Top Restaurant Trends Provide Ample Opportunities for Produce

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu

Originally printed in the January 2018 issue of Produce Business.

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the MenuEach fall the National Restaurant Association works with the American Culinary Federation to develop the‭ ‬What’s Hot‭? ‬culinary forecast of the top food and menu trends for the coming year‭. ‬Let’s look at how the top 10‭ ‬food trends for 2018‭ ‬highlight opportunities for produce on American menus‭.‬

1‭. ‬New Cuts of Meat(‬e.g‭., ‬oyster steak‭, ‬Vegas Strip Steak‭, ‬Merlot cut‭)

When a diner sees a new cut of meat with an unfamiliar name‭, ‬a smart restaurant operator will pair that novel cut with a familiar vegetable side‭. ‬Diners are only so adventurous‭. ‬If they see a side dish they adore‭, ‬they’re more likely to take a risk on an entrée they don’t know well‭.‬

2‭. ‬House-made Condiments

This category can include anything from produce-based sauces‭, ‬salsas and spreads to pickled fruits and vegetables‭. ‬Think about dipping your house-cut French fries in house-made aioli‭, ‬made with fresh garlic‭. ‬What’s not to love about house-made condiments‭?‬

3‭. ‬Street Food-inspired Dishes(‬e.g‭., ‬tempura‭, ‬kabobs‭, ‬dumplings‭, ‬pupusas‭)

Street foods often feature fruits and vegetables‭; ‬so again‭, ‬the sky’s the limit on potential for selling familiar and new varieties of produce to restaurants featuring street foods from around the‭ ‬world‭.‬

4‭. ‬Ethnic-inspired Breakfast Items(‬e.g‭., ‬chorizo scrambled eggs‭, ‬coconut milk pancakes‭)‬

When you see the word‭ ‬“ethnic‭,‬”‭ ‬think‭ ‬“world cuisines‭,‬”‭ ‬of which many feature fruits and vegetables at breakfast‭. ‬Here in the United States we tend to focus on fruit for breakfast‭, ‬but kitchens across the globe feature vegetables in breakfast dishes‭. ‬Think about Mexico‭; ‬beans‭, ‬tomatoes and chiles are used in classic breakfast dishes such as huevos rancheros‭. ‬Now turn our attention to China‭, ‬where a breakfast dish such as rice porridge‭ ‬will feature thinly sliced ginger and scallions as fragrant‭, ‬vibrant toppings‭.‬

5‭. ‬Sustainable Seafood

So many leaders in sustainable seafood talk about strategies for chefs to use lesser-known types of seafood on menus‭. ‬But it’s just as difficult to get a diner to choose an unknown type of seafood as it is to get him or her to order an unfamiliar cut of‭ ‬meat‭. ‬Here again‭, ‬the wise restaurateur will feature familiar produce as side dishes to ease the stress and tension that comes‭ ‬with ordering something that seems‭ ‬“risky‭.‬”‭ Would you like some roasted broccoli with your barramundi‭?‬

6‭. ‬Healthful Kids’‭ ‬Meals

Putting more produce on kids’‭ ‬menus is not a new idea‭, ‬but it’s one that more operators are doing thanks in part to the NRA’s‭ ‬Kids LiveWell Program‭. ‬Launched in 2012‭, ‬this program certifies kids’‭ ‬meals that meet certain criteria‭. ‬Full meals must include at least one-half cup of fruit and one-half cup of vegetables‭. ‬To date‭, ‬more than 42,000‭ ‬restaurant locations nationwide are participating in this program designed to help parents identify the best‭ ‬meal choices for their children‭.‬

7‭. ‬Vegetable Carb Substitutes(‬e.g‭., ‬cauliflower rice‭, ‬zucchini spaghetti‭)‬

This trend has staying power for many reasons‭. ‬First‭, ‬we have consumers who are still scared of carbs‭, ‬thinking carbs are the enemy of a healthy weight versus total caloric intake‭. ‬Second‭, ‬we have a host of popular diets‭, ‬diet books and weight-loss programs that promote eating vegetables in place of starchier foods such as bread‭, ‬pasta‭, ‬and rice‭. ‬And third‭, ‬we have innovative leaders in the produce industry who are creating value-added products that make choosing vegetable carb substitutes easier for home cooks as well as restaurant cooks‭.‬

8‭. ‬Uncommon Herbs(‬e.g‭., ‬chervil‭, ‬lovage‭, ‬lemon balm‭, ‬papalo‭)

To move more produce onto menus with this trend‭, ‬produce companies will need corporate or consulting chefs that can help suggest‭ ‬menu strategies and flavor pairings featuring produce to customers‭. ‬And if you’re selling these herbs‭, ‬help customers understand their use‭. ‬For example‭, ‬papalo is a wonderful substitute for cilantro‭. ‬Lemon balm comes from the mint family and has a mild lemon aroma and flavor‭. ‬

9‭. ‬Authentic Ethnic Cuisine

Produce is featured prominently in so many cuisines of the world‭, ‬especially ones where the culinary traditions grew out of using meat infrequently and local produce abundantly‭. ‬Authentic ethnic cuisine also plays into the interest in plant-based and plant-forward menus‭. ‬There are no traditional vegan diets in the world‭, ‬but there are countless vegetarian cuisines and dishes ready‭ ‬for American menus‭.‬

10‭. ‬Ethnic Spices‭ ‬(‬e.g‭., ‬harissa‭, ‬curry‭, ‬peri peri‭, ‬ras el hanout‭, ‬shichimi‭)

This trend used to focus on chiles and spice mixtures‭, ‬pastes and rubs that add heat to dishes‭. ‬Now‭, ‬this is branching out beyond heat and focusing on adding new flavors to familiar dishes‭. ‬Spices are an easy way to make the familiar exotic‭, ‬exciting and new‭. ‬This trend provides endless opportunities to make produce more appealing on American menus‭.‬

Amy Myrdal Miller‭, ‬MS‭, ‬RDN‭, ‬FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota‭, ‬award-winning dietitian‭, ‬culinary nutrition expert‭, ‬and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting‭, ‬Inc‭. ‬She is the director of The Culinary Institute of America Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative‭. ‬You can learn more about her business at, ‬and you can follow her insights on food and flavor on Twitter‭ ‬@AmyMyrdalMiller‭.‬