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How to put health on the menu without a workout

Former White House chef Sam Kass has ideas for getting better-for-you options on the menu—and actually getting them to sell. And it starts with the marketing message.
sam kass peter romeo

We’ve heard it time and again—millennials are extremely conscious about what they eat. They want to know what is in their food, where it is from, how it was made and more. And, as we’re learning, Gen Zers are even more aware and information-demanding about the food they eat than their older counterparts.

Hitting those higher-quality food standards is no easy feat. But it’s becoming a must, said chef Sam Kass—known for being the White House chef for the Obamas, a senior White House policy advisor on nutrition policy while he cooked, and currently the senior food analyst for NBC News. The one-time personal and fine-dining chef told a room full of grab-and-go operators from across the foodservice landscape at this year’s FARE Conference in Dallas, “This is becoming a big culture shift, and those actually solving these problems are going to win. It’s not just a nice thing to do, but a smart business decision.” While choice in our culture will ultimately always dictate that some people won’t eat well, he compelled the operators in the room to do everything to help consumers make the right choice—to make healthy options more desirable.

So where would Kass begin? “Looking at reduced sugar, fat or salt, it’s a good place to start.” But Kass offered up a number of other solutions to help operators move toward feeding consumers better.

Change the marketing message

“Love, sex and happiness beats vitamin D every day,” said Kass. Operators can’t just sell broccoli on the basis that it has fiber and itamin D. “We need to put the same kind of marketing power behind food that is better for you … Make people see better food and make them want to buy it,” he added.

Reformat the menu

“We have a menu, and then we have a healthy corner. There’s something like 10 to 20% that will go there,” said Kass. For those not actively seeking it out—the majority of consumers—that’s the bad-tasting corner. Health needs to be integrated throughout.

Revamp the plate

“Make healthy options the default by adding another serving of fruits and veggies,” Kass suggested. “We need to be working in more options that bring in health, as well as healthy,” he added. Another example he gave: If the default on a menu is a small tea instead of a giant, sugary drink, operators can take out 250 calories.

Consider half portions

“If there’s one thing we could do to make a bigger impact, it’s bringing portions back into reality,” he said. He proffers that half portions make sense for operators. More consumers are open to smaller portions, Kass said, and it helps out from a cost and margin perspective, operationally.

Elevate veggies

Consumers are recovering from the ‘50s, when vegetables were cooked down to mush. “No wonder they are not eating [veggies],” he said. The challenge: how to make healthy food actually taste delicious—because that’s the key to selling it. He challenged operators to experiment, try new things and learn. “[We] have to put some real energy behind it.”

Turn to kids

There’s a new normal for young kids, who have started every meal with veggies, Kass said. It’s what they know, he added. However, he suggests there’s a big opportunity in a home ec of the future—teaching kids a few basic approaches to cooking that they can extrapolate from.

Even with the current First Lady leaving the White House soon, Kass expects the push toward better eating to continue. “The strategy was to increase demand, so the industry could make the progress we were trying to do,” he said. “A lot of what we were trying to do was support and push the culture, so it was more doable for the industry to push.”
 

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