Balancing Health and Indulgence on the Menu

Operators must cater to today's consumer with both healthful and indulgent menu selections.

Most consumers would agree that making nutritious dining choices is vital for good health and wellness. However, it can get complicated when they are presented with a restaurant menu and powerful urges for flavor, comfort and self-reward kick in. Hence, it is vital for chefs and operators to balance the dual aspects of health and indulgence when crafting a new menu.

“Despite the fact that dining away from home or eating food prepared away from home is almost a part of everyday life, many people still think about it as ‘I’m going out to treat myself,’” says Amy Myrdal Miller, a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder/president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting. “They think ‘I’m going to order whatever I want.’”

Mini Sundaes Made With M&Ms

Among members of the millennial generation — those sought-after restaurant consumers — 42 percent say they are “very interested’ in health as it relates to food and nutrition, according to a study by the Private Label Manufacturers Association. However, 36 percent say they are “very interested” in eating for pleasure. And flavor is one of their most compelling reasons for eating.

How do you satisfy your patrons’ changing and contradictory desires? Begin with a thoughtful menu mix. “You need some things that are indulgent, some things that are balanced and some things, if it makes sense for your brand, to designate as clearly healthful offerings,” says Miller.

Portion control can also help gratify flavor cravings in a healthful way. For instance, offer some savory items in snack or small-plate sizes or a one- or two-bite dessert, such as a mini-sundae, cookie or truffle.

Here are several examples from the field:





Small Plate

The Cheesecake Factory

Fresh Kale Salad: Apples, marcona almonds, golden raisins and green beans tossed with our buttermilk-black pepper dressing

Loaded Baked Potato Tots: Crispy potato tots filled with cheese, bacon and green onion. Served with sour cream and sriracha mayo 


Breakfast Republic, San Diego
(five locations)

Two Veggie Tostadas, black beans, Monterey jack and cheddar cheese, avocado, pico de gallo, two over-medium eggs

Breakfast Bacon Mac 'n Cheese: Parmesan bread crumbs, chives, macaroni, bacon, jack and cheddar cheese sauce, topped with three eggs any style

Main Dish

B.J.’s Restaurant & Brewhouse

Roasted Chicken Peruvian Quinoa Bowl: Chicken breast, Peruvian quinoa and brown rice blend, sautéed red onions, sliced mushrooms, sautéed spinach, seasoned tomatoes, drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice

Deep Dish Ziti: Housemade meatballs, Italian sausage, diced pepperoni, zesty marinara, Italian herbs, B.J.’s signature five-cheese blend, Parmesan cheese, fresh basil


Ruth’s Chris Steak House

Fresh Broccoli: Served simply steamed

Baked Potato: A 1-pound potato fully loaded with all of your favorite fixings


Olive Garden

Iced Coffee: Sweetened and blended with milk. Choose vanilla, caramel or traditional


Caramel Hazelnut Macchiato: Coffee with caramel, hazelnut and almond syrups, topped with whipped cream


Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants

Life Balance Chocolate Truffle: Finish your meal with one of our signature chocolate truffles

Cooper’s Hawk Chocolate Cake: Valrhona chocolate, hazelnut ganache, vanilla ice cream


The Counter

The Purist: All natural beef, brioche bun

Red Eye: All natural beef, Tillamook cheddar, tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon, sunny side up egg, sweet sriracha, English muffin.



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