Bring comfort-food appeal to better-for-you offerings to unlock sales

Photograph courtesy of Barilla

The trend toward menuing healthier dishes is of particular interest to foodservice operators at colleges and universities; 36% of consumers ages 18-34 said they would be choosing healthier foods more often as a result of the pandemic, and 35% said they would be opting for foods with immunity-boosting benefits, according to Technomic’s 2020 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report. This makes younger consumers the most health-oriented diner demographic—and cashing in on the trend can help as operators seek cost-effective ways to recoup sales lost to the pandemic.

Still, selecting dishes with broad appeal and keeping varied dietary preferences in mind is a necessity. And with labor looking scarce for many operators, keeping prep simple and food costs low is also a crucial piece of the puzzle. For these reasons, versatile, high-margin ingredients can make a world of difference.

Comfort food with a healthier twist

Alongside increases in demand for healthier offerings, comfort foods have gained solid footing as menu must-haves. According to Technomic’s Healthy Eating report, 60% of operators strongly agree that consumers have been purchasing more comfort-focused foods since the pandemic started.

While comfort foods are often associated more with indulgent eats than they are with better-for-you offerings, catering to consumers’ cravings and minding their health priorities aren’t mutually exclusive. Highly customizable ingredients with broad appeal offer a key opportunity here: Pastas, for example, provide a crowd-pleasing base for a wide spectrum of cuisine types and specialized-diet-friendly recipes. Protein-packed spaghetti Bolognese or veggie-loaded pasta primavera are comforting, nutrient dense favorites, and gluten-free pasta varieties can further broaden the appeal.

Plant-forward offerings draw health-conscious diners

Diners may opt for meatless meals for a number of reasons. For many, the health benefits of plant-forward recipes are a major draw.

Following black beans, grains are diners’ favorite ingredient in plant-based fare; according to Technomic’s Healthy Eating report, 64% of consumers say they think grain-based alternatives are equally as healthy—if not healthier—than animal proteins. Different pasta varieties can help leverage these preferences, too. Legume pastas made with red lentils or chickpeas, for example, offer a vegan- and vegetarian-friendly protein boost. Whole grain pastas, on the other hand, offer triple the fiber of standard varieties for extra nutrition with a classic taste.

Georgia State University decided to put healthier pasta options to the test during October 2021—National Pasta Month. In partnership with leading pasta supplier Barilla, the university highlighted how students could make healthier options with pasta—whether that meant choosing a legume pasta or using a pasta as the carrier for healthier toppings.

For college and university foodservice operators, pasta is the ultimate kitchen multitasker—both as a versatile ingredient as well as a crowd-pleasing solution for a diverse consumer base. To learn more about health-forward, comforting solutions from Barilla, visit

This post is sponsored by Barilla