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Three ways restaurants can rethink beverages

Simple ways to give health-conscious customers more beverages choices

Editor's note: The following column is from Healthy Dining, a company that has been at the forefront of restaurant nutrition since 1990. This series provides restaurant operators with information on industry-related nutrition topics. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Nation's Restaurant News.

Health- and calorie-conscious consumers, competitive differentiation, menu labeling, and threats of new and expanding regulations of "sugary beverage" are among the factors spurring many restaurants to rethink their beverage offerings.

“Many guests don’t want to drink their calories, but they want to enjoy their dining experience with an appealing beverage,” says Cheryl Dolven, MS, RD, Director of Health and Wellness at Darden Restaurants.

Here are three ways your restaurant can rethink beverages for a competitive edge:

1. Glamorize water. Water has immense benefits on health, and yet most Americans don’t drink enough. Savvy restaurants can enhance Mother Nature’s “tonic of life” by following these steps:

• Jazz up sparkling water with wedges of lemon, lime or mixed berries. Add some fresh mint and you have a mocktail, sans calories. Plus, lemons and lime boast plenty of vitamin C.

• Make water tart with lemon or lime. The sour taste will keep diners sipping, and the garnishes are loaded with healthy antioxidants, too.

• Add a pleasant, sweet taste with fruit such as berries, oranges, peach slices and pineapple.

• Serve water spa-style, with cucumber or lime slices.

• Get creative with ice cubes: Fill an ice cube tray with fresh lemonade, add a raspberry or blueberry to each square, and then freeze. As the ice cubes melt, they’ll flavor the water and keep it chilled.

• Spike water with juice. Just an ounce or two of fruit juice gives 8 ounces of club soda or sparkling water a delicious boost.

• Garnishing water with herbs, such as mint. Herbs are nutritional powerhouses that add a potent hit of flavor, to boot.

2. Offer a wide variety of enticing lower-calorie beverages. Choices could include:

• Green and herbal teas – Iced or hot, these drinks taste delicious and don’t need added sweeteners. Plus, countless studies proclaim green tea not only enhances health by staving off disease but can also help with weight loss.

• Mojito iced teas – Brew a few bags of tea (think hibiscus, vanilla rooibos, apricot spice, cherry almond or other interesting flavors) and then cool. Toss in some seltzer and mint, sweeten with sugar or add a dash of spice.

• Skinny lemonade – Cut the sugar content in this favorite by focusing on the tart taste instead. You can even add an ounce of lavender elixir or other floral water to your favorite lemonade, or get creative with add-ons like cucumber, blueberries and mint.

• Lighter slurpees – Take some frozen fruit, add seltzer, ice cubes and a splash of juice (orange, apple, lemonade, mango), and then blend to a slushy consistency.

3. Consider how you serve beverages. These simple steps can help make beverages more healthful:

• Add a lot of ice to beverages to reduce calorie counts.

• Serve drinks in tall, skinny glasses. A Cornell University study showed that these types of glasses are like an optical illusion, and people think they are consuming as much as they get in a wider glass.

• Don’t offer free refills. That way, your guests appreciate your food instead of filling up on beverages.

Contact Anita Jones-Mueller, M.P.H., at [email protected].

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