Kids' nutrition, local sourcing top NRA's 2012 trend predictions

The National Restaurant Association's "What's Hot in 2012" survey of nearly 1,800 professional chefs – members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) – reveals that children's nutrition and local sourcing will be the hottest trends on restaurant menus in 2012.

The chefs also identified smartphone apps and tablet computers as the top technology trends. In addition, 6 out of 10 chefs said they would consider a food truck as an entrepreneurial business venture.

The top 10 menu trend predictions include:

  1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
  2. Locally grown produce
  3. Healthful kids' meals
  4. Hyper-local items
  5. Sustainability as a culinary theme
  6. Children's nutrition as a culinary theme
  7. Gluten-free/food allergy-conscious items
  8. Locally produced wine and beer
  9. Sustainable seafood
  10. Whole grain items in kids' meals

"The top menu trends we're seeing in our What's Hot in 2012 survey reflect the macro-trends we have seen grow over the last several years," said Joy Dubost, Ph.D, R.D., director of Nutrition & Healthy Living for the NRA. "Nutrition – especially when it comes to children – is becoming a major focus for the nation's nearly 1 million restaurants, in tune with consumers' increasing interest in healthful eating."

The children's nutrition topic began its acceleration this year, with the launch of the NRA/Healthy Dining's Kids LiveWell initiative, as well as healthy makeovers to kid's meals at numerous chains including McDonald's, Arby's, Popeyes and Jack in the Box.

To complement the trend, the NRA will debut a Healthier Kids Fare pavilion at its annual show in May.

"The American Culinary Federation has a long history of working with families to ensure that children receive adequate nutrition, so we are delighted that chefs have chosen to include healthful kids meals in the top 10 menu trends for 2012," said Michael Ty, CEC, AAC, ACF national president. "We are also pleased to see an emphasis on local sourcing across major ingredient categories, including produce, a vital component of children's diets."

Additional predictions

Rounding out the NRA's top 20 trend predictions are:

  1. Newly fabricated cuts of meat
  2. Farm/estate-branded items
  3. Food trucks/street food
  4. Artisan spirits
  5. House-made/artisan ice cream
  6. Health/nutrition as a culinary theme
  7. Non-traditional fish
  8. Fruit/vegetable kids' side items
  9. Children's mini-meals (i.e. smaller versions of adult menu items)
  10. Culinary cocktails

Also included in the survey were questions about technology trends, food trucks, fruits and vegetables on menus and restaurant gardens.

About one-quarter of the chefs (26 percent) ranked smartphone apps as the hottest technology trend in restaurants in 2012, and another quarter (25 percent) said tablet computers (i.e. iPads for menus and wine lists) will be the top technology trend.

Sixteen percent said social media would be the top trend, and the same percentage said mobile/wireless/pay-at-the-table payment options, while 4 percent said QR codes.

When asked how to best follow the USDA's latest dietary guidelines of increasing fruits and vegetables in Americans' diet, 55 percent said offering a wider variety of vegetable/fruit side dishes on menus, 19 percent said using more produce in existing recipes, and 16 percent said following MyPlate's visual guideline of making fruits and vegetables half the plate.

In addition, more than six out of 10 (61 percent) of the chefs said they would consider launching a food truck as an entrepreneurial business venture.

When asked whether the tableservice restaurant where they work has a garden, one-third said that it does, one in 5 said they don't have space for a garden, and nearly half said they don't have a garden and rely on suppliers for all their produce needs.

Click here for a complete list of What's Hot in 2012 survey results.

Read more about statistics and trends.

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