Prepared Foods talks with Joy Dubost, PhD., RD, CSSD. With more than 15 years of experience, Dr. Dubost has worked in the areas of clinical nutrition, research, public health intervention, education and communications. She owns Dubost Food & Nutrition Solutions, LLC, which specializes in scientific advising, education and communications.

Dubost also serves as senior director of nutrition at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) where she helped develop and implement of the award-winning, nationally recognized healthy children’s dining program called, “Kids LiveWell.” She also has worked on the government’s “Let’s Move!” initiative and assisted the public and private sectors to address obesity.

Prior to joining NRA, Dubost was a principal scientist at PepsiCo. She earned an undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Chemistry from Hood College, a master’s degree in Food Science from the University of Georgia and a doctorate in Food Science from Pennsylvania State University. She completed her dietetic internship at University of Michigan Hospitals and is board certified in sports nutrition.

Joy Dubost, National Restaurant Association
Joy Dubost
Senior Director of Nutrition
National Restaurant Association

Prepared Foods: We love NRA’s annual “Food & Beverage Innovations Awards.” What did you think of this year’s entries and winners? How do they help operators address menu solutions?

Joy Dubost: The theme of those awards is to inspire innovation and to help restaurants address [back-of-the-house] needs and taste trends. Also, it’s important to help operators address the health aspect on their menus, whether it involves diners with Celiac disease or those simply looking for lower sodium options. These types of new products help operators showcase what they’re doing to address health concerns while they compete against other restaurants in a local market.

Among this year’s winners were items that are gluten free, low sodium and even those with non-GMO ingredients. The bottom line is to help operators with items that resonate with consumers.


PF: Sometimes patrons say they want healthier menu selections—but then, don’t order them.  Have you witnessed that? Moreover, have you seen any shift in that behavior?

Dubost: It’s interesting when you look more closely at consumers. People dine out for different reasons and you can break them out, so to speak, into different segments. There definitely are ones who look for more health on the menu while others are “fence sitters” that could be swayed (by healthier options). You also have those who are simply looking for more indulgence and a reward. But to answer the question, I’d say, “Yes,” every now and then, consumers sometimes don’t do what they say when faced with better nutritional options.

Yet, we have seen nutrition and health rise to among the top five issues in menu planning—particularly around children. The biggest shift has come with Kids LiveWell (co-sponsored by NRA and Healthy Dining). Since beginning in late 2011, it’s been the only national program emphasizing nutritional options. More restaurants have been adding menu offerings to meet our criteria. That, in and of itself, shows that the program is encouraging kids and parents to opt for these items. 

Audits [of menus] also show more healthful options introduced to adults. It’s interesting. Initially, some restaurants offered branded low-calorie items but they weren’t selling. Today, however, you have more restaurants marketing items under a certain caloric value and they’re adding even more options that meet those criteria. They wouldn’t do that if those products didn’t taste good and weren’t selling.

So, yes, I do think there’s a shift in the marketplace—with what consumers are saying and what they’re doing in terms of nutrition.


PF: Speaking of kids, some manufacturers have reformulated their school foodservice products to meet government regulations—and then leveraged nutritional improvements in the broader foodservice market. Have you noticed this?

Dubost: That’s interesting. Yes, I have seen companies such as PepsiCo, Kraft and Kellogg reformulate to meet school nutrition guidelines—and then utilize some of those products in a broader foodservice business perspective.

This is a time where we may start seeing children exposed to new nutritional options—including some branded, recognizable ones—in multiple venues. If a child likes the taste of a certain low-sugar, whole grain granola bar and sees that same option in a restaurant, parents certainly will want to promote those choices.


PF:  Let’s shift back to the NRA convention, where you moderated a session, titled, “Create a Healthier Plate for Your Menu.” What were some key take-away points?

Dubost: It sounds overstated, but one point is that taste and flavor are critical. One way to boost health is to include more fruits and vegetables. However, to move the needle we need to make those items “come alive” for the palate.

One example from our session was informative for another reason. It looked at why avocadoes exploded on the market and became a produce leader for foodservice. One speaker said it came about after operators started preparing guacamole tableside. It visually came alive for restaurant patrons and from that point, guacamole exploded in popularity. This sort of “outside-the-box” thinking got consumers interested in other restaurant experiences they can replicate at home.

Another point was simply about looking for the next big thing. Right now, kale is the next big thing and it’s grown about 400% in menu items. Who would have thought that something that previously decorated a plate would become so important? Cauliflower also has become more popular. It’s just interesting to realize that the next, emerging big menu hits are things we don’t necessarily think about—but somehow come to life. 


PF: Another NRA session was titled, “Current State of Nutrition in the Restaurant Industry.” If you were a food processor attending that presentation, what action items would you take back to the office?

Dubost: Let me say that I have been impressed by progress in our industry—involving both manufacturer suppliers and operators—in a very short time. That panel discussion included Dr. Michael Jacobson, executive director from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). It was evident that—for all the pressure CSPI has put on restaurants—the industry has tried and responded quickly to issues involving trans fats, sodium and saturated fats.

If I worked for a manufacturer, I’d say it’s key to keep monitoring and addressing trans fat and sodium levels because of ongoing scrutiny by FDA and USDA. We can’t rest on our merits. We have to keep moving forward and make sure we keep bringing consumers along so they enjoy healthier benefits.


PF: We see food manufacturers’ corporate research chefs and heads of nutrition rising to more prominent roles in product ideation and development. Have you noticed this?

Dubost: Yes. In particular, I have noticed chefs coming into the process and it’s amazing to me. Moreover, it’s critical too. It takes a village, so to speak.

I used to be a product developer at PepsiCo before I moved more into the nutrition side. I see now that it’s just not product developers involved. PepsiCo and others now have dietitians on their teams to ensure that what they’re developing meets nutritional targets. Chefs also are involved to ensure that—once again—the taste and flavors aren’t lost in the process.

Interestingly, too, I also see this playing out more in the restaurant industry. More operators are bringing dietitians into product development. They also are hiring more food scientists whose understanding of more complex chemistry goes beyond the skill sets of their chefs. These individuals also can help corporate new product efforts in more technical, highly visible areas such as sodium reduction.


PF:  How might manufacturers work more effectively with operators to address nutritional menu gaps? What types of new offerings would meaningful improvement to you at next year’s NRA convention?

Dubost: I think some ingredient trends will continue to be top of mind and that we’ll see more emphasis on proteins, produce (fruit and vegetables) and whole grains.  Meanwhile, I think several other policy issues will dictate where the marketplace goes. By that, I mean guidelines and directives about sodium, use of partially hydrogenated oils and menu labeling.

 Another item relates to gluten free and regulations that will be enforced starting in August. It will be interesting to see if there is a decrease in gluten-free product claims. It’s one thing for manufacturers to sell a gluten-free product but these guidelines also relate to how operators are storing, preparing and handling those products in the kitchen (where they could come into contact with other items).  Again, it will be interesting to watch, almost more from a policy and regulatory perspective.  



Top Menu Trend: Children’s Nutrition

Want a restaurant menu trend still in its infancy? Pardon the play on words, but the area of kids’ foods and drinks is still growing. 

Each year, National Restaurant Association researchers survey nearly 1,300 professional chef members of the American Culinary Federation. The top restaurant menus trends for 2014 included a focus on local sourcing, environmental sustainability and nutrition—children’s nutrition in particular.

In a December 2013 press release, NRA officials noted, “Compared with five years ago, items that have remained top 20 food trends include locally grown produce, healthful kids’ meals, gluten-free cuisine, sustainable seafood, and health/nutrition.” 

And they added, “When asked which current food trend will be the hottest menu trends 10 years from now, environmental sustainability topped the list, followed by local sourcing, health-nutrition, children’s nutrition and gluten-free cuisine.”

See the trend? NRA officials saw it in 2011, when the organization partnered with Healthy Dining to create Kids LiveWell, a voluntary program in which restaurants agree to offer and promote a selection of items that meet qualifying criteria based on a leading health organization’s scientific recommendations, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines. Healthy Dining’s team of registered dietitians works with participating restaurants to identify and validate the menu choices that meet the Kids LiveWell criteria.

Officials say more than 145 restaurant chains representing 42,000 locations now offer approved Kids LiveWell menu selections. Program sponsors include PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, McCormick’s for Chefs, California Milk Advisory Board, Sysco and Kellogg’s. 

Kellogg’s joined in 2013. 

“By forging a partnership with the Kids LiveWell program, the Kellogg Company continues our commitment to offer nutritious, flexible meal options for kids and their parents at and away from home,” said Dennis Moy, customer marketing manager. “Our branded products offer a range of nutritious choices that appeal to both kids and parents. Kellogg understands consumers’ demand for healthy menu options and we’re happy to help restaurant operators meet these needs.”

Kids LiveWell products must meet the following criteria: 

Full Kids’ Meals (entrée, side option and beverage):

  • 600 calories or less
  • ≤35% of calories from total fat
  • ≤10% of calories from saturated fat
  • <0.5 grams trans fat (artificial trans fat only)
  • ≤35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring)
  • ≤770 mg of sodium
  • 2 or more food groups (see below)

Side Items:

  •  200 calories or less
  •  ≤35% of calories from total fat
  • ≤10% of calories from saturated fat
  • <0.5 grams artificial trans fat
  • ≤35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring)
  • ≤250 mg of sodium
  • 100% fruit, vegetables or juice; and low fat (1%) and skim milks are permitted
  • 1 food group (see below)

Fruit, Vegetables, Whole Grains, Lean Protein and Low-Fat Dairy:

  • Full meals must include two sources, and a la carte sides must include one source of the following:
  • Fruit: Fruit (includes 100% juice):
  • ½ cup or more = 1 star
  • Vegetables: ½ cup or more = 1 star
  • Whole Grains: Contains whole grains = 1 star
  • Lean protein (skinless white meat poultry, fish, seafood, beef, pork, tofu, beans, eggs):
  • At least 2 ounces meat, 1 egg equivalent, 1 oz nuts/seeds/dry bean/peas = 1 star (lean as defined by FDA)
  • Dairy: Lower-fat dairy (1% or skim milk and dairy): ½ cup or more = 1 star (while not considered low-fat, 2% milk is allowed if included in the meal and the meal still fits the full meal criteria)
  • Deep fried items not permitted