The Menu Doctor – Nutritionist Erika Doolan on Healthier Menus
In my work as a Nutrition Practitioner, I see many people come to my private practice suffering a great social isolation because of weight, or other health problems. In Ireland, one in four Irish children are overweight or are obese. In fact, 327,000 young people are currently obese, and this is expected to grow every year by 11,000. A lot of this is preventable, and a lot of it is reversible. Obviously we can’t change our genes, but we make changes to our environments, our activity levels and our food choices. Throughout the world there seems to be an overwhelming desire to increase the transparency about what we are eating out of home, and this desire seems to spring from a global aspiration to want to live healthier lives.
Nowadays, we are reading so much conflicting information, and people are bombarded with images of what they think they should look like, that it all gets a little bit mixed up and jumbled. People are confused and simply do not know what foods are good or bad anymore. When eating out, people often find it difficult to can’t navigate menus; they don’t know what is healthy on a menu, or what is useful to control or manage their weight or allergies. As a result many people don’t want to eat out, and they even refuse lunch and invitations, which I think is absolutely tragic. What’s more, outside of our home, there is a trend to give large portions, even mega-size portions, to give ‘value for money’. Although there have been some improvements in this, this can be off putting for consumers.
Eating on the go, and dashboard and desktop dining, is a big part of modern day life, so much so that Bord Bia would estimate that 28% of food is actually eaten outside the home. In the United States, that figure is over 50%. While 28% is a lower figure, it is still a considerable amount of food. Our working hours are longer, and after a long day at work often we don’t really want to spend time or effort in the kitchen. As a result we are becoming more de-skilled in the kitchen, this added to a lack of information for ingredients for people means that eating out should be an absolute pleasure.
Along with taste and freshness, origin, traceability, sustainability and convenience, a priority for me and particularly for younger people on the go, are critical to food choices. Though more and more I see people are voting for more information in terms of what they eat; information on calories because of weight problems, on salt content because of blood pressure, on saturated fat content because of cholesterol, and on sugar content because of diabetes. However, when it comes to putting nutrition on the menu one of the main concerns I hear from chefs is “is it going to effect the taste?” Taste is absolutely paramount, but the nutrition can be done very subtly and nutritional information can be there for people who want to make an informed choice. Giving consumers the access to this information is important, as at the moment you could sit down and choose what you think is a very healthy option, such as sushi or soup, when in fact you could end up ending very badly because the information isn’t there.
In the restaurants I have worked with I have found that the initiative of putting healthy options on menus has really helped their businesses, and that it has attracted a lot of interest from their customers. It can be just simply selecting a couple of healthier choices on the menu and highlighting those, or it can be creating a more detailed menu, including the fat and calorie count for example. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that customers are really there to enjoy themselves; eating out is a social occasion eating after all, and diners are there not primarily for their health. Though, this is about empowering people. It is not about suggesting that they should obsess about health when they are out enjoying themselves. This is simply about giving people access to information so that they can make an informed choice should they wish to.
The menu I created at Rustic Stone Restaurant with Dylan McGrath is based on using real food in a way that enhance and complement the dishes’ flavour and nutritional value. I am passionate about helping people enjoy great-tasting, healthy options at restaurants worldwide. I continue to work with Dylan on our Nutrition Ireland program. Together with our combined skills, and years of experience, we can analyse your business offering, planning your menus carefully to bring new and exciting dishes to your customers and a fresh new dimension to your business. All restaurants, from fast food outlets to fine dining establishments, are finding our program to be an unparalleled strategy for capitalising on one of the hottest consumer trends in the restaurant industry: the growing demand for healthy, tasty menu options and accurate nutrition information. Responding to this trend could give your restaurant that competitive edge in these recessionary times.
At many restaurants and food establishments nationwide, I highlight the nutritional content of the menu and provides a comprehensive nutritional analysis of each dish. Through my nutrition consultancy, I am at this stage an expert in helping chefs and restaurateurs identify key areas on the menu where dishes can be made more nutritious without compromising on flavour. I spend my time educating the staff in food establishments to understand the importance of healthy eating and provides restaurants with a range of nutrition services including nutrient analysis (calories, fat, sodium content etc.) and allergen identification. This advice encourages you to take control of your own health, through the food you eat and the way you live your life. It provides a clear understanding of the nutrient profile of the menu to inform consumer choice. This valuable information helps to facilitate a more healthy eating approach to menu selections.
I am passionate about helping people enjoy great-tasting, healthy options at restaurants worldwide. I currently work as an in house nutritional therapist at Rustic Stone, Saba, Saba To Go, Cornucopia and many food businesses nationwide. Saba restaurant has been my latest venture and now I can safely say that “Saba To Go” is the healthiest take away in Ireland, because I worked hands on with these guys and I know every ingredient that is put in to each and every dish.
At Cornucopia, I have crafted a range of cold pressed healthy juices without compromising on flavour. In 2014, I met Deirdre McCafferty the owner of Cornucopia Wholefood Restaurant, and together began to launch a range of healthy food products starting with the juices. We are now launching our healthy natural juices outside the well-being kitchens of Cornucopia. We have recently launched in Arnotts, The Butler’s Pantry, Kennedys, The Green Bench, The Good Food Store, Fallon & Bryne, and there are many more to come.
I am a passionate Nutrition practitioner, motivator, fitness coach and writer in Ireland’s leading restaurant, Rustic Stone on Georges Street, Dublin 2. I began my research in Nutrition and fitness back in 2003 as a result of my own medical conditions. After many years of trying everything, I finally changed my life dramatically through diet and lifestyle. Due to my own personal circumstances, I began studying nutrition from a very young age. I have been researching nutrition all my life searching for ways to ‘cure’ myself. Eventually, I now have learned to manage my circumstances through my diet and lifestyle. My passion in life is to pass this message on to as many people as I can. I have been practicing over the last five years and I have a huge success rate with my clients. I worked at Educogym for many years in fitness and weight loss while studying Nutrition. I am a nutrition practitioner with a passion for motivating my clients to lose weight and reach their nutrition goals. For more information visit www.erikadoolan.com.