, sweeteners, flavors, and preservatives to improve the taste and quality of their foods. Panera bakes their own breads daily, including whole grain varieties, and also offer soups, salads, and sandwiches. A best-seller is the “You Pick Two” menu item whereby you can order a half serving of two menu items, such as a half sandwich and half salad. Click here for their menu and locations.
Their commitment is serving fresh food with integrity. That is, finding the very best sustainably raised, nutritious and tasty foods raised with respect for the animals, the environment, and the farmers. All of the food is prepared using classic culinary techniques. In other words, the guacamole isn’t processed through a mixer, but rather, batches are handmade by mashing avocados with freshly diced onions and lime throughout the day. Their burrito bowl is a best-seller. Click here for their menu and locations.
Their “Eat Fresh, Live Green” motto is their way of letting you know that they are committed to providing a variety of great tasting, better-for-you choices while continuing to make their restaurants and operations as environmentally and socially responsible as possible. Their menu includes a 9-Grain Wheat bread that contains over 50 percent whole grains, and the chain was recently named a Fruits & Veggies More Matters Industry Champion by the Produce for Better Health Foundation for their efforts to increase fruit and vegetable education, awareness, and consumption. Click here for their menu and locations.
An additional note: All of the above chains are also working on lowering the sodium in their meals. Fast food is getting fresh.
Be well, Joan
Follow Joan on Twitter: @JoanSalgeBlake