As the New Year approaches, many Americans will make resolutions, often involving diets and healthy eating. Technomic has found that an increasing number of restaurants are able to meet these consumers' needs by creating dishes that are low in fat, calories, and sugar, and by proudly describing these healthful properties.
In fact, use of the word "healthy" within menu descriptions has increased by 86 percent over the past year.
The findings are part of Technomic's ongoing examination of items being added to leading independent and chain restaurant menus, which are collected quarterly and are available on Technomic's searchable online MenuMonitor  database.
"Dieting consumers don't always view restaurants as a safe place to eat, either because they don't recognize diet-compatible options, or are too tempted to indulge themselves when eating out," says Technomic Executive Vice President Darren Tristano. "However, the number of healthful dishes offered at restaurants continues to grow, and operators are increasingly interested in touting healthy benefits on their menus."
The number of times "low fat" was used to describe menu items has increased by 33 percent over last year, while the incidence of "fat free" and/or "non-fat" has gone up by 12 percent. The phrase "no sugar" has increased by 51 percent, year over year. And though it's used much less often than these other healthful adjectives, "low-calorie" is on 154 percent more menus than last year.
Some of the new better-for-you items added to menus include:
- Starbucks' new Reduced Fat Turkey Bacon & White Cheddar breakfast sandwich.
- Romano's Macaroni Grill "Lite" menu additions such as Chicken Spiedini, Pollo Caprese, and Warm Spinach and Shrimp Salad.
- Abuelo's Skinny Margaritas, promising "fabulous flavor with half the calories of a regular margarita."
- Jack In The Box's line of fat-free smoothies in strawberry-banana, mango, and strawberry varieties.
- Sonic Drive-Ins' new apple slices are served with fat-free caramel dipping sauce.
If your New Year's resolution is to quit smoking, the restaurant industry can help you with that too. According to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, 75 percent of the U.S. population is covered by state and local laws that completely prohibit smoking in restaurants.