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The USDA Dietary Guidelines and Your Menu: Meeting Customers Half Way

By Katya Baxter, Nutritionist,

Earlier this week the USDA released the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The summed up recommendations are as follows:

  1. Balance calories by controlling portion sizes;
  2. Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables (half a plate) and switch to fat-free or low-fat (2%) milk;
  3. Reduce consumption of sodium and sugary drinks.

With new guidelines in place restaurants can play a key role in helping all of us make necessary changes and get our health back on track.

Here is how a restaurant can meet its customers half way by aligning its menu with the USDA dietary guidelines.

Balancing calories by controlling portion sizes. While there is always a hesitation when it comes to reducing portion size due to the diminished perceived value, this publicly announced guideline may result in an increased acceptance of better balanced portions. This is where techniques that help create the perception of a more substantial plate come in handy.

Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. Culinary trends are pointing to fruits and vegetables taking on an equally important role as animal protein. This guideline gives restaurants a green light to use as many fruits and vegetables as possible, while being aware of various types (half a plate of potatoes vs. half a plate of greens) and cooking techniques (fried okra vs. grilled eggplant).

Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk. Although there is much controversy about reduced fat dairy products, should your menu include such choices, it would be beneficial to explore organic options especially for the children’s selection.

Reduce consumption of sodium and sugary drinks. Unless you disclose sodium content on the menu, it is unlikely that your customer will be aware of how much sodium their dish contains. If you are committed to building a reduced or a moderate sodium menu, check out my earlier post “Less salt, more flavor: tips to get you started” for some helpful techniques.

Reduce consumption of sugary drinks. Eliminating soda and juices with added sugars might be a lot to ask for and if so, consider starting out with a test run. There are plenty of great-tasting beverages sweetened with honey, maple syrup, agave, stevia, etc. Simple mixed in-house options are always a good choice (i.e. soda water and pure juice) for adults, and are a must on the children’s menu.

While our government urges us to make adjustments in our eating habits, restaurants become key players in the process.  At the end, we are all it in together, and if we commit to meet each other half way, we may have a chance for success.

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