A healthy challenge

Helping operators cope with gluten-free and other special diets pose.

By 
Paul King, Editor

These are trying times for foodservice directors and dietitians. In our August issue, we will be running an eight-page supplement called “Healthy and Gluten Free.” In preparation for this supplement, I have learned just how difficult it is becoming for operators to offer all menus to all people, as many in non-commercial foodservice try to do, under the growing burden of health and wellness issues.

I’m beginning to believe that I must be in the minority in this country, in that I have no food-related allergies or intolerances. Everywhere I turn there seems to be either one station or another that caters to a specific diet or warning signs or labels alerting customers to the presence of some ingredient that could be dangerous to people with specific food allergies or intolerances.

It is challenging enough for operators to try to convince people to eat more healthfully. Although more people seem to be concerned with proper nutrition, the majority of customers in most institutions are asking for healthier options and choosing to pass them by when they actually eat.

Add to this the increasing concern over food allergies, lactose intolerance and celiac disease. As a matter of fact, in some circles the push for a gluten-free diet—the solution for celiac disease sufferers—appears to be superseding that of healthier diets in general. And now, we have the latest addition to diets on the celiac front, that being gluten sensitivity. According to some studies, although as many as 3 million people may have celiac disease, 10 times that number may be gluten intolerant.

I am not making light of those people who suffer from food allergies or intolerances. All I’m saying is that it has to be increasingly difficult for operators to plan menus and create new stations and concepts while bearing these challenges in mind.

Operators in the non-commercial segments do not have the luxury of specializing their menus. Unlike restaurateurs, who create concepts that play to their strengths and are geared toward generating the highest traffic and biggest ROI, non-commercial operators must try to offer items to meet the needs and desire of a wide variety of customers. They often cannot afford to ignore certain types of customers, such as vegans, simply because they don’t have strength of numbers.

The menu diversity required in many non-commercial cafeterias taxes both the creativity and the budgets of menu planners. And in some segments—most particularly schools, where in-school kitchens are an endangered species—the ability to offer a full range of healthful meals is becoming exceedingly difficult.

We’ll be exploring this subject in more detail in upcoming issues of FSD. How are you coping with the increasing menu diversity required in meeting so many different health-related concerns? Share your stories with me at pking@cspnet.com.