Comfort foods are menu classics for many reasons—they’re craveable, and for many diners, they evoke childhood memories and a sense of nostalgia. But today’s consumers don’t embrace indulgence nearly as tightly as they used to. According to Technomic’s recent Healthy Eating report, a third of consumers say that compared to two years ago, they’re ordering more healthy items at foodservice locations, and are also eating more foods specifically for their nutritional benefits.
Comfort foods will always be a big seller, but to help attract the new wave of health-conscious diners, restaurant operators can lighten up these popular dishes with healthier ingredients and better-for-you options, all without sacrificing flavor. Here are four ways to do just that.
1. Blend vegetables into meatballs and meatloaf
Blended burgers, which blend ingredients such as black beans or mushrooms with beef to lighten up a burger patty, are a popular menu item. But why stop there? Blend mushrooms into other menu items that use ground meat as the base. For instance, meatballs and meatloaf can be lightened up by swapping a percentage of the meat for vegetables. Additionally, mushrooms can add moisture to these dishes, helping to prevent dryness.
Blending in mushrooms provides a delicious savory flavor, too, without being overwhelming. Even those who don’t like mushrooms will love these additions.
2. Swapping out animal proteins entirely
According to Technomic’s Healthy Eating report, 31% of consumers say that when they’re trying to eat healthier, one tactic they employ is to integrate at least one healthy element into their meals. For some, that could mean swapping out an animal protein for more veggies. Instead of beef or chicken chili, a mushroom, bean and vegetable stew could satisfy a craving for something hearty and warming.
Alternatively, in pasta dishes, mushrooms can be swapped in where chicken or shrimp might ordinarily appear, such as in penne dishes or fettuccini alfredo.
3. Focus on sustainability
Another way to update comfort foods for the modern diner is to employ better sustainability practices. For example, swapping ingredients can have a huge impact on sustainability. It takes approximately 1,800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, according to USGS Water Science School data from 2016, but just 1.8 gallons (that’s right—less than two gallons) of water to produce one pound of mushrooms. Substituting sustainable ingredients is the most effective way for restaurants to be more sustainable.
Additionally, diners are increasingly concerned with the environment, so enacting better practices can help entice those who choose carefully where they eat. Reducing energy and water usage within a restaurant and reducing food waste wherever possible are crucial. Other sustainability initiatives include using recyclable takeout containers, and sourcing foods from local producers to limit the amount of carbon emissions produced from transporting food.
4. Play up health-halos
Finally, comfort foods can be updated simply by using better quality ingredients. That means eliminating preservative-laden foods, as well as ingredients made with artificial flavorings, colorings or sweeteners. According to Technomic’s Healthy Eating report, for 61% of consumers, the claim of natural ingredients is what they look for on menus when ordering healthy items, while 35% look for organic options, so these health-halo callouts can help attract those diners. In short, operators need not only focus on the fat or sugar content of a dish, but also on the quality of the ingredients being used in the kitchen overall.
Upgrading these ingredients can help entice diners who are interested in better-for-you foods and not just lower calorie/lower fat dishes. Another way that operators can attract diners with health halos is to emphasize the health benefits of reducing the amount of meat consumed by incorporating more plant-based options. For instance, eating more plants can reduce the risk of heart disease, and it’s easy to do—swapping in mushrooms for a portion of the meat used in items such as a burger or meatloaf is a healthier way to enjoy those comfort foods.
Phillips Blended Burger: Eat Better. Eat Smarter.
Our chef-tested, clean-label, blended burger delivers big flavor, in a ready-to-cook, 4-oz. patty that provides unmatched flavor, texture, and value. In addition to great nutritional attributes, Phillips’ Blended Burger has a great sustainability story that your customers with appreciate. Rather make it yourself? No problem! We have moisture-reduced, roasted, diced mushrooms available. They are the perfect ingredient for your own blended creation!