CHICAGO ? Americans, who define healthy eating based on quality features rather than fewer calories, are looking for more healthful options at restaurants and other foodservice outlets, according to a recent foodservice market research report by The NPD Group, a leading market research company.

Titled Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Go Out to Eat, the study finds a significant share of foodservice traffic is driven by healthy eating behaviors and one of the top motivations for more healthful eating is to feel healthier. The one feature most important to consumers wanting healthy menu options is quality, such as fresh, natural and nutritious ingredients. Fewer calories were among the least important features.

“Typically, the perception has been that healthy eating to consumers means low calorie and low fat, and our findings show that the perception is not the reality,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “Clearly, descriptors like fresh or natural will resonate more with consumers than less calories.”

The study also addresses consumer attitudes about the importance of the taste. Consumers place a high importance on taste regardless if they are eating healthfully or not, and some consumers equate healthier foods as not being as tasty. Most consumers expect to pay the same for healthier foods as those considered less healthy.

“Understanding these trends provide foodservice operators and manufacturers with the opportunity to offer products that meet consumers’ needs for healthier options,” Riggs says. “More consumers are seeking healthy/light foods and having these options available on menus will meet these consumers’ needs; however, healthful menu options must be fresh, taste good, and be affordably priced.”