From quick serves to movie theaters to vending machines, the menu-labeling mandate passed with the health care reform bill in March will require establishments with 20 or more locations nationwide to display caloric content of all menu items.

With many quick-serve operators left scrambling to initiate labeling in their stores, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) announced a new resource with one of its partners, Healthy Dining, that will provide restaurateurs with helpful tips.

The resource, “Restaurant Nutrition: News & Insights for the Foodservice Industry,” gives guidance on labeling regulations; reducing sodium, calories, and fat; and making kids’ meals more healthy, among other things.

“This partnership was essential to our push for nutritional awareness,” says Sue Hensley, senior vice president of Public Affairs and Communication for the NRA. “This uniform standard of menu labeling is best for both industry and customer to provide smart, healthy choices.”

The Healthy Dining staff of registered dieticians is working with quick serves to identify and create healthy choices for their menus.

“Our job is to help restaurants prosper in this era of nutritional concern,” says Anita Jones-Mueller, founder and president of Healthy Dining. “What we hope to provide are healthier options on the menu for that customer who may want to turn away from the unhealthy item, but not the brand.”

Jones-Mueller says easy, quick changes can be made to ensure profits and an unwavering customer base. She says lean proteins can be added to new or existing items. Healthier side dishes that are low in fat and nutritional options for the kids’ menu are also good improvements.

“The quick-serve industry is moving forward in smart ways,” Jones-Mueller says. “Calories and nutrition will be exposed and clear; healthy changes need to be priority in all areas of the industry for the brand to prosper.”

El Pollo Loco is one brand that has already taken advantage of Healthy Dining’s help.

“For our consumers, flavor is key,” says Mark Hardison, vice president of marketing at El Pollo Loco. “When developing new products, that same mentality has to be kept.”

This mindset won over El Pollo Loco customers when a trial run of a new Tortilla Soup with a 25 percent lower sodium base debuted in January. The item, which was rolled out with the assistance of Healthy Dining, has since stayed on the menu.

“We’ve worked with Healthy Dining since 2003,” Hardison says. “It’s always been a matter of reminding our consumers the healthy, nutritional choices we have to offer.”

By Robert Thomas
Industry News, Philanthropy