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Editor's Letter: Nourishing business

Editor's Letter: Nourishing business

My kids are on to me. I ask a simple question, like, “Where do you guys learn the most about nutrition?” And my youngest daughter raises her eyebrows and says, “You’re writing one of your columns, aren’t you?”

Well, she’s right. But I bet I’m not the only one who wants to know. Is it school? Is it home? Is it the media? The answer appears to be yes.

My daughters can’t pinpoint the exact source of their nutrition intelligence, but they know the importance of a balanced diet. My older daughter keeps a record of what she eats and her physical activity for a health class, and my younger daughter says some first graders at her school are tracking the number of fruits and vegetables brought in as snacks with the goal of reaching 1,000 by June.

Meanwhile, shows like “The Biggest Loser,” to which they are addicted, emphasize the life-changing power of healthful eating and exercise. And at the table, they know that each plate should be brimming with different colors, peanut butter should be used in moderation, and sweets are OK, but not every day.

That’s important to note. Outspoken advocates are not the only ones keeping an eye on nutrition, nowadays; your future paying customers are being taught to be vigilant, as well.

For their part, a growing number of restaurant operators are tuning in to the numerous messages directed at the nation’s youths and adding a few of their own. Earlier this month, McDonald’s, the fast-food behemoth long targeted by consumer advocates for its offerings, launched its updated Happy Meal, featuring apple slices and kid-sized fries, as well as new ads promoting the change.

“For the first time, 100 percent of our national marketing efforts to kids will include nutrition or active-lifestyle messages, a significant move in our ongoing commitment to children’s well-being,” Neil Golden, chief marketing officer for McDonald’s USA, said.

And, as you’ll see in a story that begins on page 1 and continues in the Business Intel section, other operators also are rethinking their kids’ offerings, reducing calories and sodium, and increasing the number of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Sure, first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program may be providing some impetus, but it’s getting harder to ignore the business case fueling those efforts.

On the subject of fuel, it’s getting expensive again and threatening to throw a wrench into an economic recovery that is finally gathering momentum. An informal canvas of our editors, who live in different cities across the nation, found a range of gas prices. The folks in California were paying about $4.35 per gallon at press time, while those living outside of New York were at about $3.99, and the prevailing wisdom is that prices will only go up as Memorial Day turns into driving season.

We decided to check in with restaurateurs across the country to see how higher gas prices might change their business strategies. Those responses can be found in the Community section.

In Operations we look into the recent rash of racial slurs allegedly directed at restaurant customers by the very people who are supposed to be delivering excellent service. Just what would prompt an employee to use a derogatory term to describe a patron on a sales receipt, and, more important, how can you avoid such situations?

Ironically, these incidents have occurred just as marketing efforts aimed at the country’s growing Hispanic population have moved from niche to national. We look at those campaigns and best practices for reaching that audience in the Marketing section.

And in the Food & Beverage section we explore the resurgence of “ancient grains” such as farro, amaranth and quinoa as a tasty and nutritious ingredient in modern salads, breads and even pancakes. I make a quinoa salad that my family loves, and I’m sure they would order it when dining out, especially when they hear that it’s nutritious, too. For menu writers, it’s a whole new world.

Contact Robin Lee Allen at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @RobinLeeAllen.

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