Keep it Light: Healthy & Restaurant Food

Image Source: Zagat

“We’re all faced with a challenge at the moment… Consumers are definitely becoming a lot more educated, a lot more health conscious and a lot more aware as far as food goes,” says Chef Marc Maronne, coroporate executive sous-chef for TAO Group.

There exists an assumption that the term “health conscious” or even just the word “healthy” means tasteless vegetarian or vegan food. Some people believe that if that a restaurant or bar offers a healthy food menu, it’s all tofu and no traditional bar food. Luckily, we don’t have to give up fries, tacos, sandwiches, pizza or our precious proteins to offer guests healthier food options.

Here are some fantastic insights, spins on bar food classics and menu alternatives you can put to use today!


As Chef Maronne stated, guests are educated when it comes to food. In growing numbers they’re searching out menus offering ingredients produced by companies that are humane and sustainable. Never ever programs – those that strictly adhere to a promise to never use antibiotics – are becoming more and more popular among educated, health-conscious diners. Chef Maronne recommends getting your beef from Meyer Company Ranch, located in Montana. A well-known customer of theirs is Whole Foods, which rates the social responsibility of companies on a scale of 1 to 5. Meyer scores a 5 on this scale. The farm has complete control of their livestock from birth to slaughter and they are given only clean, 100% food free of pesticides and artificial hormones. Committed to a never ever program, if any head of cattle become sick, they aren’t given antibiotics. Instead, it lives out the rest of its life on the farm, never being slaughtered or used in Myer Company Ranch products.


There are a few options when it comes to purchasing healthy chickens and your educated guests will appreciate you using them. Mary’s Free Range Chicken from California, Amish chickens or any all-natural chickens will appeal to your carnivorous, healthy guests. “Guests are actually educated enough now where they’re going to know what that means and they’ll be more apt to order that product,” says Chef Maronne about Mary’s and Amish chickens. In contrast, for example, Tyson released a statement letting the public know that they use “tolerable” levels of arsenic in their chicken to make it white. “Chicken’s not supposed to be bright white,” says Chef Maronne. In fact, all-natural chicken has yellow fat. You’re likely assuming that healthier chickens are cost prohibitive. In order to make them cost effective, buy whole standard wing joints and process them yourself to get drumettes and wingettes for chicken wings; you’ll save almost $3 per pound this way. It can also be cost effective to bring in whole chickens. Now, this may represent a 4 to 5 percent increase in cost but you can process the whole chickens yourself and use every part in all sorts of food items, increasing customer spends and padding your bottom line.


After playing the role of punching bag and receiving a bad rap for several years, pork is now an incredibly popular protein. This is due in large part to companies like Compart-Duroc Premium Pork Products. Similar to Meyer Company Ranch and Amish chickens, their animals live free range and only eat acorns and what is provided for them out in the fields. Not only can their meat be served medium-rare to medium in temperature, they’re so clean and hormone-free that they can be dry aged.


This lean meat is the lowest in saturated fat and calories of any protein when compared to beef, chicken, pork or even salmon. Besides the health benefits, bison cooks similarly to beef. Look to farms and ranches located in Nebraska for the best bison products. Off cuts like top round can be obtained for less than $2 per pound, opening up all sorts of bar food possibilities. Chef Maronne likes to make lean Guinness braised bison, which can be used for multiple menu offerings: taco meat, meat for wraps and cheesesteaks. Cut the top round bison into cubes, marinate it with Guinness, chicken stock and vegetables, braise it off, chill it down, and scrape off the fat which will have risen to the top. Again, approach putting healthy items on your menu from a cost effective perspective: if you can’t use an ingredient in at least 3 items on your menu, rethink how to use it or find an alternative.

Vegetables, Vegetarians & Vegans

Some restaurant and bar owners who are inexperienced when it comes to offering healthier food options can be intimidated by vegetarians and vegans. Luckily, vegetable platters are making a comeback. So are crudités, which were a popular ‘90s thing. All you have to do is use raw vegetables and pair them with all-natural, healthy dips and hummus. Keep in mind that jicama is experiencing a surge in popularity. Chef Maronne recommends spending more on superior produce as it will taste better and attract more loyal guests. The most cost effective way to approach the purchase of more expensive produce is to utilize every part, even the scraps. Romesco sauce is easy to make and can be produced using scraps from peppers and several types of nuts. Consider implementing a juicing program as well. Juicing will allow you to truly use all of the trim from your higher end produce and the use of almond milk, a pinch of cinnamon and a vanilla bean can greatly enhance the flavor.


Seriously, who doesn’t love pizza? It’s basically a perfect bar food. In order to make healthier alternatives to typical pizza, use whole wheat crusts or lavash, a soft, thin unleavened flatbread. Lavash has one-third the carbs as two slices of white bread, something you can tell your guests. To make Chef Maronne’s lavash flatbread pizza, take a piece of lavash, put a little bit of barbecue sauce on it, add grilled chicken, onions and low-fat mozzarella cheese and cook it in either your pizza oven or Turbo Chef oven until crisp. Speaking of barbecue sauce, you can make a simple version in your own kitchen free of corn syrup binding and it will only cost a third of sauce you can get from your vendors. Take a can of tomatoes, put in a pot with vinegar, chili, Worcestershire sauce and a pinch of brown cane sugar. Cook it down slowly and then fold herbs in at the end. This barbecue sauce is light and healthier than store-bought versions.


Arguably the best bar food (calm down, chicken wing fans – it’s just an opinion), nachos can also receive a healthy makeover with taro chips. Taro is very popular amongst the health conscious and fry very well, making them incredibly crispy. Customers love crunch and often equate crispy with high quality. So, cover your taro chips with non-fat mozzarella, jalapeños and roasted chicken and let your customers know that this satisfyingly crispy alternative cuts out calories, corn, fat, cholesterol and carbs.


We all know that sliders are great bar food. They can easily be made healthier by swapping out fried chicken for grilled chicken. You can make healthier Buffalo chicken sliders using yogurt rather than bleu cheese and mayonnaise.

French Fries

Another great bar food, French fries can be made with sweet potatoes because they bake very well. Simply cut a sweet potato into quarter-inch strips, toss with a little bit of olive oil, paprika and thyme, cook at 450 and let the fries cool on a sheet tray. On pickup, throw them back in the oven to heat, add salt and pepper and serve.

Tartare, Sushi & Sashimi

You’re probably not surprised to learn that guests dedicated to cleaner eating are fans of tartare, sushi and sashimi. However, you probably also think that these options sound expensive. In order to keep your costs low when adding these to your menu, consider fresh tuna from Japan as it’s available for low prices. There’s also flash frozen Hawaiian tuna. Flash freezing kills parasites and it the tuna can be portioned out to be stored in a freezer, lending itself to being cut easily and then thawed quickly. Sushi and sashimi are viewed as foods that “offset” the consumption of alcohol beverages, attracting health-conscious guests. Start by putting approachable spicy tuna on your menu, offering your guests yellowtail when they eventually ask what else you have for sushi and sashimi. Yellowtail is a white tuna and the entire fish can be used, making it very cost effective.

Parting Tips from Chef Maronne

  • Swap out leaner and healthier proteins for those that are more commonly used
  • Don’t be afraid to bring in the healthier proteins and sell them at a higher price point. There are plenty of guests who are looking for these items and who are willing to pay more for them.
  • Customers want healthy but also want crunch. Unfortunately, much of crunchy food is fried and turns away healthy diners. Use spinach tortillas for crunch since they bake well.
  • Use the words green, clean, sustainable, skinny, bright, fresh (people automatically equate the word with health) and light (although it’s becoming played out) as sizzle words on your menus.

Learn more about menu innovations from experts like Chef Marc Maronne at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show. Registration opens in the fall!


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