Platforms and Partners That Put More Produce on Menus

Originally printed in the February 2024 issue of Produce Business.

If salads are the only menu category that comes to mind when you think about opportunities to put more produce on menus, you’re limiting the possibilities for produce.

Leading menu research and development professionals in the foodservice industry like to talk about platforms for developing new menu items. Nutrition professionals like me like to talk about the partners that often bring produce to the party.


Sandwiches are a broad category of platforms that can be used to drive produce penetration on a menu. Sandwiches include classic deli sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, Mexican tortas and all-American burgers.

Delis that offer abundant fresh produce options can entice people to order more produce if they apply culinary techniques like roasting, smoking or pickling that offer more flavor.

Burgers used to feature the simple setup of lettuce, tomato and onion, but burger chains are now finding more ways to create new burger concepts that range from indulgent to “better for you.”

Ten years ago, the concept of “building a better burger” meant part or all the meat was replaced with mushrooms. Today, building better burgers may mean topping an all-beef patty with a simple roasted red pepper sauce, a big piece of a beautiful roasted Anaheim pepper, or adding an entire chile relleno to a burger to amp up the flavor and excitement.

Restaurants that specialize in grilled cheese sandwiches use the combination of vegetables and cheese to entice diners to add more produce. Many menus feature grilled cheese sandwiches with sliced tomatoes, but roasting the tomato intensifies the flavor and reduces water content, ensuring the bread stays crispy on the outside and ooey-gooey melty on the inside.

As you encourage people to eat more of the fruits and vegetables that promote better health, keep platforms and partners in mind.

Fast Cat Coffee Bar in Carmichael, CA, offers a Tuscan garden breakfast grilled cheese sandwich with spinach, mushrooms, eggs and white cheddar cheese. They wilt the spinach and mushrooms before adding them to the cheese to ensure better cheese pull and an awesome eating experience.

Hot dogs are another type of sandwich where gourmet options can provide more produce. Freshly pickled produce items, such as cucumber, jalapeños, carrots and cabbage, provide acid to balance the richness of the hot dog.

Tacos are another platform with endless opportunities for produce to play a starring role. One of the latest trends in vegan tacos is using heavily seasoned, roasted sweet potato in place of meat. The addition of guacamole, salsa, bell peppers, and onions turns a taco into a veritable salad wrapped in a humble tortilla.

Pizzas and flatbreads are another classic platform that can drive more produce sales and consumption in foodservice operations. Veggie pizzas will never take the place of pepperoni as a top seller, but allowing customers to customize by adding onions, jalapeño peppers, roasted red peppers, and other toppings that complement pepperoni can move more produce.

One concept that is waiting for its time in the spotlight is Italian piadina or flatbread that can be topped like a pizza with a salad on top, folded over, and eaten as a handheld item.


We have already covered one partner that entices many diners to eat more produce, and that’s cheese. Cheese is having a moment these days, as research uncovers its many benefits beyond basic nutrition.
Major recent research studies are showing that cheese may reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. But, the amount of cheese associated with a reduced risk is 1.5 ounces per day.

Cheese is a gateway ingredient to greater produce consumption, but the health benefits are only possible with rather conservative consumption of cheese. Pairing cheese with vegetables makes it a more powerful health-promoting plate combination.

Eggs are another partner that can encourage diners to eat more produce. Scrambles, omelets, quiche, breakfast burritos, and egg sandwiches all create opportunities to pair produce with protein-rich eggs.

Avocados are on nearly every breakfast menu across America, but is the additional cost a deterrent to an additional serving of vegetables with breakfast? IHOP offers avocados, sautéed mushrooms, sautéed peppers and onions, sautéed spinach, fresh tomatoes, and roasted tomatoes as optional additions to omelets, but each ingredient adds $1.99 to the price of the omelet. Compare that to the omelets available at Embassy Suites — the complimentary breakfast includes an omelet bar where the cost of an omelet with all the vegetables is simply a tip for the line cook working the omelet station.

As you consider ways to sell more produce and encourage people to eat more of the fruits and vegetables that promote better health, keep platforms and partners in mind. New menu items are often new twists on old favorites. How can the produce you’re selling make an old favorite an exciting new menu offering?

Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, award-winning dietitian, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. She is the retail nutrition marketing and foodservice partnership specialist for the Buy California Marketing Agreement/CA GROWN, a member of the Texas A&M Institute for Advancing Health Through Agriculture AgriLife External Advisory Board, and co-author of Cooking á la Heart, a 500-recipe cookbook based on global plant-forward eating cultures. Learn more at and follow her insights on food and flavor on social media @alaheartamy.