How to Design a Healthy Menu: Practical Tips for Restaurants

Online nutrition analysis software makes it easy to craft a healthier menu for your restaurant.

Online nutrition analysis software makes it easy to craft a healthier menu for your restaurant. Image source: Unsplash user Brooke Lark.

In the past, restaurant food has been considered unhealthy, laden with fat, loaded with sodium, and chock-full of calories. And although this is the case with some restaurant food, many establishments are incorporating healthier options on their menus in hopes of addressing some of American consumer’s major health concerns.

Considering that Americans get about 43% of their calories outside of the home, there is an increasing demand for more wholesome, nutritious food options in restaurants—especially as more and more people become aware of the link between diet and health.

Having worked with a lot of restaurateurs and chefs, I know that many want to learn how to design a healthy menu in order to appeal to the growing demographic of health-conscious diners. A common concern, however, is that the process with be too time-consuming and complicated. Luckily, though, this doesn’t have to be the case. If you are interested in designing a healthier menu for your restaurant, I am going to share my best tips on how to do so in an efficient, easy way.

How to Design a Healthy Menu: Small Changes Make a Big Difference

Contrary to what you may expect, you don’t have to overhaul your entire menu in order to make it healthier. In fact, there are many small steps that will dramatically increase the health of your establishment’s food.

Designing a healthy menu starts with taking a look at your existing menu and pinpointing where you could stand to make some adjustments. Some examples of small healthy changes that diners likely won’t notice include:

  • Changing the fryer oil more frequently to avoid rancidity
  • Swapping out vegetable oil for olive oil in salad dressings
  • Opting for whole grain products (i.e. whole wheat bread or brown rice)
  • Serving smaller portion sizes (i.e. reducing them by ¼ to ⅓)
  • Getting rid of prepackaged or processed foods and making more things from scratch
  • Incorporating more fresh produce into recipes

Of course, making these changes means you will have to alter some of your existing recipes as well as create new ones. While tweaking and rewriting recipes to be healthier is ordinarily a time-consuming process, you can complete it more quickly if you use an online nutritional analysis software.

Software like MenuCalc has a duplicate function that allows you to instantly make a copy of an original recipe and change it as you please, rather than reentering the entire recipe. This way, all of your recipes, new and old, will be organized in one safe place, allowing you to revise any recipe whenever you like. This is especially handy for chain restaurants, as chefs at various locations can all log into their joint MenuCalc account and share their recipes in one secure place, rather than sending things back and forth via email.

Empowering Diners to Make Healthy Choices

While making small healthy changes is an important part of designing a healthier menu, providing diners with the information they need to make informed food choices is also key. This can be done in a number of ways, such as providing calorie information on your menu, using nutrient content claims (NCCs), or making detailed nutrition information available.

The upcoming FDA deadline that requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to provide calorie labeling on their menus will help diners make healthier choices. And even if your restaurant isn’t required to provide calorie information, it’s a smart idea to do so voluntarily.  After all, more than half of the American public is in favor of calorie labeling, so taking this step will help you keep up with customers’ desires and potentially attract a larger customer base.

While calories certainly give some information about the nutritional profile of a menu item, they don’t tell the whole story. Including nutrient content claims―such as low-fat, low-sodium, and high-fiber—is a great way to highlight specific features of your dishes. Don’t be afraid to get creative when it comes to presenting this information on your menu. You could use a key complete with symbols to represent the various NCCs with the symbol next to the qualifying menu item, for instance. Or, you can color code menu items (i.e. low-fat items are red, low-sodium items are blue, etc.).

Another idea is to provide detailed nutrition information as part of your healthy menu design. Having a complete micronutrient (i.e. vitamins and minerals) and macronutrient (i.e. saturated fat and carbohydrates) profile for each menu item available upon request can be very valuable for health-conscious diners. After all, each of these tactics will provide a greater level of transparency, thus ensuring that diners can make the most informed choices possible.

Online Nutrition Analysis: An Essential Part of Designing a Healthy Menu

Although it may seem like obtaining the information required to design a healthy menu will take a lot of work, it can be done quickly and simply by using an FDA-compliant nutrition analysis software. With MenuCalc, you just input your recipes using the extensive database of ingredients (or create and add your own proprietary ingredients) and instantly receive the calorie count and detailed nutrition information. The software will also provide you with a list of NCCs that your recipe qualifies for, so you can include these claims on your menu.

The best part is you can use the nutritional results to inform any changes you will make in your menu and your recipes. The nutrient comparison tool allows you to see the nutritional value that each ingredient contributes to the overall nutritional profile of the recipe. If you notice that a lot of your recipes are very high in fat or carbs, for instance, it shows you which ingredients are the culprits so you can change up the ingredients until you are satisfied with the results.

With an online nutrition analysis software, designing a healthy menu becomes simple. Not only can you use it to gain insight into what needs to be changed on your existing menu, it can generate the nutritional information you want to make available to your diners. Keep in mind that the goal is not necessarily to become a health food restaurant or to make every menu item a particularly healthy option—rather the goal should be to provide diners with more information about your food. Knowledge is power, after all, and it is only when diners know more about the food they are eating that they can make healthy, informed choices.

Are you ready to design a healthy menu for your restaurant complete with calorie counts, NCCs, and detailed nutritional information? MenuCalc provides easy-to-use, affordable nutritional analysis to help you satisfy your customers. Contact us today to learn more.

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