It’s no secret that how you eat has an impact on your health. In fact, studies have shown that good nutrition can lower your risk for some of the leading causes of death in the United States—heart disease, some kinds of cancer, type 2 diabetes, stroke. And, with a record number of Americans struggling with these chronic conditions, diners finally seem to be taking note.
American eating habits have begun to reflect an increased awareness of the importance of healthy eating. The ability to access fresh foods year-round, patronize local businesses and farmers’ markets, and select natural and organic foods have helped many Americans follow healthier diets.
And these habits aren’t just affecting how Americans are eating at home.
The food service industry must be prepared to give these more health-conscious consumers what they want in order to stay relevant.
Eating Habits Have Room for Improvement
With the obesity “epidemic,” a headline staple for health and wellness writers, Americans can’t help but know they should be eating better.
Numerous studies have shown that the typical American also consumes more sugars, unhealthy saturated fat, and sodium than recommended, and fewer fruits, dairy products, vegetables, whole grains, and seafood. But, recently, we’ve started to see a reversal of these trends that demonstrates the desire of Americans to improve their eating habits.
An increasing number of consumers have begun reading labels, investigating the source of foods and ingredients, seeking out local and natural products, and patronizing restaurants that show the same consideration.
What the Food Service Industry Can Do
The average American spends about half of their annual food budget eating away from home, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And when they dine out, the National Restaurant Association reports that 71 percent of Americans make a conscious effort to eat healthier.
You have the opportunity to capture a bigger piece of this business by changing your approach to the dining experience and showing that you’re commitment to helping customers eat healthfully.
- Include nutrition information on menus whenever possible. It may not be feasible to provide complete data, but you can provide information such as calorie or fat content of each serving. Even notifications such as “low-sodium” or “trans fat-free” can be helpful to consumers. The Los Angeles Times reports that three-quarters of adults would use nutritional information on menus if it were available.
- Use wholesome ingredients. When possible, buy locally grown produce and natural ingredients. To help customers make their decisions, you can indicate on your menus which items use these ingredients. As a bonus, customers may appreciate your support of local businesses and the environment.
- Offer custom-prepared meals. Americans know that fast food is unhealthy, and many standard menu items have become guilty by association. While there will always be a market for your 1/4 pound burger, including healthy menu options, such as salads, grilled chicken, and steamed vegetables can expand your customer base. Also, allow custom-prepared meals in which customers can ask for substitutions or healthier cooking methods when ordering.
- Promote food safety. Build customer trust by making food safety a priority. Go beyond the legally required warnings on menus that caution customers against undercooked meat and seafood. Serve only carefully washed produce and demand exemplary hygiene from your food service employees. At buffets, be sure to keep surfaces clean and keep foods at their proper temperatures so customers feel secure eating your food.
American eating habits are changing based on rising attention to links between a good diet and better health, and the food service industry can take advantage of this opportunity. Offer customers a variety of options and communicate the healthier choices to them, and your business can play a role in guiding them to making healthier choices.