Menus of Change

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Menus of Change

The University of Reading is proud to be committed to the Menus of Change 24 Principles of Healthy and Sustainable Menus. Menus of Change®is a ground-breaking initiative from The Culinary Institute of America and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that works to realise a long-term, practical vision integrating optimal nutrition and public health, environmental stewardship and restoration, and social responsibility concerns within the foodservice industry and the culinary profession.

We are also a member of the Menus of Change Universities Research Collaborative (MCURC) network, an international group of leading Universities with the aim of Cultivating the long-term well-being of all people and the planet— one student, one meal at a time. This is achieved by taking an evidence-based approach to furthering the principles through research and teaching, led by Residential and Dining Enterprises at Stanford University and the Culinary Institute of America. You find out more about MCURC at Reading, through our working group and Menus of Change website.

So, what are the 24 Principles?

Principle 1 – Transparency

Be transparent about sourcing and preparation. Provide customers with abundant information about food production methods, sourcing strategies, calorie and nutrient values, labour practices, animal welfare, and environmental impact.”

Principle 2 – Fresh and Seasonal. Local and Global.

When designing menus, draw ideas and inspiration from local farmers and their crops during your growing season. The advantages of local sourcing include working with smaller producers who may be more willing to experiment with varieties that bring interest and greater flavour to the table. A focus on local foods also can play an important role in building community by encouraging school children, retailers, media, and others to learn how to grow food, steward the land, and adopt healthier eating habits.

Principle 3 – Reward Better Agricultural Practices

Sourcing sustainably grown foods is complex, but there is one important rule of thumb: the environmental cost of food is largely determined by how it is produced. The best farms and ranches protect and restore natural systems through effective management practices, such as choosing crops well-suited for their local growing conditions, minimising use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, and avoiding the use of groundwater for irrigation. Better managed farms sometimes qualify for organic or other sustainable-farming certifications. But many—including smaller farms—simply adopt better practices. The most powerful strategies for supporting better farms include aligning menus to emphasise fresh foods during the peak of their local growing season and shifting purchases toward farms that have responsible management programs.

Principle 4 – Leverage Globally Inspired, Largely Plant-Based Cooking

From the well-researched Mediterranean diet to the cuisines of Asia and Latin America, traditional food cultures offer a myriad of flavour strategies to support innovation around healthy, delicious, even craveable cooking that balances ratios between foods from animal and plant sources.

Principle 5 – Focus on Whole, Minimally Processed Foods

In general, consumers and chefs should first focus on whole, minimally processed foods. Such foods are typically higher in micro nutrient value and less likely to contain high levels of added sugars, saturated or trans fats, and sodium.

Principle 6 – Grow Everyday Options, While Honouring Special Occasion Traditions

From a health and environmental perspective, there will always be room in the industry for indulgence and special occasion foods. However, the real opportunity in menu and concept development is the expansion of everyday food and menu choices that embrace current nutrition and environmental science, as well as emerging consumer values about how food is produced.

Principle 7 – Lead with Menu Messaging around Flavour

To sell healthy and sustainable food choices, lead with messages about flavour, rather than actively marketing health attributes. Research shows that taste trumps nearly all, even if customers want chefs, on some level, to help them avoid foods that increase their risk of chronic disease.

Principle 8 – Reduce Portions, Emphasising Calorie Quality over Quantity

Moderating portion size is one of the biggest steps foodservice operators can take towards reversing obesity trends and reducing food waste. Consider menu concepts that change the value proposition for customers from an overemphasis on quantity to a focus on flavour, nutrient quality, culinary adventure, new menu formats, and the total culinary and dining experience. Calorie quality is also important. Dishes should feature slowly metabolised whole grains, plant proteins including nuts and legumes, and healthy oils that promote lasting satiety and create great flavours.

Principle 9 – Celebrate Cultural Diversity and Discovery

Our respect for cultural diversity and the savouring and preservation of family traditions and centuries old food cultures are as vital as our public health and environmental sustainability. Fortunately, these imperatives are compatible with the Principles of Healthy, Sustainable Menus. Chefs collaborating with nutrition experts and public policy leaders need to reimagine the role of less healthy, culturally based food traditions by limiting portion size, rebalancing ingredient proportions, or offering them less often.

Principle 10 – Design Health and Sustainability into Operations and Dining Spaces

Food and menu design are not the only ways to advance sustainability in foodservice. Choices that affect the way restaurants and other foodservice operations are designed, built, and operated are also important. These include imagining kitchens that support the optimal preparation of fresh, healthy foods and selecting energy- and water-efficient equipment and environmentally friendly building materials.

Principle 11 – Think Produce First

Focus on fruits and vegetables first—with great diversity across all meals and snacks. Recognise that customers aren’t eating nearly enough—they should be filling half their plates with produce. Menus should feature green leafy vegetables and a mix of colourful fruits and vegetables daily.

Principle 12 – Make Whole, Intact Grains the New Norm

Menus should offer and highlight slow-metabolising, whole and intact grains, such as 100 percent whole-grain bread, brown rice, and whole grain/higher protein pasta. Ideally, new menu items should emphasise whole, intact, or cut—not milled—cooked grains, from wheat berries and oats to quinoa, which can be used creatively in salads, soups, side dishes, breakfast dishes, and more.

Principle 13 – Limit Potatoes

Chefs can limit their use of potatoes by combining small portions of them with other, non-starchy vegetables or featuring them as an occasional vegetable, as they do green beans, broccoli, carrots, and peppers. Chefs should also consider healthier alternatives including sweet potatoes, which are rich in beta-carotene and other vitamins, and healthier side dishes that highlight fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.

Principle 14 – Move Nuts and Legumes to the Centre of the Plate

Nuts and legumes are full of flavour, contain plant protein, and are associated with increased satiety. Nuts (including nut butter, flours, and milks) and legumes (including soy foods and legume flours) are an excellent replacement for animal protein.

Principle 15 – Choose Healthier Oils

Using plant oils and other ingredients that contain unsaturated fats, such as canola, soy, peanut, and olive oils, as well as featuring fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, and whole grains, are simple ways to create healthier menus. Trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, now labelled a ‘metabolic poison’ by leading medical scientists, have no place in foodservice kitchens.

Principle 16 – Go ‘Good Fat’ not ‘Low Fat’

Research shows that reducing saturated fat is good for health if replaced with ‘good’ fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, instead of refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, mashed potatoes, and sugary drinks. High-flavour fats and oils that contain more saturated fat—including butter, cream, lard, and coconut oil—can have a place in healthy cooking if used only occasionally in limited, strategic applications.

Principle 17 – Serve More Kinds of Seafood, More Often

Seafood is an important part of a healthy diet, and most of us don’t eat the recommended one to two servings per week of fatty fish, which contain higher levels of health-promoting omega-3s. Serving more seafood more often from responsibly managed sources is the priority. Chefs can have a positive impact on the environment and public health by expanding their understanding of how to source and use a greater variety of responsibly managed and underutilized wild-caught and farm-raised fish and shellfish.

Principle 18 – Re-imagine Dairy in a Supporting Role

Current research suggests that it is prudent for individuals to limit milk and dairy to one to two servings per day. Chefs should leverage the flavour of cheese (high in saturated fat and sodium) in smaller amounts and minimise the use of butter. Yogurt (without added sugar) is a good choice for professional kitchens, as its consumption is associated with healthy weight

Principle 19 – Use Poultry and Eggs in Moderation

Chicken and other poultry in moderation is a good choice for healthier protein with a far lower environmental footprint than red meat. Chefs should avoid or minimise the use of processed poultry products, which are high in sodium, often as a result of sodium pumps and brining. Eggs in moderation—an average of one per day—can be part of a healthy diet for most people. Creative menu items that mix whole eggs and egg whites for omelettes, and eggs with vegetables, are ideal.

Principle 20 – Serve Less Red Meat, Less Often

Red meat—beef, pork, and lamb—can be enjoyed occasionally and in small amounts. Current guidance from nutrition research recommends consuming a maximum of two 85 gram servings per week. Chefs and menu developers can rethink how meat is used by featuring it in smaller, supporting roles to healthier plant-based choices, and experimenting with meat as a condiment. Chefs can help to shift eating patterns by building a sense of theatre and value in menu concepts that don’t rely so heavily on a starring role for animal protein. For example, they might offer delicious meat/vegetable and meat/legume blends, or smaller tasting portions of red meat as part of vegetable-rich, small-plate formats.

Principle 21 – Reduce Added Sugar

Sugar’s role in spiking blood-sugar levels and increasing rates of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases means that professional kitchens should substantially restrict its use. Various strategies include: choosing processed foods with little or no added sugar; favouring healthy oils over sugar in products such as salad dressings; featuring smaller portions of dessert augmented with fruit; and substituting whole, cut, and dried fruit for sugar in recipes. Pastry chefs and dessert specialists need to take up the challenge to create sweets centred on whole grains, nuts, dark chocolate, coffee, fruit, healthy oils, yogurt, small amounts of other low fat dairy and eggs, and, as appropriate, small amounts of beverage alcohol.

Principle 22 – Cut the Salt; Rethink Flavour Development from the Ground Up

Chefs should focus on a range of other strategies to deliver flavour including: sourcing the best-quality, high-flavour produce; working with spices, herbs, citrus, and other aromatics; and employing healthy sauces, seasonings, and other flavour-building techniques from around the world.

Principle 23 – Substantially Reduce Sugary Drinks; Innovate Replacements

A drastic reduction in sugary drinks represents one of the biggest opportunities for foodservice operators to help reverse the national obesity and diabetes epidemics. Sugary drinks add no nutritional value and contribute negligible satiety. Nowhere in foodservice is there a greater need of creative, ‘disruptive’ innovation than in the challenge to replace current soda and sugary beverage formulations with more healthful options. Operators should diligently research, support, and promote the products of entrepreneurs and emerging and established brands that are rapidly developing beverage solutions in this important area.

Principle 24 – Drink Healthy: From Water, Coffee, Tea and with Caveats Alcoholic Drinks.

Water is the best choice to serve your customers, either plain or with the addition of cut-up fruit, herbs and aromatics, or other natural flavours—but no sugar. Served plain, coffee and tea are calorie-free beverages containing antioxidants, flavonoids, and other biologically active substances that may be good for health. Current NHS guidance suggests a maximum of 14 units of alcohol per week for adults.

Menus of Change infographics and accompanying text are © 2017 – 2021 The Culinary Institute of America and President and Fellows of Harvard College as published in the Menus of Change Annual Report. All Rights Reserved. For full version see UK adaptation by University of Reading.


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