This is a special message from Barilla.
From casual dining restaurants to school cafeterias, menus today are sporting a wider array of healthful options, including more creative and flavorful whole grain pasta dishes than ever before.
“Over time, I have really seen an increase in the number of restaurants, including a lot of the larger chains, that offer those items,” said Nicole Ring, RD, director of restaurant and community partnerships for Healthy Dining, a nutrition-related marketing and consulting firm based in San Diego. The Healthy Dining Finder website lists dietitian-approved menu items from more than 350 restaurants around the country.
Ring said restaurant operators are responding to growing consumer interest in whole grain pasta in two principal ways: by creating signature dishes made with whole grain pasta and also by letting customers substitute whole grain pasta for regular pasta in dishes that normally use the latter.
“Even traditional dishes like spaghetti and meatballs and linguine with clams are getting a makeover with whole grain pasta,” Ring said. “It’s good to see old-time favorites getting the healthy makeover with whole grains.”
In fact, Ring said that traditional dishes like those are great vehicles for introducing whole grain pasta because customers already know and love them. Thus an item like whole grain spaghetti marinara might help a first-timer acclimate better to whole grains than an unfamiliar pasta creation.
A restaurant company poised to promote whole grain pasta to help it stand out from the crowd is The Original Italian Pie, a 14-unit chain of casual dining restaurants based in New Orleans. The new MultiGrano Menu, billed as “Whole Grain with a Whole Lotta Flavor,” will be the chain’s first-ever limited-time offering, running May through July.
The LTO includes two signature whole grain pasta dishes, the Shrimp MultiGrano Pasta Bowl and Eggplant Marinara. The former combines Barilla Whole Grain Penne with shrimp, bell peppers, green onions and roasted garlic in a light cream sauce, all served in a unique “bowl” of baked multigrain pizza dough. The latter features roasted eggplant topped with mozzarella and house signature marinara sauce on a bed of Barilla Whole Grain Spaghetti. Furthermore, throughout the promotion, guests may substitute Barilla whole grain pasta for regular pasta in any pasta dish on the menu.
“Consumers are getting a lot smarter about what they eat and choosing more whole grain and multigrain foods,” says Tony Lagratta, vice president of purchasing for The Italian Pie and president of Restaurant Purchasing Solutions in Marietta, Ga. “Looking at the Italian arena, there are not a lot of companies that have carved out a niche with these products yet.”
Lagratta said that The Italian Pie was encouraged to launch the whole grain pasta promo by the positive reception it received to the multigrain pizza crust it introduced as an option. If the LTO goes over well, The Italian Pie will add whole grain pasta to the main menu, he added.
Whole grain pasta is also making inroads in the nation’s school cafeterias, where foodservice directors are improving K-12 menus.
Students at Pasco County Schools in Land O’Lakes, Fla. actually have been enjoying whole grain pasta for years, according to Emily Mark, RD, SNS, food and nutrition services marketing/training coordinator.
“By slowly integrating whole grains in items that they already love, it is really easy to get them to start eating them,” Mark said.
However, when whole grain pasta was introduced years ago, some students questioned its slightly different color compared to regular pasta, Mark said. But those reservations were dispelled when flavorful sauces like Sundried Tomato Alfredo were introduced.
“Once we came up with new flavor profiles to serve with whole grain pasta, the kids really accepted it,” said Mark.
Now Barilla whole grain pastas, typically short shapes like shells that children can easily eat with a spork, are served at least twice per four-week menu cycle, Mark said.
Another move that helped popularize whole grain pasta was a switch from standard school serving wares to dramatic-looking black bowls and trays that showcase the colors of foods, Mark said.
“We were able to get away from the institutional style and make this feel more like a place where you want to eat,” said Mark.
This is a special message from Barilla.