How will USDA dietary guidelines affect your menu?

food tray

Q: What is your reaction to the new USDA dietary guidelines, and how will they affect your menuing?

A: Each presidential administration is eager to put their own stamp on these guidelines, and there’s usually plenty of political posturing by big food lobbyists to validate their particular food group. The fact remains that the science of nutrition is still alive and well, and nothing has really changed over the past few editions of the dietary guidelines.

The new guidelines do free up old stigmas that eggs are bad for you, so it allows me to feature more egg dishes with less guilt. With today’s trends and growing emphasis on veg-centric menu items, it also allows me some flexibility in featuring leaner cuts of meats using smaller portions of whole muscle proteins in comparison to vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

Jim Roth 
Executive Chef
Elmhurst Memorial Hospital
Elmhurst, Ill.

A: We already do a good job of incorporating balanced nutrition on our menu. While some portion sizes may change a bit, we’ll for the most part move forward unchanged. Our main focus will be to help with the ongoing education of healthy eating.

Pierre Genereux
Sous Chef
Interlude Restorative Suites of Benedictine Health System
Plymouth, Minn.

A: I think the guidelines are in line with what has been known about a healthy diet for a long time. The thing emphasized more than other years was the added sugars. More research is being done on how bad for us all those added sugars are and how it’s been found that they contribute to cardiovascular disease. 

In developing menu options for our residents, our chefs and dietitians work together and look for ingredients low in added sugars, salt and solid fats, as these are the things that contribute most to obesity and chronic disease. 

John Andrews
Corporate Director of Culinary and Nutritional Services
Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services
Columbus, Ohio

A: I think the new guidelines are a direct result of our nation’s young people growing more and more unhealthy due to processed  and convenience foods. The push to create an environment where food-insecure children and families can get involved with community gardens and learn about healthy eating is a hot topic in many schools. Communities are reaching out to families, schools and even daycare facilities to educate them on proper food choices.

Some may see it as limiting one’s choices; I like the challenge of cooking flavorful, bright and healthy food that is naturally seasoned. Carilion’s mission is “to improve the Health of the Communities We Serve,” and that is just what the new guidelines will help us do.

Darla Mehrkens
Catering Manager
Carilion Clinic
Roanoke, Va.

A: I find the new recommendations to be sensible: eat things in moderation, increase vegetables and plant-based proteins, lower refined sugars and sodium. We have already begun moving in this direction.

The greatest challenge is our suppliers. Food manufacturing companies have started to move toward less-processed product, but there is a long way to go. When and where it is fiscally possible, we have moved toward scratch-cooking. However, when preparing meals for 10,000 people a day, we still rely on convenience products. Someday I hope that items such as low- or no-sodium stocks and bases will meet my quality needs without breaking my budget.

Janna Traver McCann
Executive Chef/Assistant Director
Kansas University
Lawrence, Kansas

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