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May 4, 2022

Today’s consumers crave food that aligns with a more holistic lifestyle, nourishing the body as well as the mind. Because customers will define health in personal, highly specific ways, operators and manufacturers no longer can simply call out foods as “low fat” or “low calorie” and expect that to appeal broadly enough to grow sales. Innovation in health now involves touting beneficial nutrients, production methods, and functional attributes.

Consumers’ definition of a healthful lifestyle includes more than just losing or managing weight. Eating right is a foundational component for health in most consumers’ opinion, and people set goals not only for a certain weight, but also for managing risks for chronic illness, targeting specific nutrients and functional benefits, and helping with sleep, stress, and mental health. While losing weight is among the key reasons many people reduce animal proteins or add plant-based options to their diets, the top motivator is to improve overall health.B

So how can you take action to meet the varying expectations consumers have when it comes to healthy eating?

1) Broaden the concept of “health” to a more holistic model.

Historically, healthy dining conjures an image relating to dieting, yet this has shifted, particularly when dealing with the fallout of the pandemic. Health is a more holistic concept, encompassing physical and mental wellbeing of the consumer, as well as the wellbeing of the planet.

2) Convenience, value and health cannot be mutually exclusive.

After enduring a turbulent pandemic, consumers are eager to return to foodservice, and they want healthier options, but they want to retain the convenience and flexibility of takeout and delivery and the value of LSRs. The perceived cost of better-for-you (BFY) choices can be off-putting, but mainstreaming these choices will ensure they become a regular part of consumers’ consideration set.

3) Make healthy dining interesting and accessible.

The availability of healthy dining options is a key driver in how consumers engage with the foodservice industry. Current food and beverage trends, including non-alcoholic beverages, global cuisines, plant-based proteins and functional ingredients, are a natural fit for healthy dining and a way to engage patrons across segments and dayparts.A

What's the healthy dining forecast?

Now (2022)

Finding healthier menu options is inspiring healthier ordering choices and helping diners combat pandemic-related indulgence. 

The ongoing threat of COVID-19 varients coupled with supply chain and staffing issues as well as inflation are all conspiring to keep operators' healthy dining initiatives in check.A

Next (2023 - 2024)

Price pressures will require operators to be creative with budgets, while diners demand BFY menu items and operational initiatives that are healthier for society and the planet.

Strong off-premise programs will continue to be essential. However, BFY meals, as part of experiential dining will bring diners on premise.A

Future (2025-2027)

Healthy dining will move beyond BFY menu offerings to include a range of components for holistic health including drinks with ingredients for improving both physical and mental health.

The range of types of animal protein replacements will expand via lab-to-fork advancements while companies' CSR initiatives will help support overall healthy dining goals.A

Key Insights for Healthy Menuing

High protein has staked its claim at the top of the list for go-to menu claims.

With the proliferation of plant-based menu additions, patrons will need clarification on specific protein content.

Ensuring that animal protein replacements have comparable protein counts and that protein content is an upfront part of the conversation is essential.A

consumers are seeking out fermented foods such as kimchi, kefir and sauerkraut.

Food preservation methods such as brining, pickling, canning and shrub-making are gaining greater traction for their gut health benefits as well as contribution to cutting back on food waste. Savvy restaurateurs can use this technique to prolong the life of products that can be a part of the “feast or famine” supply chain.A

92%25 of consumers say emotional/mental health is important to an overall sense of well-being, tying with physical health as their top factor.

Mental health and wellness will be top of mind for consumers in the years ahead.

Younger consumers are creating a world where anxiety and depression are destigmatized, while an aging population will place more emphasis on memory issues and neurological illnesses.

Consumers agree: food has an important role to play.A

33%25 of consumers say they are more focused on immunity because of COVID

Focus on key micronutrients that support optimal function.

Keep in mind, nutrients can support a healthy immune system, but cannot 'boost' it to be stronger than normal.



Roasted mushroom "meat"balls with spiralized butternut squash noodles, garlic sautéed kale, chilis, and turmeric sauce.

Custom Culinary® Roasted Garlic Flavor Concentrate
Custom Culinary® Frozen RTU Beurre Blanc Sauce


  • This item has Specialty Appeal - it's unique enough to really differentiate itself but may only resonate with a niche audience.

  • Perceived as exceptionally unique; a five star rating for uniqueness.

  • Ability to drive visitation; top performer for Draw among those who like this concept.

  • Great for cross-utilization. ​Swap in  vegetables and mushrooms already in your inventory.


Plant Based

Plant Based 'healthy' menu items have grown on US menus a whopping 8,149.3% since 2017.E


Though turmeric has long been used in mainstream foods as a coloring agent, it is coming into its own as a functional food in health-focused restaurants and retail offerings.G

Turmeric has grown 263.9% on US 'healthy' menu items over the past four years. Datassential Haiku predicts Turmeric will continue to grow 51.7% in the next four years across all menu items.E

Garlic Mushroom

'Garlic Mushroom" has grown 209% on US 'healthy' menu items over the past four years.E


"Spiralized" vegetables are one of the fastest growing adoption-level terms on menus, growing +179% over the last four years.C


This Datassential tool tracks top chain restaurants' LTOs and new menu items from month to month and showcases consumer ratings on them based on a variety of metrics. Since 2014, SCORES has grown to include over 175k ratings across 30,000 menu items.F


How new and different is this item? 
Uniqueness helps operators stand out from the competition, which makes this a particularly noteworthy score.


How likely would you be to order/buy it?
Gauges how interested consumers are in a specific item in general when it's not tied to a particular brand.


Is this an item you could see yourself having all the time? 
It shows operators how often consumers would seek out this specific item if it were available.


Would you visit a restaurant just for this item? 
It reveals motivation to visit a specific restaurant just to get this one particular item if it was offered.




Red and golden quinoa topped with wood fire grilled vegetables and chickpeas in a roasted red pepper harissa sauce with lemon yogurt drizzle.

Custom Culinary® Harissa Sauce
Custom Culinary® Gold Label Low Sodium Vegetable Base


  • Perceived as very unique; a four star rating for uniqueness.

  • This concept travels well and is perfect for grab 'n' go and other off-premise dining occasions.

  • ​Bowls rank #47 on the list of most common adoption level items on menus today and continue to grow even with a high menu prescence.C



Harissa has grown 104.9% on US 'healthy' menu items over the past four years. Datassential Haiku predicts Harissa will continue to grow 64.9% in the next four years.E


Quinoa can be found in 10.2% of US  'healthy' menu items, and has grown 48.1% since 2017.E


Chickpeas have grown 52.9% on US 'healthy' menu items over the past four years.E

Greek Yogurt

Blistered 94.1
Greek Yogurt have grown 68.1% on US 'healthy' menu items over the past four years.E

What are the Fastest Growing Health & Wellness Terms?B

Dietary terms like vegan and gluten free have grown considerably on menus and are most prominent at fast-casual restaurants.   Fine-dining restaurants are most likely to menu local and seasonal ingredients.
Among the fastest-growing ingredients the past four years are common healthy substitutes, like cauliflower (pizza crusts and “wings”) and sweet potatoes. Fine-dining restaurants lead much of the adoption of healthful ingredients, especially mushrooms and salmon.
The rise of functional foods on restaurant menus has been building for years. Fine-dining also tends to break new ground and experiment more often with these ingredients and flavors; turmeric, however, has nearly tripled its menu penetration over the past four years, appearing on both limited-service and full-service menus.
Most of the well-known superfoods are present in more than half of all restaurants overall, particularly fine dining. Ginger, lime, and avocado have continued to grow on menus, each experiencing double-digit penetration growth over the last four years.

+++ indicates growth over 300%
MenuTrends 2021, PENETRATION: % of restaurants that offer….

What is mindful eating?

According to Chef Michael Hornback, MPS, CEC, WCEC, CCA, "Mindful eating encompasses many areas in the food system. Simply put, mindful eating is being fully attentive to the food you purchase, prepare, serve, and consume. Using all your physical senses to experience and enjoy the food choices you make helping increase the gratitude for food improving the overall eating experience."

A component of 'Intuitive Eating', mindful eating aims to reduce anxieties around food and rejects the 'diet mentality' that takes the enjoyment out of eating. It's a compliment to other forms of 'mindfulness, focused on awareness, consciousness of needs and preferences, and permission. It's not punative, and nourishing for the body and mind.

How to support mindful eating on your menu:

  1. Offer delicious and nutrious options that support mindful eating practices. Consumer are making more conscious choices that support their physical and emotional health.

  2. Take a holistic approach to food. One that honors the sensory experience, while also nourishing the body.

Culinary ViewpointS

"Having dedicated my career to never-ending learning and evolving as a culinary professional, I am thrilled by the potential of the total holistic approach innovative chefs are taking in developing recipes and menus through mindful eating.
The intentional consideration for the journey of the ingredients, careful and creative cooking techniques, and capturing the full nutritive benefits of each dish has inspired me to adopt this approach in both my personal and professional recipes.

What better way to strive for excellence in our craft, than to elevate our approach to our recipes and menus with the goal of delicious mindful eating?"

"Mindful eating is maintaining an in-the-moment awareness of the food and beverage you put into your body. It involves observing how the food makes you feel and the signals your body sends about taste, satisfaction, and fullness.

Mindful eating requires you to simply acknowledge and accept rather than judge the feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations you observe..."

Join Chef Smith as he shares his thoughts around this intriguing topic.

Listen to the Podcast

THE BOTTOM LINE: Promoting Healthy Options on your menu

Functional mentions are finding their way into marketing and menu messages. The term superfood is a generic and generally accepted term the industry has used for years, but descriptions are becoming more specific to align with health goals. Foodservice Operators will extend beyond communication ingredient sourcing and start to communicate targeted functional ingredients, benefits and claims in the mental wellness space across menus, to provide consumers with foods that nourish their minds in addition to the bodies.A

Most functional foods are still in the early adoption phase, so manufacturers and menu makers should take time to explain the benefits to be derived from exotic produce, fermented foods and drinks, and the like.B For instance, Springbone Kitchen, which has three locations throughout New York City, shares the benefits of its SB+ Collagen stating it is great for joints, inflammation, potassium, and boosting natural collagen production. Culture Counter in Springfield, Missouri, a market with grab-and-go options, a hot bar, and a salad bar, uses its social media to promote items and educate followers on the benefits of ingredients such as microgreens’ ability to boost the immune system and lower cholesterol.

Operators should take advantage of promoting the functional ingredients already on their menu and/or find easy ways to add in beneficial ingredients. The majority of consumers are looking for these ingredients straight from the source—72% of consumers prefer an item or “whole food” that naturally provides the functional benefits.B

When trying to dine out healthfully, people want to rely on typical categories like salads and COP proteins. This is especially true for women and Boomers, the two groups in Datassential's New Foundations in Health study that indicate they devote less effort to dieting and healthful-food trends.

The most effective substitution restaurants could enable is offering grilled or baked versions of fried favorites. For a more general audience, healthful eating is often about choice and customization, often leading to more healthful preparations instead of plant-based swaps.B

FlavorIQ® enables our customers' growth and success by approaching the creation of customized solutions with a bold mix of expertise, aspiration and curiosity. We develop unique products, menu concepts and "gold standard" flavor delivery systems, meeting the requirements of our customers today and anticipating their emerging needs, too. The opportunities we identify for operators and food manufacturers on a global scale are rooted in a deep understanding of the culinary arts, sensory science, consumer insights and food science. Our ultimate goal? Innovation without limits.
A) Mintel, US Healthy Dining Trends, April 2022
Datassential, New Foundations in Health Report, May 2021
C) Datassential, The World of Adoption Level, January 2022
D) Datassential SCORES™, "Mushroom 'Meatballs' with Butternut Squash Noodles" report for Custom Culinary®, March 2022
E) Datassential MenuTrends, accessed 4/28/22. US Chain and Independent Non-Ethnic restaurants % that offer Healthy menu items...
F) Datassential, FoodBytes: SCORES Preview, August 2021

G) Datassential, TIPS: Winter 2016, January 2017
H) Datassential SCORES™, "Grilled Mediterranean Quinoa Bowl" report for Custom Culinary®, March 2022