Eat Well, Live Well: A Guide to Crafting a Healthy Restaurant Menu

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Geri Mileva
May 9, 2024
A salad bowl filled with colorful, nutritious vegetables from a healthy restaurant menu.

Healthy restaurants get a bad rep because their menus are often seen as bland. However, as more health-conscious people seek nutritious and sustainable choices, offering a healthy restaurant menu is an excellent opportunity to attract a new demographic of customers. Organic options incorporating diverse ingredients like kale and quinoa topped last year's food trends list. These healthy choices will continue to dominate the market. 

If you’re looking for ways to craft a healthier menu for your restaurant, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll be exploring different ways to incorporate healthy menu options. Healthy doesn’t have to be boring – keep reading and we’ll show you how. 

Why Should Restaurants Consider Adding Healthy Menu Options?

294,357 businesses in the US provide quick restaurant services. Americans usually eat meals that are not prepared at home. However, while convenient, restaurant dining also contributes to the obesity epidemic in the US with the CDC noting that 73.6% of Americans are overweight and obese. More than the obvious health benefits of having a healthy restaurant menu, here are some advantages:

Expand Your Customer Base

By focusing on health-conscious diners, you're broadening your customer base. Your restaurant can attract those with dietary restrictions or fitness goals who struggle to find suitable dining options. Clear labeling and various meal choices can help bridge this gap, allowing your restaurant to cater to this underserved market while appealing to other customers.

Improve Customer Satisfaction

The notion that "healthy food belongs at home and tasty food is found at restaurants" is outdated. These days, healthy restaurants can provide both delicious and nutritious options. When people find these healthy choices on your restaurant's menu, their dining experience improves. They feel good about making healthy choices without missing out on flavor or enjoyment. This makes customers happier and more likely to come back again and tell their friends about the great food they had.

Build a Positive Brand Image

By providing healthy options, it shows that your restaurant is committed to serving a wide range of customers and ensuring their well-being. This emphasis on health enhances your brand image. It cultivates a progressive, inclusive, and attentive identity that caters to its customers' needs. Such a positive image can attract new patrons and establish your restaurant as a healthy dining destination valued beyond just delicious food.

What Constitutes a "Healthy" Restaurant Menu?

Defining a "healthy" menu in the restaurant industry is complex, encompassing various aspects. But, generally, a healthy menu prioritizes nutrient-rich ingredients, offers balanced macronutrients, and limits the use of harmful products. A well-rounded menu caters to both healthy menu options and different dietary restrictions.

Elements of a Healthy Restaurant Menu

When it comes to healthy menu options, these are the top elements that consumers use to define "healthy food":

  • Fresh and Natural Ingredients
  • Low in Sugar
  • Good Source of Protein
  • Nutrient-Rich Ingredients
  • Low Sodium
  • Contains Fruits or Vegetables

Dietary Restrictions

With the rise in food allergies and special diets, it's important to create an inclusive menu to keep up with consumer demand. Here are some of the most common dietary restrictions to look out for:

  • Gluten-Free: About 25% of Americans avoid gluten due to stomach issues.
  • Dairy-Free: Others skip dairy if they can't digest it well.
  • Vegan or Vegetarian: Some don't eat meat, focusing on plant-based food.
  • Allergies: Some foods (like soy, wheat, peanuts) can cause allergies.

A cook is cutting red and yellow peppers on a cutting board in the kitchen.

How Can You Assess Your Current Menu for Healthier Alternatives?

To go green and develop a healthy menu, start by reviewing your current offerings using these tips:

Evaluate Your Current Dishes

Carve time for you and your chef to examine all ingredients closely. Most packaging labels offer detailed nutritional information, such as calories and fat content. Gather this data for each dish to determine its nutritional value.

Seek Expert Advice

Consult a dietitian or nutritionist for nutritional insights. Ask them to evaluate your menu and the best alternatives to ensure you provide genuine healthy options. 

Leverage Technology

Utilize online tools and AI resources. Various platforms and mobile apps can analyze recipes and offer nutritional breakdowns. Emerging AI-powered software can also assess menus and suggest healthier recipe adjustments.

What Are Some Popular Healthy Dishes to Consider Adding to Your Menu?

Here are some popular healthier options you can add to your menu:


Provide fresh salads featuring vibrant vegetables, protein-rich roasted chickpeas or lentils, complex carbs from whole grains like quinoa or brown rice, and flavorful dressings using olive oil and fresh herbs.

A bowl of salad with mixed vegetables and a smaller bowl of seeds on the side.

Buddha Bowls

Buddha bowls are popular for a good reason! These customizable bowls let diners craft their healthy creations. Provide bases such as brown rice or quinoa. Add healthy protein options, like grilled chicken, tofu, or salmon. Include a variety of roasted or pickled vegetables. Top with flavorful toppings such as avocado or kimchi.

Vegetarian Options

Feature international cuisines renowned for their tasty and nutritious vegetarian choices. Think Thai curries featuring vibrant vegetables and tofu, Indian lentil dahl seasoned with aromatic spices, or Mexican fajitas boasting roasted vegetables and black beans.

Lean Protein

Highlight lean protein options such as grilled chicken, fish, or baked salmon with a lemon herb crust. Pair these with roasted vegetables or whole-wheat wraps for a fulfilling meal. You can also offer steaks labeled sirloin or round, as they generally contain less fat than rib-eyes. Provide alternatives to red meat burgers, such as turkey, chicken, bean, and vegetable options.

Below, we’ve outlined some tips on how to make your current menu offerings healthier:

  • Smaller Portions: Offer lunch-sized portions for dinner entrees to provide a satisfying meal without excess calories. Promote shared plates to encourage a social dining experience.
  • Twist on Classic Dishes: Revamp some dishes by using healthier alternatives. For instance, use tomato-based sauces instead of creamy sauces. Incorporate lean proteins and more vegetables into familiar favorites.
  • Provide Alternatives: Strategically suggest healthier sides on your menu. Add a "swap for a side salad" near the fries or mashed potatoes option.

How Can I Promote My Healthy Dishes?

When updating the menu for your healthy restaurant, clarity is critical. Consider these tips:

Use Symbols

Include a legend on your menu to indicate healthier options. Place symbols next to appetizers, salads, entrees, and sides that can be prepared healthier upon request. For instance, add the letter V to signify the dish is vegetarian. Add a grill picture to indicate the food can be grilled instead of fried or sautéed.

Display Calorie Counts

Show calorie counts on your menu and website. While listing every ingredient may be impractical, providing calorie information and highlighting low-fat or high-protein options appeals to those with specific dietary goals. Many diet apps require users to log their calorie intake, so displaying this information on the menu can help customers track their data efficiently.

Furthermore, the FDA mandates that most chain restaurants and similar establishments make this nutritional information publicly accessible. Therefore, customers may expect you to have calorie information readily available.

A close-up of the calorie count of several meals on a restaurant's menu.

Add a Separate Menu Page

Dedicate a separate menu page or section for healthy options to prevent confusion. This will be particularly beneficial in larger restaurants with diverse offerings. Strategically place promotional cards on tables or near the counter where diners can easily see them. These visually appealing cards can pique interest in your healthier offerings.

Support Local Producers

Choose grass-fed livestock and produce from local farms over processed foods. Highlight your dedication to fresh ingredients by featuring these options prominently on your menu.

Final Thoughts on Healthy Restaurants

Providing healthy restaurant menu options is not only smart for business, but it encourages your customers to make smart, healthy choices too. You can craft a menu of healthy dishes from scratch or tweak existing ones to improve nutritional balance. The first step is to sit down with chefs and managers to plan. Healthy menu options don’t have to be boring. With some creativity and a focus on fresh ingredients, you can easily create a menu that promotes healthy eating without compromising on flavor.

Revamping your restaurant’s menu can be a big project with a significant time investment. Consider using Push, an all-in-one people management software to streamline operations, saving you time and money. Book a demo with us to discover just how easy people management and HR can be for your restaurant.

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May 2024


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