Nutrition Trends Take Center Stage at MUFSO 2013

Nutrition Trends Take Center Stage at MUFSO 2013 Restaurants looking to capitalize on some of the hottest nutrition-related trends found the right ingredients for success at MUFSO 2013 State of the Plate address and Flexible Approaches to Healthful Options session: 


Nancy KruseNancy Kruse delivered her annual State of the Plate address at the 54th MUFSO conference in Dallas. Kruse emphasized that almost all current trends “tie back to health.” She described three trending models: 

Yesterday: Subtraction Model
Emphasis is on reducing salt, fat and sugar

Today: Addition Model
Emphasis is on adding fruits, vegetables and whole grains

Tomorrow: Defined Benefits Model
Emphasis is on promoting the healthful qualities of ingredients

Kruse outlined five sizzling opportunities related to the up-and-coming “Defined Benefits Model” emphasizing the healthful traits of the meal:

  1. Skinny is hot! Examples are Cheesecake Factory’s Skinnylicious Menu and Melting Pot’s Skinny Dipping Menu. Skinny cocktails are also hot trends. Women and boomers are most attracted to skinny choices.
  2. Power menus are “sizzling” and very attractive to fit males. High protein lean meals meet this demand. 
  3. Super foods continue to grow in popularity. These foods are nutrient dense, meaning they are packed with nutrients and lower in calories and saturated fat. 
  4. Grains are expanding and provide guests a wider variety of choices. “Despite the attention to gluten-free, many of your guests will fall away from that and come back to the flavor of whole grains.” Whole grains are spreading on menus through both breads and whole grain pastas. “Quinoa is becoming really hot because it is gluten-free and packed with protein and nutrients.” Trendsetting chefs will be adding amaranth, barley, faro, wheat berries and lentils to menus. 
  5. Produce is powerful! Vegetables are showing up at all times of the day, even in the morning in breakfast omelets and sandwiches. Avocado is the “ingredient of the year,” and cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Swiss chard and Brussels sprouts, will grow to have a greater presence on menus. 

Kruse ended her State of the Plate address with the five pillars of Menu R&D:
  1. Freshness
  2. Flavor 
  3. Premium-ization 
  4. Customization 
  5. Portion-ization 


As moderator of this session, Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH set the stage for this session. “At the heart of this conversation, we’re talking about making a difference in the health and quality of life of your guests, your employees, your communities, our nation, our nation’s children and our future generations. And as important, these nutrition trends can help you build your business and strengthen your competitive edge to prosper and differentiate. And that’s without giving up the indulgent items that your guests love and without sacrificing brand positioning. We are in the midst of a changing landscape bringing a paradigm shift in the way we eat. So many entities are coming together to educate, inspire and support Americans in achieving a higher level of health, including the media, government, health insurance schools, worksites, schools and grocery stores, and restaurants. And really, there is no industry like the restaurant industry that has the power to apply the culinary artistry – the culinary brilliance -- to help support Americans in enjoying dining out as a delicious part of a healthy lifestyle.” 

1x1.gifCliff Pleau, director of culinary development and executive chef of Darden’s Seasons 52, described his innovative blend of artistry, science and creativity that has led the growth and notoriety of the brand’s 32 locations from Florida to California (4 more opening before the end of the year). “Our success has been based on our unique and progressive way of using nutritious ingredients and healthy preparation methods to excite and surprise our guests. It’s all about the quality ingredients, flavor, presentation and ambiance of our casually sophisticated settings. And by the way, our guests appreciate that it is healthy, too. They appreciate the experience of ‘celebrating living well.’ That’s what Seasons 52 is all about.” 

Pleau explained his science of layering flavor. “We meticulously blend our artistry and creativity with the fusion of nutritious ingredients combined with the perfect complement of, spicy, sweet, aromatic, sour, texture and a touch of salt, if needed. Each ingredient works with the others for that exciting and surprising flavor we are known for. It’s easier to do when the fat content of the menu item is low. Fat masks the natural flavors, so we use fat sparingly. I call it ‘palate entertainment’ when we can surprise our guests with the true flavors of healthful ingredients.” 

Ype Von Hengst, winner of the 2013 Menu Masters Award for Healthful Innovations, is the co-founder and executive chef of Silver Diner, with 14 locations in Maryland and Virginia. Von Hengst has led the effort in transitioning the “old style” diner to a booming brand that meets the needs of today’s nutrition-savvy families. “We experienced growth for 20 years but then were hit hard by the 2009 recession. At the same time, we were listening closely to our guests, and it was clear that they weren’t interested any longer in ‘old-style, high-calorie food.’ They wanted healthier options.” With urgency, Von Hengst developed his strategy and focused on three areas of change: 1) sourcing of higher quality ingredients, 2) introducing healthier, lower-calorie offerings and 3) improving execution by simplifying the menu. 

“Since 2010, our comp sales have increased 25% directly related to these efforts.” Von Hengst shared his nutrition initiatives, including:
  • Partnering with suppliers to identify producers that can source local, fresh ingredients and hormone-free/antibiotic free meats
  • Reinforcing local sourcing by working directly with farm partners 
  • Introducing a new menu page with ‘healthier options’ containing items that are lower in fat, cholesterol and calories 
  • Reducing the number of menu items by 1/3 to improve execution 
  • Joining the Healthy Dining and Kids LiveWell Programs featured on 
  • Observing some of healthier items weren’t selling, so surveyed 1,000 parents for feedback 
  • Hosted a Kids’ Tasting in March 2012 to get direct feedback children on items that taste good and are good for you 
  • Based on parents’ survey and Kids’ Tasting: Reconfigured all kids’ entrĂ©es to include fruit or vegetable and milk or juice for one price; created 20 kids’ choices certified by Healthy Dining’s team to meet the Kids LiveWell criteria; removed French fries, home fries and soda from the kids’ print menu 

“This has all been good for our bottom line. Most important though, we have a huge increase in families coming back regularly. That’s important to us because it shows that our concept is set for the future. We please all ages, mature and young alike. It’s really rewarding to know that we are making a difference in the lives of the people that we serve,” said Von Hengst. 

Healthy Dining is helping many restaurant companies slim down with less calories and less sodium and power up with more flavor and nutrition value. For more information, visit or email