Americans just aren't eating healthfully enough, particularly when it comes to filling their daily quota of fruits and vegetables, experts say. But some restaurateurs are finding ways to offer guests more nutritious alternatives.
In the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that people eat four-and-a-half cups of fruit and vegetables each day — in other words, produce should account for about half of their plate. In reality, though, most people are falling far short of that goal.
Registered dietician Joan Salge Blake, nutrition professor at Boston University and media spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says the average American daily consumes about one-and-a-half cups of vegetables instead of the recommended two-and-half-cups, and less than one cup of fruit instead of two cups.
And, with 69 percent of the American population considered to be overweight, “Most people's diets are way short,” she says. “They need to find ways to get more fruits and vegetables in their diets.”
Obesity, Blake continues, is connected with heart disease, stroke, some cancers and Type 2 diabetes, all of which are leading causes of death. “Getting more produce in your diet can help people lose weight,” she says. “Produce is full of fiber and water, and it will help fill you up before it fills you out. It's very 'waist' friendly.”
Noting that people “are forever looking for ways to manage their weight,” she says, combining a variety of fruits and vegetables with lean protein sources is a smart way to address the problem.
“Turkey is a fabulous source of protein,” she says. “Breast meat is unbelievably lean. Turkey should be served all year round, not just at Thanksgiving. For lunch, for dinner, in soups, in sandwiches — the list goes on forever.”
The average American ate about 16.0 lbs. of turkey in 2013, about flat with the year before.
Salads are another way to get more turkey in the diet, she adds, noting, “Turkey served in salads is a good way to go for restaurateurs. A turkey salad would be a welcome addition to any menu. And it makes a good alternative to chicken. Adding turkey to salads would be a healthy and fun [dish], and a great way to get more vegetables into the diet.”
Not surprisingly, a number of restaurateurs already are fans of turkey. In addition to featuring turkey sandwiches and turkey burgers, savvy operators are making turkey front and center in salads.
Los Angeles-based California Pizza Kitchen, the 220-plus-unit casual dining chain, features turkey in the form of its Italian Chopped salad. The preparation includes roasted turkey breast, julienned salami, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. The salad is served with a mustard Parmesan vinaigrette.
According to Brian Sullivan, senior vice president of culinary development for CPK, the Italian Chopped Salad has been on CPK's menu for 25 years. It has a cult following, he says, and will not be leaving the menu anytime soon. Sullivan adds that turkey is one of the most important ingredients in the salad, adding a distinctive flavor profile and texture.
BJ's Restaurant & Brewery, the casual-dining chain based in Huntington Beach, Calif., offers BJ's Cobb Salad — chopped Romaine and iceberg lettuce tossed with creamy garlic dressing and seasoned croutons, and topped with roasted turkey, applewood-smoked bacon, feta cheese, tomatoes and avocados. BJ's also menus a variation on the Cobb theme as a Roasted Cobb Sandwich, prepared with many of the same ingredients.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the 615-plus-unit family-dining chain based in Lebanon, Tenn., also menus turkey in the form of a salad. Cracker Barrel's hearty CountrySalad combines slices of oven-roasted turkey with fresh salad greens, sugar-cured ham, bacon, two deviled eggs, slices of English cucumber, grape tomatoes and Colby cheese.
And at Molly Spillane's, a restaurant located in the northern New York City suburb of Mamaroneck, N.Y., turkey breast is teamed up with dried cranberries in a nod to the traditional Thanksgiving pairing. The salad also includes Granny Smith apples, bacon, avocado and mixed greens, and is tossed in a honey mustard vinaigrette.
Katie Boyd, marketing manager of the Spillane Group, says the Turkey and Avocado Salad has been on the menu for nearly a year. Originally, the restaurant's Chicken and Avocado Salad was a customer favorite, she says, “But when we added the Turkey and Avocado Salad, it outsold all of the other salads by far.”
Blake says creating a salad that reminds people of Thanksgiving sounds like a smart way to go for restaurateurs. “Everybody celebrates Thanksgiving, and everybody likes it,” she says. “You can create a salad with turkey, Craisins, squash, etc. If a restaurant can come up with a salad that reminds you of Thanksgiving, it could be a winner.”