While the number of menu items deemed "healthy" by restaurant operators increased by just 10% between the second quarter of 2007 and the same quarter in 2010, there was a 65% jump in operators' reported introductions of such items between Q2 '09 and Q2 '10 alone, according to Mintel Menu Insights.
Restaurant operators who report launching new menu items to Mintel have the option of reporting them as "healthy," defining their own criteria for such claims.
The recent rise in healthier menu items likely reflects both growing consumer awareness/demand and governmental initiatives to address obesity and nutrition issues, including federal requirements for nutritional transparency on menus that will go into effect next year.
Mintel notes that the recommendations issued last month by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee provide specific kids' menu guidelines, urging restaurants to help stem obesity among children. The guidelines also urge restaurants to offer more options for adults that feature fruit, vegetables and seafood/lean proteins.
The Menu Insights data for the past three years show a 10% increase in kids' menu items containing fruits and vegetables, as well as a 12% increase in menu items labeled "vegetarian."
More than half of restaurant-goers who say they are eating more healthfully when dining out also report that they are doing so by including more fruits and vegetables, according to Mintel research.
For operators, there are opportunities in garnering feedback from children and parents to create kids' menus that are healthier and also appealing to kids -- and in general, providing more vegetable- and seafood-based appetizers, soups, salads and entrées prepared in ways that result in a natural reduction in fat and calories, points out Mintel Director of Foodservice Research Eric Giandelone.