Although I often use dining out as an excuse to splurge, lately I've been making a concerted effort to order more nutritious dishes. But doing so has been challenging, to say the least.
Cream-based soups, cheese-filled appetizers, butter-drenched entrees and sugary desserts seem to dominate menus - even at the local, organic restaurant I dined at this weekend. So I wasn't particularly shocked to read about recent research suggesting restaurants could play an important role in helping to reduce the obesity epidemic in the United States.
In the study, researchers surveyed 432 chefs, restaurant owners, and culinary executives from across the country and found that 72 percent could trim 10 percent of the calories in meals without customers noticing differences in taste, and 21 percent could reduce calories by at least 25 percent. However, there are a number of barriers to chefs making such changes. According to a Penn State release:
In the study, chefs rated their perceptions of obstacles to increasing healthy food in restaurants. Low consumer demand was the major concern - 32 percent of chefs thought this - followed by the need for staff skills and training - 24 percent - and high ingredient cost - 18 percent. The majority of chefs, 71 percent, indicated that the success of a low-calorie meal hinged primarily on taste.
Additionally, 7 percent of respondents were "not at all" familiar with the calorie content of the meals they served, and 49 percent were only "somewhat" familiar.
Increasing the number of healthy offerings at restaurants will involve more than raising awareness among chefs. The researchers concluded:
Ongoing collaboration is needed between chefs and public health professionals to ensure that appealing reduced-calorie menu items are more widely available in restaurants and that research is directed toward effective ways to develop and promote these items.