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Restaurants add more lower-calorie dishes

Chains from Dunkin' Donuts to Applebee's target dieters with new menu items

Restaurant operators from quick service to casual dining are trying to appeal to customers with New Year's diet resolutions by offering more lower-calorie dishes.

More than 70 percent of customers said they find it more difficult to keep New Year’s food resolutions when dining out than at home, according to a Harris Interactive survey commissioned by Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill, a division of DineEquity Inc.

That led the casual-dining chain to add two dishes to its under-550 calorie menu: a 7-ounce Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Shrimp and Teriyaki Pasta with chicken or shrimp. The lower-calorie menu now has six items. Applebee’s also added two new SkinnyBee cocktails, a mojito and a Long Island iced tea, which each contain less than 120 calories.

"Our guests want more choices and they don't want to sacrifice flavor or portion size," said Mike Archer, president of Lenexa, Kan.-based Applebee's Services Inc., which has more than 2,000 units worldwide.

Among other results of the Applebee’s online survey, which polled 2,309 U.S. adults Dec. 16-20:

• 60 percent planned to make food-related New Year's resolutions
• 75 percent said that having a variety of lower-calorie meals to choose from when dining out would make it easier to keep those resolutions
• 41 percent resolved to lower overall calorie intake
• 69 percent would dine out at restaurants more often or equally as often in 2011 as they did in 2010
• 76 percent said they would choose a lower-calorie item over a higher-calorie item if taste and portion size were comparable

Other restaurant companies are weighing in on the calorie-conscious trend as well.

Dunkin' Donuts, a 9,000-unit quick-service chain based in Canton, Mass., has added two new varieties of its Wake-Up Wraps: an egg-white-turkey sausage version and an egg-white veggie. Both have 150 calories and are priced at $1.29 each. The items are part of its DDSMART menu of more healthful options.

Corner Bakery Café, the 118-unit fast-casual chain owned by CBC Restaurant Corp. in Dallas, has extended its “100 Under 600” program, which features more than 100 combinations of sandwiches, panini, salads or soups at less than 600 calories.

“Fad diets always seem to emerge after the holidays, but don’t typically last long,” said Ric Scicchitano, senior vice president of food and beverage for Corner Bakery.

The chain is promoting its Corner Combos through an “anti-dieter” campaign on Facebook and its own website and urging customers to use its calorie calculator.

Before Christmas, Bob Evans Restaurants, the 569-unit family-dining chain based in Columbus, Ohio, said it would enhance its “Fit from the Farm” menu Jan. 6 with a new BE Fit Breakfast that includes new cranberry multigrain sidecakes, fresh fruit and Bob Evans Egg Lites.

Bob Evans' Fit from the Farm menu, which debuted last year, includes dishes with less 650 calories and 750 milligrams of sodium and lower fat.

“It’s no secret that more nutritious menu items in restaurants have been in high demand recently by both the general public and the government,” said Tom Marchese, vice president of marketing for Bob Evans Restaurants.

Kevin Rabideau, Bob Evans’ senior development chef, offered further advice on healthy dining out.

“Eating smart isn’t always about giving up foods you love,” he said. “It’s more about being creative with how you compose your meals like pairing indulgent entrees with lower calorie side dishes like fresh fruit or steamed vegetables.”

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].


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