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    Fresh Perspective

  • Operators use high-quality, fresh ingredients to serve up dishes that manage to be both healthy and indulgent.

    Rubio’s Chipotle Orange Salad with Shrimp is one example of brands adding more fresh ingredients to enhance their menu’s nutritional profile.

    “Our mission is to offer healthy options without compromising flavor,” he says.

    Rubio’s timing is right, Nettleton says. “Recent research by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute indicates that consumers are eating and asking for more seafood at chain and fast-service restaurants, and they want it in a healthier preparation,” she says. Those consumers prefer grilled seafood rather than fried for both taste and health reasons, she adds.

    Rubio’s now offers black beans and a new citrus rice—white rice with lemongrass and citrus—that Rubio says pairs better with grilled fish. The brand also has the traditional pinto beans and Mexican rice. The new Ancho Shrimp Burrito and the updated recipe for its biggest seller, the Burrito Especial, feature the black-beans-and-citrus-rice combination. They’re also made with guacamole instead of cheese, opting for what Rubio describes as a fatty, creamy texture that’s fresher and better for consumers than cheese. “We didn’t compromise on flavor at all,” he says. “The new version is just a different experience, one I prefer.”

    Carnitas is no longer on the Rubio’s menu because it doesn’t align with the new mission. The focus is more on grilled seafood and chicken, which are leaner proteins, as well as steak. More menu items will be available with the choice of grilled seafood this summer, including salads.

    “Nobody is doing grilled seafood salad in a big way,” Rubio says. He intends to lead the way with offerings like the Chipotle Orange Salad, made with mandarin oranges, fire-roasted corn, fresno chilies, avocado, black beans, tortilla strips, and crema, with a chipotle orange vinaigrette dressing.

    Using fresh, high-quality ingredients is the foundation of the “Food Mission” at Moe’s Southwest Grill, the Atlanta-based chain with 538 units in 37 states. In addition to the more than 20 fresh ingredients prepared in-house daily, Moe’s “Food Mission” revolves around items that are all natural, grass fed, certified organic, and contain no added hormones or preservatives. This focus on high-quality ingredients is a “big resonance for guests. They’re paying attention to what goes into their bodies,” says Pat Peterson, Moe’s executive chef.

    Eating healthy may resonate, but eating flavorfully wins, he says. “A better ingredient will have more flavor to it,” Peterson says. Choosing a “better” ingredient, he adds, may be as simple as choosing romaine lettuce over iceberg.

    It’s not always that simple to create good-tasting, healthy dishes, however. Lowering sodium can be a challenge, Peterson says, because you have to get creative to find replacements that continue to offer full flavor. Turning to spices and adding lime juice to Moe’s pico de gallo adds enough natural flavors so salt isn’t needed, he says.

    The Homewrecker burrito is a good representation of Moe’s brand from a health standpoint, Peterson says. Not only is it filled with lots of nutrient-dense ingredients like all-natural chicken breast, beans, handmade guacamole, and pico de gallo, but it can also be customized however the guest prefers. Made without the tortilla, it becomes a bowl with fewer carbs. Guests can also order a junior size for a scaled-down version.

    “We’re proud to offer a little better than par in the things we’ve taken the time to look at from a taste and nutrition angle,” Peterson says.

    Of course, low fat, low carb, high protein, and vegetarian are just a few of the ways people define healthy eating for themselves. Pauli’s North End Restaurant in Boston, which specializes in subs and sandwiches, created a new breakfast menu to meet its guests’ specific dietary needs. Whether they follow a Paleo, gluten-free, Zone, vegetarian, Big Breakfast, or low-fat diet, customers can find anything they need on Pauli’s breakfast menu.

    “Although breakfast items were already on my menu, I wanted to be able to provide those who wanted a healthy on-the-go breakfast an option,” says owner Paul Barker.

    The Northender Wrap packs bacon, potatoes, and cheese in proportion to the Zone Diet’s 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat restrictions. For those following the Paleo diet of no processed foods, dairy, or grains, Pauli’s created a Western Omelet made with peppers, onions, a choice of chicken or steak, and three eggs.

    Breakfast items are available all day, and substitutions such as egg whites or switching from a bagel to a wrap may be made. The reception has been overwhelming, Barker says. “You can tell people really needed this option,” he says. “There is nothing better than when a customer walks up to me and thanks me for providing them a breakfast that fits their lifestyle.”