Culinary Tips

Looking for new ideas to keep your menu fresh? Top culinary professionals are here to help with their latest tips.
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The nutrition trend in restaurants is growing rapidly! Here is some information to incorporate into your menu to fit this trend:

Fats are a significant culprit in terms of negatively impacting the health profile of a dish. Butter, oil, nuts, cheese and whole milk dairy products are exceptionally high in fat.  And while fats are generally used in recipes to boost the flavor profile, when generously added, they can cause the dish to be extremely high in calories and fat. Fortunately, you can often reduce the quantity of fat in your recipes without compromising flavor.

When choosing a fat source for a recipe, remember that items such as avocados, olive oil and nuts are better choices, because they are high in good, heart healthy fats (e.g., monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats). These fats help to protect your heart by lowering LDL (or bad) cholesterol and raising HDL (or good) cholesterol.  Ingredients such as whole fat dairy products (butter, sour cream, whole milk, and cheese), margarine, lard and shortening are high in saturated and trans fats. These fats raise blood cholesterol levels, thereby contributing to blocked arteries, which restricts the flow of oxygen rich blood to the heart and brain.  Whenever possible, swap out unhealthy fats for the more heart healthy fats. There are many conversion charts available to help you with this process.

Reducing the amount of any kind of fat source (heart healthy or not) is really the first step in lightening up your menu items in terms of calories. So get creative! Substitute healthier items in place of high-calorie high-fat items. For example, instead of sour cream on your chili, use fat-free plain Greek yogurt. The taste is so similar that no one will know the difference! Plus, yogurt provides calcium, protein and gut-friendly bacteria, all while helping you watch your waistline.  When it comes to items like cheese, nuts and avocados, avoid applying with a heavy hand and try to cut-back on the quantity in your menu items.

Whole Grains
Whole grains are critical in everyone’s diet. At least half of the grains consumed on a daily basis should come from whole grain sources. Whole grains have been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Individuals who consume whole grains have a lower risk of obesity and lower cholesterol levels.

Incorporating whole grains into your menu is simple! Give your guests the option of whole wheat bread and pasta, as well as brown rice. Include whole grains such as oatmeal, cornmeal and whole wheat flour in your cooking and baking processes. And try something new! Rye berries, wild rice, bulgur, barley and quinoa are all delicious sources of whole grains.

Fruits & Vegetables
Ask any registered dietitian how to eat healthier, and the answer you’ll hear is to eat more fruits and veggies! Not only are these foods nutritionally beneficial, but they are beautiful, as well. With bright vibrant colors and varying textures, fruits and vegetables truly enhance a meal.

Fresh and frozen options are the best, nutritionally. Frozen fruits and vegetables are harvested at their peak of ripeness, so you won’t be losing out on any precious nutrients.  Canned options can work, too, if you know which products to look for. When purchasing canned fruit, opt for items that are canned in water or 100% juice. Avoid fruits that are canned with syrup, as the syrup adds unnecessary sugar and calories to an otherwise healthy selection.  When purchasing canned vegetables, check to see if your manufacturer can provide low sodium or no-salt-added varieties. If this isn’t possible, rinsing your canned vegetables before using them will significantly reduce the sodium content.

The great thing about fruits and vegetables is that they can be incorporated into any area of your menu.  Appetizers like bruschetta with grilled vegetables and fresh handmade salsa are a great, healthy way for your guests to start their meal. Entrées can either feature vegetables and fruits in a prominent position as a side item or be hidden in options like mac ‘n cheese or lasagna. For dessert, offer a fruit based option, such as berries with a small amount of fresh cream or yogurt, baked apples, or a fresh pear fruit tart.

Protein is considered the focal point of most meals. It is necessary for building, maintaining, and replacing the tissues in your body. But not all protein is created equal when it comes to nutrition. Trim your menu down by choosing lean proteins like chicken, turkey, pork loin, fish and lean beef.  When purchasing meats, look for the leanest possible, and remember that cuts that contain the word “loin” or “round” are generally the lowest in fat.  Along the same lines, cuts of meat that are heavily marbled with fat (such as salami or pepperoni) or contain the word “rib” (such as prime rib, or short ribs) are often the highest in fat.  Also, always remember to remove skin on poultry and trim fat off of cuts of meat.

You can also utilize legumes! Beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and tofu are great sources of low-calorie protein. These plant proteins are usually less expensive than their animal sourced counterparts. Try featuring a vegetarian option, loaded with plenty of tasty legumes, such as a veggie burger, chili or baked falafel.

Cooking Methods
In the restaurant industry, deep frying is often utilized for its speedy cook time and signature crunchy texture. However, the process of deep frying adds loads of calories. There are plenty of other mouth-watering cooking methods that will have your guests saying “Wow! This is what healthy tastes like?” Try baking or dehydrating  items to obtain that crunchy texture people love so much.  Roasting, searing, steaming, sautéing, grilling, broiling and stir-frying are also delicious ways to deliver healthful, tasty meals to your guests. Try preparing fish “en papillote,” a cooking method in which the food is placed into a pouch made of parchment or foil. This preparation method traps in moisture and steams the fish until perfectly flaky and tender. The addition of citrus, stock, wine and herbs will add a delectable flavor, while the package seals them in. As a bonus, the steam releases as the pouch is opened, letting your guest enjoy the wonderful aroma of the dish prior to eating and a bit of culinary drama.

The average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium (one of the key primary components of salt) on a daily basis. That is 1½ times the recommended daily amount of 2,300 mg for many Americans. (Did you know that those over age 51, African Americans, and those with hypertension/high blood pressure should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day?)  Of course, sodium is necessary for maintaining blood volume, as well as fluid and mineral balance.  Many chefs also find salt necessary for bringing out the flavor. However, too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which can contribute to heart disease and stroke. Reducing the amount of salt in a recipe may sound unappealing but, there are several other ways to develop flavors in a dish. Try enhancing foods with herbs and spices. Garlic, onion, basil, oregano, pepper, cinnamon and cumin are just a few of the options available when it comes to salt-free seasonings.  Adding the zest or the juice of citrus fruits is an easy way to add flavor and brightness to a dish. Turn up the heat by adding fresh chilies or cayenne pepper to a dish; no one will even notice that the salt is missing. You can also use the free toolkit, “Cut the Sodium and Keep the Flavor”  to help you reduce the sodium in your kitchen.

By following these tips, your restaurant can be well on its way to following the health and nutrition trends and meeting  guests’ demands for healthier restaurant options!