Restaurant goers are finally starting to choose better-for-you items on menus at big chain restaurants like Applebee's and IHOP. Is it too little, too late?
It's like turning the Titanic, but finally, people may actually be ordering (rather than just talking about) healthier menu items in mainstream restaurants like IHOP, Sizzler, and Denny's. For the first time, the number-one restaurant chain, Applebee's, reports that its top-selling menu choice in 2011 comes straight from the chain's "under 550 calories" menu—namely, its Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Sauce.
Other traditionally unhealthy chains are taking up the cause because of demand for "better for you" menu options:
- Denny's, home of the artery-clogging Grand Slam Breakfast, just launched its Fit Fare omelet, made with egg whites, spinach, and fresh pico de gallo.
- IHOP's kids menu, which only includes meals under 600 calories, replaced French fries as the standard side dish with a fruit cup.
- Olive Garden actually took fries completely off their kids menu and is now offering grapes, plus fruit smoothies instead of milkshakes.
Another good sign: Last week, the National Restaurant Association joined with Healthy Dining to launch Kids Live Well, a national initiative to get restaurants to offer healthy options for kids on their menus, with an emphasis on increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains while limiting unhealthy fats, sugars, and sodium. So far, signed-on restaurants include Au Bon Pain, Burger King, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Chili's, Denny's, Friendly's, Outback Steakhouse, Sizzler, ZPizza, and more.
Yes, nationwide obesity is still a major problem. And sure, these places still have towers of onion rings and gut-busting burgers... but in my opinion, the news from Applebee's is a really encouraging sign. Those of us who've been eating healthy for a long time tend to forget that the vast majority of U.S. people still eat at these chain restaurants every single day—and they can't eat healthier if the options aren't there.
The new difference is that consumers are finally ordering these healthier options—and, say some chain managers, even choosing a family restaurant based on whether healthier choices exist on the menu. So, while, these better-for-you menu changes may sound small, they're affecting people's long-term habits and health—and that's huge.
Healthy eating really is gaining traction (thanks, Michelle Obama!). And of course, I'm proud that Delicious Living has been leading this charge with healthy, delicious recipes for more than 30 years. It's exciting to see these changes taking root to the point of affecting where people choose to eat and what they choose to order.