CHICAGO – Dining out remains an indulgence for most consumers, but consumers have adopted a few strategies for choosing healthy restaurant meals, including picking a healthier protein or meat, according to The NPD Group, a leading global information company.

In its new report, Healthy at Foodservice—Consumer Expectations Put in Perspective, NPD examines key order drivers, phrases consumers associate with healthy eating and target markets for healthy eating away from home. In addition to choosing a healthier protein, the majority of consumers said they cut down portions or leave out an item from their meal — not the best news for foodservice operators, NPD said.

The top five choices consumers make when ordering healthier foods from a foodservice establishment include:

• Have a salad as a meal — 39 percent;
• No dessert or sweets — 38 percent;
• No beverage or just have water — 37 percent;
• Pick a healthier protein or meat — 28 percent;
• Get a smaller portion — 23 percent.

Other options, such as having an appetizer instead of an entrée or no side item both garnered 10 percent of responses.

Dining out remained an indulgence for most consumers, according to the report. NPD found that while more than 50 percent of adults say they eat healthful meals always or most of the time at home, only 25 percent say they eat healthy foods when dining out. NPD attributed the variance to differences in consumers’ priorities, which change depending on where they eat. According to the NPD study, of those consumers not ordering healthy when they dine out, 37 percent said that when they go out to eat, “I want to eat what I want to eat,” and 23 percent said that “I want to indulge when I go out to eat.”

“The bottom line is that even with an increasing number of restaurants offering healthier menu items or posting calories and other nutritional information, at the end of the day, consumers see dining out as a treat, an indulgence,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “Operators and foodservice operators are in a challenging position trying to balance meeting their customers’ wants and needs, like any successful marketer should do, and meeting societal responsibilities. A first step is understanding healthy from the consumers’ perspective.”