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Like the great “chicken or the egg” debate, it’s often wondered which comes first – a popular trend in culinary themes at restaurants or the desire from guests for such a theme.

Chefs clearly dictate the direction of their menus and have the ability to pull inspiration from what’s growing locally at that time or any clear cultural expectations.

The popular culinary themes listed in the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2013 Chef Survey takes the opinions of 1,800 chefs into consideration. The resulting culinary themes focus on areas that have been growing in popularity in our society – like health-conscious eating, nutritional meals for children and an appreciation for fresh, local food in our communities.

Let’s take a look at the trending culinary themes and some restaurants that are appeasing the palates of health and environment minded restaurant goers.

Environmental sustainability

There are many elements of environmental sustainability in restaurants. These include the energy used to prepare the food and operate the restaurant, the recyclable materials used throughout, waste disposal and water usage.

However, the biggest aspect to environmental sustainability in restaurants involves the food. According to Environmental Sustainability within the Restaurant Industry, a research paper from Cornell University, “An estimated 19 percent of total energy used in the USA is taken up in the production and supply of food.”

These days, with the health of the world’s oceans in question, a lot of emphasis is being placed on sustainable seafood.

Turner Fisheries in Boston, Massachusetts is one restaurant serving sustainable seafood. According to its website, they “define sustainable seafood as fish that is sourced in ways which maintain long-term welfare of all species, while using resources to reduce waste and minimize bycatch when fishing; or simply put, the health of our oceans.”

Johnny’s Tavern in Amherst, Massachusetts also provides sustainable seafood, in addition to organic produce and hormone-free meat and poultry.

Children’s nutrition

When I was growing up, children’s menus had a lot of fried and fatty foods. According to the CDC, “Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.”

This unpleasant statistic may play part in healthy children’s menus being offered at conscious restaurants, like apple fries at fast food restaurants. Legal Sea Foods offers healthy options and sides on its children’s menu, including wood grilled fish of the day and steamed lobster. Consider an update to your kids menu if you haven’t already.

Hyper-local sourcing

One form of hyper-local sourcing involves restaurants that grow their own food. What could be more local than that? The chefs of farm-to-table (or boat-to-table) locations know exactly where these ingredients come from and the treatments given to them during the growing process.

Arrows in Ogunquit, Maine is one example of an award-winning restaurant that grows its own produce. Gracie’s in Providence has their own rooftop garden. Many other restaurants work directly with local farmers.

Gluten-free cuisine

It’s not only guests with Celiac Disease that require a gluten-free menu option – many health-conscious diners are opting for gluten-free meals. Regardless of why, gluten is an allergen to many who opt into your gluten-free menu, so all gluten-free items must remain gluten-free if you’re going to offer them. Our gluten-free consultant Amanda Mahoney reminds us, “That means not just having gluten-free ingredients, but also making sure their meal stays gluten-free during preparation. Cross-contamination is when an allergen inadvertently comes in contact with an otherwise safe meal by being prepared on the same surface, being touched by someone who was just preparing pizza or pasta with their hands, or using the same utensils on a gluten-free product that were used on regular products.”

A favorite Worcester, Massachusetts seafood restaurant for Mahoney, “The Sole Proprietor, gets it right with their fantastic gluten-free menu.  They have it all, from gluten-free beer to a dessert menu with not just one dessert, but six for those gluten-free diners fed up with flourless chocolate cakes. Their gluten-free menu is nearly identical to their regular menu as almost all their selections can be made gluten-free.”

Health/nutrition

Many diners go out to eat what they want and indulge themselves. However, there are those who are health conscious while eating out. And the numbers are growing.

One complaint of many restaurant goers, reported by the NPD Group, was that healthy items don’t taste good, or they don’t sound appetizing. Fortunately there are some health-conscious restaurants out there that provide great tasting food that is also healthy and nutritious.

Bela Vegetarian Restaurant in Northampton, Massachusetts is an example of a restaurant that creates healthier versions of staple items, like burgers and cutlets, and does it all in house. For instance, its burgers and cutlets are made of lentils, rolled oats, bulger, sunflower seeds, onion, carrots, tofu, garlic, salt and pepper.

Do you offer healthy options, locally sourced and environmentally sustainable meals at your restaurant? Please share your story with us and we’ll spread the news!

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As part of Upserve’s family of more than 10,000 restaurants, The Chef is Restaurant Insider’s secret weapon in the kitchen. As a restaurant expert in all things marketing, menu building, management, training and more, restaurateurs trust The Chef and the award-winning Restaurant Insider to dish out the ingredients needed to make your business a sweet success.