The NRA Show took over Chicago’s McCormick place this week for its 97th year, and more than 2,200 exhibitors came to showcase their products and services. Three massive exhibit halls spread across more than 650,000 square feet housed rows upon rows of booths featuring enduring trends, such as tea and plant-based proteins, and noteworthy new entries to the foodservice landscape. Here’s a look at what was hot and new at this year’s NRA Show.

Sweet meets heat

The sweet-and-spicy trend has been growing for some time, and it was out in force on the show floor. Chobani showed off two new spicy flavors in its Flip line — sriracha mango and chipotle pineapple. The yogurt and topping combos pair fruity bases with crunchy, spicy toppings that are reminiscent of a dry snack mix.

Another company pairing sweetness and spice is Mike’s Hot Honey out of Brooklyn, N.Y. While Chobani’s spicy flavors are a new addition meant to tap a growing trend, Mike’s got its start in 2003 when founder Michael Kurtz was introduced to the concept of chili pepper-infused honey while living in Brazil. (read more…)

Chef Ronaldo Linares draws on his Cuban and Colombian heritage to create flavorful, Latin American-inspired dishes that fit active, healthy lifestyles. He partnered with the American Diabetes Association on his new cookbook, “Sabores de Cuba: Diabetes-friendly traditional and nuevo Cubano cuisine.” The book features recipes in English and Spanish for Cuban dishes with a healthy twist, such as Pernil Mojo Marinated Pork Tenderloin and Green Vegetable Egg Tortilla. We interviewed Linares on how he makes classic Cuban dishes diabetes-friendly, where he finds his culinary inspiration and what the future holds for Cuban cuisine.

In what ways does Latin American cuisine naturally lend itself to healthy cooking?

The food itself is naturally healthy, from the tubers, to the tropical fruits, meats, fish, poultry dishes. We are rich in food and sazon!

What changes did you make to classic Cuban dishes to make them diabetes-friendly?

The tweaks are mainly in the use of salt and choosing healthier oils (such as avocado oil) for everything. (read more…)

Earlier this year, IHOP and Applebee’s joined a number of national restaurant chains dropping soda from children’s menus, offering choices like milk and juice in its place. In the past few years, operators from McDonald’s to Panera have done the same thing, part of an effort to keep healthier beverages on tap for kids. Food menus for youngsters have also been beefed up – at nose-to-tail restaurant Salare in Seattle, the kids’ meals are as sophisticated as the adult menu, with options like cauliflower soup with black beans and spring onion puree and a chicken drumstick with kale rapini and potatoes. Dallas-based Which Wich, with nearly 400 locations nationwide, launched a for-kids, tested-by-kids menu last year, designed to balance nutrition and taste with options like a breadless cheese and turkey rollup. As the kids’ menu changes, whether it’s at home or in restaurants, Datassential has all the latest insights in our latest MenuTrends Keynote Report: Kids’ Meals, which surveyed parents and guardians for insights into what they already buy and what they want to buy. (read more…)

On-the-go eating is a big business in the US, with many busy consumers opting to grab packaged foods and snacks when there isn’t time for a sit-down meal. Often, the choices for on-the-go eating leave much to be desired in the health department. Potato chips, pizza and burgers are plentiful, and options like conveniently prepped vegetables and lean proteins are growing but still far from ubiquitous.

Latin American cuisine offers a wealth of inspiration for chefs and food companies looking to create simple, healthy options that can be eaten while on the move.

“The US is playing catch-up a little bit with healthy snacks, said Marie Elena Martinez, co-founder of New Worlder and moderator of the panel “The Best of the Handheld Latin Kitchen: New Ideas for Food on the Go” at the Culinary Institute of America’s 18th annual Worlds of Flavor conference. Martinez mentioned healthy snacks that make up the bulk of on-the-go eating in Latin America, such as “jicama sprinkled with a little bit of pepper.”

Chef Claud Beltran kicked off the session’s cooking demonstration with empanadas, which he described as a perfect handheld food. (read more…)

While restaurants get a lot of the attention when spotting industry trends, on-site foodservice segments like hospitals, colleges and universities (C&U), and business and industry (B&I) have become trend powerhouses in their own right, modernizing segments that haven’t always been known for their dining and retail options. In total, Datassential estimates that on-site foodservice operators spent over $65 billion last year and we project strong growth for the future.

At Central Table in St. Louis, Mo., you’ll find sushi, tapas, specialty coffee and a craft beer and cocktail bar in the 10,000-square-foot food hall. There are street tacos on the lunch menu, lobster tortellini with sorrel and za’atar spiced zucchini with candied kumquats on the dinner menu, and four upscale toast options at the café. It has become a true St. Louis dining destination – quite a feat considering it’s technically a hospital dining room. Situated on the first floor of the Barnes-Jewish Center for Outpatient Health, the operation caters to both the community and hospital visitors and staff; the head chef makes appearances and teaches techniques throughout the hospital system, while the restaurant can also function as a sort of central commissary and create dishes for other hospital dining outlets. (read more…)