CHICAGO – Last month’s recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (D.G.A.C.) confirmed restaurants need healthier menus – which is something both Mintel’s research and consumers have already been suggesting. Many restaurants have already responded: between the second quarters of 2009 and 2010, menu items labeled as “healthy” increased 65%, according to Mintel Menu Insights.

D.G.A.C. recommendations also include specific instructions for kids’ menus, urging restaurants to include a focus on children, as “prevention of obesity in childhood is the single most powerful public health approach to combating America’s obesity epidemic.” The 10% increase in menu items that contain fruits or vegetables between the second quarters of 2007 and 2010 reported by Mintel Menu Insights is a start.

“Restaurants should start considering how they’re going to make kids’ menus healthier,” said Eric Giandelone, director of foodservice research at Mintel. “It’s important to get feedback from both parents and kids to provide a healthy balance on the menu that kids will want to eat and parents will approve of.”

Adults need their fruits and veggies just as much as children do and according to the D.G.A.C., menus should provide it. Mintel research found that among restaurant-goers who say they’re eating more healthfully when dining out, more than half are doing so by including more fruits and vegetables. There has also been a 12% increase in menu items that were labeled as vegetarian between the second quarters of 2007 and 2010.

“Healthy menu development opportunity exists in providing vegetable and seafood-based appetizers, soups, salads and entrées,” Mr. Giandelone said. “An added bonus in offering these ingredients is if prepared thoughtfully, they will naturally cut down on the fat and calories of a menu item, making it a more favorable choice for their patrons.”

When asked if restaurants recognize the important role meat and poultry play in maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, Mr. Giandelone told restaurants have changed their definition of “healthy” to go beyond meatless. “[Healthier meat and poultry menu] items we are seeing include grilled chicken sandwiches and turkey burgers. If you look at what Applebee’s has done with their 550 calories menu...they have included a steak on there and it’s a smaller portion.

“Some of the restaurants are listing meat [and poultry] and describing such menu options as ‘healthy’— but maybe they’re smaller or a leaner portions of meat or poultry,” he said.

Mr. Giandelone has not heard of any restaurants dropping meat or poultry dishes when creating healthier menus. “There are a lot of reasons people still like to eat meat and poultry,” he said. “And poultry menu items will be a little cheaper than beef. So if anything, poultry menu items [have likely increased in number]."