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Where do colors on your menu come from?

By Katya Baxter, Nutritionist,

March has been announced National Nutrition Month by the American Dietetic Association inspiring us to Eat Right with Color. Color is something we all enjoy, so here are some ideas if you are considering incorporating the marketing elements of this initiative into your foodservice operation.

Think beyond fruits & veggies. When we talk about color in the context of food, we usually automatically think about vegetables and fruits. Yes, they are always great candidates for a fix of color, but what about other food groups? There are some other great foods that can also provide richness of color and nutrition.


White quinoa vs. red quinoa – a popular, gluten-free grain, high in protein and fiber. By picking the red variety, you add excitement to your dish, along with tremendous nourishment value! Consider other rice or bean varieties, or nuts and seeds – you can find a lot of color in those as well.

Use the surprise factor. You know what effect a bright splash of color can have on a black and white photo? The same can happen on a plate!  You only need one or two ingredients that stand out to make an impression.


A handful of fresh or dried cranberries, a pinch of lemon zest, a garnish of micro-greens, a teaspoon of housemade aioli, small tapenade topping, etc. The amount you use doesn’t have to be large as long as you can surprise your customer with other elements such as presentation, texture, flavor, etc.

Create your own food coloring. The ADA campaign calls for informed and healthful food choices, which most likely excludes artificially colored foods. The beauty is that even if we do need to use food coloring, it doesn’t have to come out of the lab. There are plenty of naturally occurring substances that can beautifully replace chemicals.


Next time you are thinking about frosting for your cupcakes, consider trying something other than Yellow 5 or Red 40. How about experimenting with creating your own colors from beet juice, turmeric, red onions, paprika, saffron, etc.? It may take you a few attempts to get the exact color you want, but your customers (especially those who are parents) are going to love it!

So go ahead and celebrate National Nutrition Month with colorful dishes! There are plenty to go around even if you don’t have easy access to fresh produce. Frozen, dried, fermented, marinated foods from different food groups – all of them are naturally preserved, naturally colorful, and naturally nourishing. They make it easy to cook and eat with colors.

What other techniques have you been using to create a greater variety of colors on your menu?

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