As obesity rates climb year after year, the restaurant patron is undoubtedly becoming more conscious of the serving sizes and ingredients in menu items. Many even opt to use an online menu nutrition calculator to plan their meals ahead of time. And without question, at one time or another, every member of your wait-staff has been asked the same question:
“Do you have anything on your menu that is healthy?”
Most likely, your server then begins to direct the diet-conscious diner to the salad section of the menu. But what if there was a way to offer customers a healthy meal that wasn’t served on a bed of mixed greens? Serving up healthy meal options may just be as simple as changing up your ingredient list. With a couple quick swaps, using existing recipes and some great nutrition analysis software, you can give your customers what they’re asking for with a few clicks of a button.
Changing an Existing Recipe: Southwestern Chili
This task can seem daunting to any chef. How does one preserve the flavor and texture of the recipe while improving the nutrition information by changing the ingredients? This is done by understanding the flavor profile and the texture of the items you are swapping out in your recipe. When done correctly, a diner can consume the same serving size of a lighter-fare menu item and still feel satisfied while having the experience of a flavorful, hand-crafted recipe.
For this example, we will be taking an existing recipe for “southwestern chili” and while observing the existing recipe analysis and nutrition data of this meal, we will then change a few of the ingredients to create an equally delicious and similar-textured dish. Let’s take a look:
This recipe for “Southwest Chili” has been placed into MenuCalc’s nutrition analysis software which pulls it’s nutrition information from the USDA food database. For one serving of this chili, a diner would be consuming 720 calories, 37g total fat, 50% of the daily value for cholesterol and a whopping 120% of your daily sodium intake.
The ingredients contributing to the high fat content, dense caloric value and high sodium content can be remedied in 3 simple swaps. The ground beef, though high in protein, has a very high fat percentage of 20% and the flank steak, though lean, is another calorically-dense item. Lastly, the sodium content must be addressed. With sodium sources coming from the canned beans, canned tomatoes and chiles, hot sauce, and the table salt itself, it goes without saying that a reduction is not only in order but completely doable.
Chili in general is known to be a hearty meal, a comfort food if you will. Is it really possible to maintain flavor and texture while improving the nutrition content? We think so.
The Swap: Southwestern Vegetarian Chili
Vegetarian for the win! There are several meat-free yet high protein items that “eat” very similar to meat. Meat is dense in texture, absorbs flavor, and has a “bite” that is more chewy in nature which adds to the dining experience. For this simple ingredient swap, a brand new recipe was created by incorporating a soy-based vegetarian ingredient called tempeh along with thick pieces of chopped mushroom. Both of these items absorb flavor while maintaining a denser bite, similar to meat, and they’re both high protein to boot! In this recipe, the tempeh was used to replace the ground beef for it’s ability to crumble and mix with the chopped onion as the ground beef would in step one of the cooking process.
The flank steak was then replaced with similar sized pieces of chopped portobello mushroom, which is well-known at this point to take the place of meat in even the most hearty of burgers because of it’s density and texture. Lastly, the amount of salt was simply reduced. Tempeh has a sodium value of it’s own that ground beef does not, which warranted the reduction. Let’s review the nutrition analysis of the lighter recipe and see how the lighter version measures up to it’s meatier counterpart.
The results are in! By switching the ground beef for tempeh, replacing the flank steak with portobello mushroom and reducing the sodium, the overall caloric value went down to 450 calories per serving. That’s a difference of 270 calories. The total fat value was also reduced from 37g per serving to 18g and the sodium value was reduced a whopping 1,230 mg! This was done in 3 swaps and if you take a close look at the protein content, a high value was still maintained. The Southwestern Vegetarian Chili recipe still has a high count of 27g of protein coming from lean sources.
The health benefits of these simple swaps are easy to see by the nutrition facts label comparison. A couple bonus benefits you may not be aware of are health claims that may also be added to boost the health-appeal of your menu.
As displayed above, the simple ingredient swaps not only created a completely new menu item, but also qualified this recipe for FDA health claims you can proudly place on your menu to promote your brand new healthy meal offering. This chili is low in calories, low in saturated fats and cholesterol free.
Making new recipes doesn’t have to be complicated. With the right nutrition analysis software, a knowledgeable chef or even a helpful dietitian, you’re only a couple ingredient swaps away from a healthier menu.