From bison burgers to quinoa power bowls, consumers across the United States are demanding healthier, lean protein options for ready-to-eat (RTE) foods and fast casual dining. That’s good news for consumers’ hearts and their wallets: lean protein has long offered the “biggest bang for buck” when it comes to eating healthy, reports Kathy Hayden in QSR Magazine. RTE and fast casual chains are responding to this shift in consumer eating habits, offering specialty items that trim fat, cater to Paleo and gluten-free diets and pump up the lean protein—without sacrificing taste or mouthfeel. Are you prepared to adapt your recipes to meet consumer demand for lean protein?
Leaning In to the Lean Protein Revolution
Today’s health-savvy consumers are voting with their wallets, demanding more meal options with lean protein from healthy animal and plant-based sources for sustainable energy. Many are already making smart substitutions at home to boost protein count and hold the line on fat, and they expect RTE brands and fast casual chains to do the same.
Andie Shapira, the in-house nutritionist for health-conscious chain Freshii, replaced high-fat mayo with Greek yogurt in its popular tuna sandwich, cutting calories while boosting protein count. The sandwich is flavor-packed with purple cabbage, green onions and shredded carrots, which adds an extra crunch to the mouthfeel. The chain is also preparing to introduce its custom-smoked, hand-carved turkey, Shapira told QSR Magazine.
“Lean protein directs everything we do because it is good for the body and it helps maintain energy levels,” says Rod Silva, founder of the fast casual Muscle Maker Grill. “We meet you at your lifestyle, which means whatever your eating preferences are, we can provide the best version of your favorite.”
Silva’s mission to meet consumers at their lifestyle is echoing throughout the fast casual marketplace. Burgers, for example, are being reimagined with USDA approved, grass-fed beef. Breakfast favorites are being made healthy with turkey bacon, egg whites and protein-packed quinoa. Consumers are bypassing steaks in favor of seafood—72 percent of Americans have increased their seafood purchases in order to be healthier, according to the Center of the Plate: Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report from Chicago-based research firm Technomic.
Where’s the Beef?
Lean protein isn’t just about the meat. The Chicago-based concept ‘Protein Bar’ has created entire menus around quinoa and egg whites, with a focus on serving delicious, high-protein food and drinks. The local chain’s popular ‘bar-ritos’ use quinoa in place of rice and a low-cal, whole-wheat wrap in place of a flour tortilla, bringing the calorie count down to less than half the number in the average fast-food burrito, according to the company’s nutrition calculator. Protein Bar also offers options featuring lean, braised barbecue beef and all-natural chicken.
“Meatless Mondays” are growing in popularity, too, fueled in part by consumer’s growing interest in healthier living coupled with a demand for local, seasonal fruit and vegetables. In fact, over half of all consumers who were recently surveyed about Meatless Monday preferences said they’d like to see more seasonal specials on menus showcasing local fruits and veggies picked at peak freshness. Veggie burgers, grilled veggies and vegetable soup are all popular options for consumers who are going meatless at restaurants.
Sous Vide and the Lean Protein Revolution
In order to officially be labeled a “lean protein,” a food item must comply with FDA requirements dictating the protein contain less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol (both per serving and per 100 grams). If your business is struggling to meet these requirements, sous vide cooking can help. This cooking style prepares juicy and flavorful cuts of beef, fish, pork and poultry. There’s no need to choose fattier cuts when sous vide brings out the natural flavor and creates a tender morsel in even the leanest cuts.
Here’s the bottom line: “Leaning in” to the lean protein trend doesn’t have to be difficult—smart substitutions and sous vide cooking boost mouthfeel while cutting calories and meeting consumer demand for healthier choices.