2010 March: Heart Healthy

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Take a look around your kitchen. Chances are you’ve already got the makings of a healthy menu item or two, and you’ve probably got customers already asking for it.

To grab the attention of this growing demographic, you need only your imagination and these simple guidelines.

First, assess your ingredients. There’s no need to buy new, exotic ingredients. You probably keep the following on-hand as it is: tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, mushrooms, onions, black and green olives, spinach, peppers, pineapple, grilled or baked chicken breast or strips, red wine, salad greens, herbs and spices, shrimp and whole-grain pasta. With several of these ingredients, you can create a pizza and other entreés that are heart healthy as well as delicious.

Creating healthy, tempting menu choices is relatively easy. Popular selections include thin crust, whole wheat crust and seven grain crust pizzas. Offer a veggie pizza with a tomato based sauce and all your vegetables included, and have an option to order it with half the cheese. Offer garden salad with dressing on the side. A grilled chicken pizza is another heart-healthy favorite. Olive oil can be brushed on the crust of your healthy pizza options if it is not present in your sauce. Shrimp marinara and grilled chicken marinara served on a bed of whole-grain linguine are healthy pasta options easily incorporated into your menu. A large house salad featuring grilled chicken makes an excellent addition to your entrées. If any of your items are organic, let your customers know. Likewise, mentioning which ingredients are “fresh” wins customer interest. Sprinkling an Italian herb and spice into a dish and adding that to the name can entice many customers. “Grilled Chicken with Crushed Rosemary” sounds infinitely more appetizing than “Grilled Chicken.”

Portion control is an excellent way to create a healthy item. Thin-crust, personal-size pizzas or small pizzas for two can have a reasonable amount of fat and calories.

Items to avoid on your heart-healthy menu include cheese sauces, fried foods, pepperoni, meatballs, sausage, bacon and regular soda. Try to avoid trans-fat and limit saturated fats.

Jet’s Pizza in Napierville, Illinois, has been marketing to health-conscious consumers since its inception. According to owner Michael Genzer, the corporate office brought a registered dietician on board to incorporate health and nutrition into their menu and 25 percent of their customers now order these special healthy items.

Chris Cannon, M.D., author of The New Heart Disease Handbook, recommends your heart-healthy menu contain a pizza with a variety of vegetables, low-sodium tomato sauce, grilled chicken or turkey and mozzarella cheese in moderation. Cannon states that keeping a meal at 500 to 650 calories is ideal for good health — which can include a large slice of pizza, a garden salad and a glass of red wine, unsweetened tea, or skim milk.

Put careful consideration into how many items you want to offer on your heart-healthy menu. Too many choices can lead to customer confusion and staff frustration. Too few choices will cause repeat customers to become bored. For most establishments, three to four choices is appropriate. This should include one or two pizza choices, a pasta if you offer them, a side salad and an entrée salad, plus a variety of beverages. Healthy beverage choices can include red wine, unsweetened tea, coffee, an upscale water product and skim milk.

Now that you’ve got a good grip on what you’ve got going for you, call attention to your healthy fare. Capturing the health-conscious consumer involves clever marketing. At Jerusalem Restaurant in Livingston, New Jersey, owners Sara and Arie Jashinsky utilize their Web site, brochures and local newspaper ads. “We mention our healthy items first and highlight our all-natural ingredients,” says Sara Jashinsky. As a result of their marketing efforts, around 35 percent of their customers come in requesting their healthy menu items.

Traditional advertising is effective, but you must consider new ideas to find new customers. Health-conscious consumers can be roughly divided into three categories: the young vegetarian (females and males 18-40), the chronic dieter (females 25-50) and the older adult with medical issues (males and females 50-80).

Young vegetarians can be found via ads in alternative newspapers, magazines and radio stations. Other good strategies include placing door hangers at apartment complexes and displaying flyers at nearby university campuses. Chronic dieters can be found via coupon distributors, flyers left on mailboxes and at health clubs, and television advertising. Older adults can be found by leaving brochures at senior centers and beauty shops, placing local newspaper ads and utilizing television advertising during the morning, noon or evening local news. Church bulletin advertising can be a low-cost way to reach seniors.

Ready to boost your number of customers? It’s a fact that the public perceives pizza and other Italian foods as comfort food, party food or substantial food as opposed to healthy, nutrient- packed fare. You can, however, alter that perception with a little effort. The reward? Hungry new customers and a healthier bottom line. 

Count Your Way to Increased Sales

Don’t be afraid to advertise calorie counts for the items on your healthy menu. Use existing calorie data for items you purchase in a packaged state. A plethora of calorie information is available online, as well. Pick a government Web site or the site of a respected medical institution for your calorie count data. If you need assistance, consider hiring a dietician for an hour or an afternoon to tell you how many calories are in your dishes.

Sample Calorie Counts for a Few Heart-Healthy Dishes

? Grilled chicken entrée salad with salad greens, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, mushrooms, grilled chicken and mozzarella cheese with fat-free dressing on the side. Add a breadstick and unsweetened tea with lemon for a total around 550 calories.
? A large slice of veggie pizza, a garden salad with fat-free dressing and unsweetened tea with lemon for a total of 375 calories.
? Shrimp marinara with wholegrain linguine, a garden salad with fat-free dressing and unsweetened tea with lemon for a total of 585 calories.
? Show potential new customers they can have a full, delicious meal for the same number of calories as a sub sandwich.

J. Lucy Boyd is a freelance writer and registered nurse based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.