America is sick and tired of being sick and tired. Diners are increasingly seeking out restaurants that offer lower-calorie main dishes, sides and even cocktails, according to a Hudson Institute study released Thursday (Feb. 7). For restaurants it's a profitable move. And for health-minded diners, it's an easy way to keep those New Year's promises to eat healthier, and be able to eat out at the same time.
According to the Hudson Institute, lower-calorie items accounted for 37.5 percent of all servings sold at the surveyed restaurants in 2011. “Consumers are voting with their feet. Nobody’s selling these items very hard. Demand is showing up here. You can’t ignore the consumer,” said Henry J. Cardello, a senior fellow and director at the Washington, D.C.-based Hudson Institute Obesity Solutions Initiative. The study included large chains like McDonald’s, Applebee’s, Denny’s Outback and Olive Garden.
One example is Cheesecake Factory, a restaurant known for out-of-control portion sizes. The company added a SkinnyLicious menu in 2011, with 50 items less than 590 calories. They sponsored a New Year’s resolution twitter contest with prices like running shoes and yoga classes. Based on the company twitter feed #skinnylicious, it's popular among fitness followers and families. Learn more here.
Overall, restaurants that increased their lower-calorie offerings saw an increase in total traffic of 10.9 percent between 2006-2011. Brands that didn’t increase their lower-calorie offerings, or decreased them, saw foot traffic drop 14.7 percent and same-store sales dip 5.5 percent during the five-year period.
“We found that those restaurant chains that were growing their lower-calorie time on the menu…demonstrate business advantages,” said Cardello. “They’re seeing their same-store sales grow. They’re seeing customer traffic increase.”
As restaurants add calorie counts and nutrition labeling to menus, this trend is predicted to gain even more popularity. “We could see the growth in lower-calorie items accelerate even faster,” Dr. said James Marks, senior vice president and director of the health group at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, during a press conference discussing the findings.
According to Restaurant News, here are some popular better-for-you menu items:
1. Cheesecake Factory’s SkinnyLicious menu includes SkinnyLicious burgers and flatbreads with wild mushroom; sausage and ricotta or roasted pear and blue cheese;
2. Corner Bakery Asian wonton salad with Thai coconut soup or avocado and spinach Panini with eggs and parmesan.
3. Denny’s Fit Slam, a protein-heavy, lower calorie Grand Slam with egg whites, spinach, tomatoes, turkey bacon, fruit and English muffin.
4. Einstien Bros. Bagels offers thinner, healthier bagel-thin sandwiches less than 350 calories like the asparagus, mushroom and Swiss cheese.
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