Chain restaurants typically ring in the new year with press releases and splashy ad campaigns touting low-cal, healthy menus aimed at helping consumers stick to their resolutions to get healthy and get in shape, along with value-focused campaigns aimed at bringing guests in more often during a traditionally slow month. Now, restaurants and foodservice operators are implementing healthy menus all year-round in order to help consumers achieve their new year’s resolutions not just in January, but all year long.

At Applebee’s, the Weight Watchers-approved entrees and under-550-calorie meals have become part of the permanent menu and aren’t just touted in January but all year long. But while Subway is promoting its heart-healthy menu offerings, it’s the $5 JanuANY deals that have caused a social media stir.

Stressing wallets more than waistlines makes sense in light of recent research that shows what we all kind of know on some level — new year’s resolutions may work for a while, but they’re usually not the way to drive long-term change. Losing weight still ranks as the top New Year’s resolution, and staying fit and healthy ranks fifth, according to a recent study in the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology, but the report goes on to say that only 8% of people are successful in achieving their resolutions in any given year and 24% fail year after year.

Healthy eating advocates and behavioral experts agree that small, sustainable changes work the best when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, and people have been making those changes in recent years. according to a report out last week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Americans cut calories and fat and boosted fiber intake between 2005 and 2010, the USDA report said. About 20% of the improvement came as the recession drove consumers to eat at home more often, where the portions tend to be smaller than those in restaurants. But the rest came about as people read labels and became more aware about what they were eating both at home and while dining out.

Restaurants’ efforts in recent years to offer healthier options also helped. Some 42% of working-age adults said they now use the nutrition facts panel on food packages when deciding what to eat and 57% of older people do. Further, 76% of all working-age adults said they would use the information when ordering at a restaurant if it were available.

While rules under the Affordable Care Act requiring restaurants to post calorie counts and other nutritional information haven’t been finalized yet, many chains are ahead of the game, especially those with locations in cities and counties that passed their own measures requiring the information be added to the menu. Chains have increasingly made the data available on their websites.

Part of the shift toward healthier overall lifestyles may be a generational trend. Only 19% of U.S. adults reported being on a diet last year, compared to 1991 when the number hit a record 31%, according to NPD Group. And the number of dieters dropped significantly from the Baby Boomer to the Millennial generation. “Avoiding foods with harmful substances and adding foods with beneficial ingredients remain an appealing way to deal with our health rather than just dieting,” NPD’s Harry Balzer said in a news release.

A separate study from Technomic backs up Balzer’s findings, and illustrates that restaurants have been following consumers in taking a longer-term approach and making healthier changes year-round. The report revealed that the presence of vegetables on the restaurant plate was up 11% and chefs are getting more creative in finding ways to make veggies the star of the meal, meeting the twin trends of higher consumer demand and rising meat prices. The study also found that 87% said fresh foods are healthier and taste better, and 65% said eateries can offer healthy food without sacrificing taste.

Have your customers been more likely to make resolutions or year-round changes? Has your menu been shifting to meet demand for healthier options? Tell us about it in the comments.

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2 Responses to “Healthy menus respond to consumers’ shift to healthy lifestyles vs. short-term diet fads”

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