Fast food trend: Menus sprout fruits, veggies

Today’s consumer is looking for foods that not only fit into their fast-paced lives but also into their health-conscious diets — ones filled with dietary needs that focus on everything from managing chronic illness to maintaining low calories.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that greener menus are sprouting up in America’s most popular chains. No longer an over-looked side item, salads are sharing more menu space with their trans-fatty counterparts than ever before, promoting good health and disease prevention with their vitamins and minerals in the form of salad bars, combo deals and full entrées.

The National Restaurant Association’s 2006 Restaurant Industry Forecast shows entrée salad orders having the largest increase of all menu items at both full-service and fast service restaurants.

According to the forecast, fast-food restaurants report an increasing consumer interest in entrée salads and 78 percent say they are now receiving more of those orders. Full-service restaurants also report an increasing number of orders for entrée salads now compared to two years ago.

Fruits and vegetables have sprung their way to the top of Institute of Food Technologists 2005 Top 10 Global Food Trends Report. Fruit is listed as America’s second favorite snack, and salads rank fourth in fastest growing, most ordered food. The study found that more than half of consumers plan to eat more fruits and vegetables in the coming year — with broccoli topping the veggie list.

These trends are promising, so long as the food industry remains willing to offer convenience without compromising on the demand for healthier food.

Here’s a snapshot of the top five food trends from 2009:

•Quick fix — People want to eat at home. Seventy-seven of all dinners in 2005 were eaten at home, but people want less hassle in the kitchen. We should expect to see more easy-to-prepare, ready-to-eat, ultra-quick foods, bagged salads and side dishes.

•Drive-and-go — Many of us are ordering takeout from full-service restaurants and takeout sales from these restaurants account for almost 10 percent of sales. More than half of Americans eat this way during the week.

•Inherently healthy — Consumers are increasingly choosing naturally healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables, salads, nuts and yogurt. Fruit is now America’s second favorite snack.

•Fancy — People are choosing premium, gourmet foods. Fish, in particular, is undergoing something of a gourmet makeover. The premium foods market is projected to grow to nearly $100 billion before 2010.

•Farm-friendly — Foods believed to be closer to the ranch are capturing consumers’ dollars. “Organic,” “fresh” and “natural” continue to be hot buzzwords.

Eat your veggies.

Kurt Nolte is an area agriculture agent with the Yuma County Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at 928-726-3904.