Millennials concerned about the quality of food may have inspired a renewed push for “better for you” food, but there is no doubt that today’s trend towards cuisine that is fresh and natural with less additives is different than the health food of the past.
The origins of the better for you food movement date back to the 1970’s when consumers became concerned about the quality of their food after high-profile news coverage broke about the use of pesticides. Following these reports, the public turned their appetites to “healthy food” that was pesticide-free, fresh, and organic. A few restaurants, such as The Good Earth restaurant chain, which was called “the most prominent chain example of a health-food concept” began acquiring organic produce from local farms. Chez Panisse, a restaurant often noted for introducing “California Cuisine”, took a progressive approach by planting their own garden and growing their own produce.
After some consumers scoffed at the idea of healthy food, the movement went into dormancy.
Soon, food containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and allergens such as MSG caught the public’s eye in the 1990’s. Concerns about how animals were being treated and how food was made also grabbed a strong foothold in the American psyche. Consumers were shocked that animals were fed growth hormones, affecting not only the animal’s welfare but also the public’s health. New regulations made product labeling mandatory, giving consumers more data.
Flash forward to the 2000’s. Supermarkets such as Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, which carry organic products and produce are synonymous with health-conscious eating. This better-for-you food trend continues to grow steadily thanks to a new focus on social consciousness among millennials and other demographic groups who value better for you and better tasting food.
Beyond the alfalfa sprouts, calorie-laden granolas and wheat germ of the 70s, once comically used to make anything healthier, today’s better for you food looks a lot different and is becoming the basis for a much wider range of new dining trends and diet regimens.
What does this mean for today’s restaurants? Better for you food is now in the mainstream and a given in restaurants of all constructs, from fast casual to fine dining.
Here are just a few examples of the latest trends finding their way to a table near you.
Vegan Diet: This is a diet where consumers avoid animal products altogether, eating only plant based food. Some cultures and religious traditions even mandate that a plant based diet is the way to go. Health benefits resulting from a vegan diet include fighting diseases, better athletic performance, less toxicity and better vision.
Paleo: Similar to how our Stone Age ancestors ate, the Paleo diet is geared towards consuming meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts and eggs. Avoiding processed foods, refined sugar, grains, and dairy products is central to this diet. Many argue that this way of eating provides the body with more nutrients and a better way to absorb them.
Keto: The keto diet is an intense diet that requires a strict consumption of low-carb, high-fat foods in order for the body to achieve ketosis, a physiological process where the body uses fat as its source of energy instead of sugar. Typical foods that are on the palate for consumers following this diet are fish, seafood, vegetables and meats, natural fats such as butter or olive oil, eggs and cheese. Consumers on this diet avoid sugar, starch and other high-carb foods.
Flexitarian: Similar to the vegan diet, flexitarians eat mainly fruits and vegetables but occasionally eat meat or fish.
These diets and food trends allow restaurateurs everywhere to incorporate better ingredients and create unique dining experiences. Farm-to-table restaurants are growing in volume as more and more consumers come to value local produce and community agriculture that promotes sustainability. Salt Craft in Northern California is one restaurant that uses organic, grass-fed beef in their dishes, giving diners meat that is free from hormones and antibiotics. Seasonal dishes from Chez Panisse offer the best that organic ingredients have to offer whether they are picked from the branch or the restaurant’s outdoor garden. Each dish is filled with nutritional benefits, reminding diners that the restaurant strives for environmental balance while providing a fresh meal. Many of today’s restaurants even acknowledge dietary requests on their menu by providing gluten-free and vegetarian choices.
Being transparent when it comes to food preparation through menu listings and open kitchens is a key component of the better for you food movement, reassuring customers that the food delivered to their table is fresh and cooked with quality.
Eating better for you foods has become a trend that continues to evolve while standing the test of time. At RDC, we are eagerly staying tuned to see what restaurant concepts the better-for-you food movement will continue to inspire.