More people are trying to eat right by eating light, and they see salads as a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle, even when they’re eating out. According to Technomic, Inc., a Chicago-based consultancy, more than 75% of Americans order salads at restaurants at least some of the time and their reasons vary. About 88% opt for a salad because they’re fresh, relative to other menu options; price is a factor with 74% of those ordering salads because they’re seen as a good value for the money. Finally, about 70% of consumers choosing salads do so because they seem like the healthy menu choice.
Salads: Bigger and Bolder
Traditional salads, especially Caesar salads, are still selling well and they will always have a place on the menu, but the new trends and tastes are leading chefs to think about the salads they offer in new and unique ways to build business, boost sales and attract new customers.
Salads became meals with the addition of a protein. A side salad Caesar became a main dish meal with the simple addition of grilled chicken breast. Now to keep things interesting, chefs are setting aside the iceberg and romaine for bolder greens such as spinach, escarole, frisÃ©e, arugula, and lettuces that aren’t even green such as purple radicchio. The sharpness and snap of arugula and other greens also let chefs add bolder toppings such as sharper cheeses, proteins such as applewood smoked bacon or pancetta and a wider variety of fruits, nuts or other toppings.
Warning! Not All Salads are Good for You
While many of these toppings are what make salads so delicious, overdoing them has its consequences. A recent article in Men’s Health magazine titled, â€˜The Unhealthiest Salads in Americaâ€™ lists a number of restaurant salads whose fat, total calories and sodium can undo the benefits of a hard workout as quickly as you can pick up your fork. To keep your salad on the healthy side, avoid adding too many toppings to it and remember that Parmesan-crusted is code for â€˜dipped in cheese and deep-fried.â€™
With the increased concern over childhood obesity, parents have become more eager to have their children eat healthfullyâ€”and research shows kids are agreeing with them. â€˜Nutritionally-balanced foods for childrenâ€™ ranks number six on the list of Top 20 Food Trends for 2010 according to Nation’s Restaurant News magazine. Another study shows more than three in four children (77%) are open to ordering foods with vegetables, and six in seven (86%) would order items containing fruit1. Operations across the country are beginning to offer healthier sides like yogurt, fruits or salads as alternatives to the traditional fries and potatoes.
â€˜Fast Foodâ€™ Also Means â€˜Saladâ€™
As more consumers seek out healthier lunch and dinner options, chain restaurants are taking note. Here are a few examples of regional and national chains that are emphasizing salads that are both good for you and a good value.
Tender Greens, a California-based concept, touts its use of locally-sourced produce and free-range proteins, as well as an overall commitment to sustainability practices. The chain uses only green detergents and cleaners and offers biodegradable to-go containers and napkins made from recycled materials. The potted herbs that are part of the dÃ©cor at Tender Greens do double duty as the in-house herb garden supplying the kitchen. The menu is a simple one: Simple Salads, Big Salads, Hot Stuff and Comfort Soups.
Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes brought healthy eating to San Diego more than 30 years ago. Today it is one of the first restaurants consumers think of when they think fresh produce and salads. The restaurant concept is built around fresh prepared, great-tasting recipes with a salad bar full of seasonal vegetables and tossed salads prepared exhibition-style every 20 minutes. The menu features a variety of tossed and prepared salads, and offers a variety of low-fat, vegetarian and vegan choices.
Salata is a nine-unit, Houston-based chain that offers tossed-to-order salads emphasizing personalization and freshness. Customers have a choice of eight all-natural house-made dressings which are tossed with standard ingredients such as cucumbers and tomatoes, to more exotic fare such as jalapeÃƒÂ±os, snow peas, blueberries, strawberries and a variety of cheeses, seeds and nuts. Protein options include chicken breast with pesto, baked salmon and crabmeat. For diners on the go, Salata offers salad wraps made from any of the ingredients on the salad bar wrapped in fresh flour tortillas.