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As the country begins to see calories on menus, I have some awesome ideas and tips to make your food and menu items a bit better in the numbers department. (Click here to read Part 1 for last week's tips.)

Let me be super clear; I am not suggesting that you take a signature dish and make it taste so different you lose your business. Since I have been traveling the country meeting with restaurant owners I have heard too many times people go with the "ready, shoot, aim" process of menu change and end up shooting themselves in the foot. I am suggesting you make edits and adjustments to offer healthier items and choices for customers looking for them.

Appetizers are funny items when it comes to menu labeling

The big question with apps to ask, "Is how many does it serve?" Recently I was reviewing the nutritional numbers for the top pizza concepts in the country for a case study. Some of the concepts I looked at would have us believe that an appetizer of bread sticks is shared among 6 people. The same held true on menus that included the ever-popular chicken wings. Make sure your portions and serving sizes are accurate, or you will look silly about what you are trying to slip by an ever-growing intelligent consumer. Here are a few tips.

  • Be realistic about how many an appetizer is meant to serve.
  • Offer a fresh veggie and a low-cal dressing as a good healthy option.
  • Consider offering a fresh fruit, cheese and healthy crackers. It's tasty and easily shared among two or more people.
  • Don't change that signature yummy onion appetizer, but maybe offer a lower-calorie option for a dipping sauce as well.
  • Mini-appetizers are starting to show up on some menus, and we are seeing this as a coming trend for 2012; what can you offer in the mini appetizer arena?

Entre items are the big money-makers

 This is the area any diner would expect to spend the largest portion of his daily calories. Keeping in mind that 2,000 daily is the average a person should be consuming, think about how many should be dedicated to one meal.

After helping discover and create these numbers for a large city's health department, we collectively determined that a healthy meal is 700 no more than 700 calories. That gives you a very small window for what you would be able to call "healthy" on your menu.

Although changing oils helps with the fats, it doesn't really cut calories. The same is true when swithching from regular pasta to whole wheat.

This area of your menu needs a true professional to help find the areas to lower your numbers without sacrificing taste. Here are a few things you can do to help without a professional.

  • Introduce the "Take Half Home" program. Half comes on the plate, and half goes in your to-go container.
  • Pay close attention to your portion sizes in general. Can you simply reduce the amount or offer a lunch-sized portion for those watching the numbers?
  • Offer steamed veggies instead of potatoes for a side.
  • Grill the protein instead of frying or breading it.
  • Use fresh lemons as a flavor.
  • Serve a smaller portion of bread.

Dessert is a great add-on for every ticket even after calorie counts

Yes, you will have to disclose the calories in your desserts. Anyone who has walked into a Starbucks in the last six months has seen the new trend of Petite desserts. This trend is a direct result of diners wanting something sweet but not 500 calories worth of sweet. Don't lose this business.

  • Cut desserts to mini-sized.
  • Add a "Take Half Home"program .
  • Offer a fresh fruit option.
  • Fruit with yogurt on top is also a great choice.
  • Offer shared desserts for two to enjoy together. This lets you split the calories in half -- two servings.
  • Consider a sherbet with a few chocolate chips sprinkled in for good measure.

What do you think?

Since this is a blog, let me know if you have additional suggestions you have tried. What do you think people want to see when trying to eat healthier? What are they telling you at your locations that others can learn from?

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Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.
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