Americans are starting to move food trends in the right direction. Dominated by the growing purchasing power of millennials, consumers are opting for less processed, more "natural," clean, local, fresh, and organic ingredients.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I'm excited to see Americans making healthier choices. Here are eight popular food trends right now that I can get behind:
1. We're making "grains" out of fruits and veggies.
Since eating fresh is a priority to many, fruits and veggies are getting the star treatment and being utilized in novel, creative ways.
These days, it's trendy to use produce as the "grain." This trend offers countless health benefits such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. For example, instead of just cooking traditional pasta made from grains, many are utilizing spiralizers to make delicious "pasta" from veggies like squash, carrots, and broccoli. You can even use spiralized veggie noodles in soups. Veggies can also be turned into "rice": Cauliflower rice is a great alternative and decreases potential arsenic exposure, especially in young kids.
Another new way to use veggies? For toast, replace bread with sweet potatoes, which increases vitamin A and C consumption. For sandwiches, consider swapping out bread for bell peppers.
2. Pulses are popular again.
Did you know the UN declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses? Pulses include beans, peas, and lentils. They are rich in antioxidants and may offer anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, they're low in fat and provide heart-healthy plant-based protein, fiber, and minerals such as iron. Due to their fiber, they keep your tummy full and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Pulses are also inexpensive, environmentally friendly, versatile, and can be easily incorporated into many dishes.
To add more pulses to your meals, try cooking pasta made from beans or lentils instead. And to cut down on fat and calories, exchange black beans for beef in meatballs. You can add beans to salads, soups, stews, and even desserts like brownies. Hummus, which is traditionally made from chickpeas, can be made from other pulses as well. When cooking pulses, be creative and experiment with different ingredients and fun flavors.
3. We're using all the parts of a fruit or vegetable.
To cut down on waste, more people are now incorporating the whole fruit and vegetable into meals, including the roots, stems, and leaves. Have you tried beet leaves, sweet potato leaves, or celery root? Beet or sweet potato leaves are tasty sautéed, and celery root enhances flavors in soups and stews and is a great substitute for mashed potatoes.
You can even try starting a trend yourself by introducing a fruit or veggie in a novel way!
4. Old-school recipes are getting an upgrade.
You may have noticed that more people are willing to get creative and try out different fruits and veggies, like Brussels sprouts in slaws instead of the traditional cabbage.
Plus, slaw is not just a side dish anymore — it's being added to many sandwiches, burgers, and tacos. Try spiralizing daikon radish or fruits like pear, melon, or green papaya to vary your slaw.
5. We're incorporating ethnic, healing spices.
Spices add wonderful flavors, aromatics, and color while also offering potential health benefits. Consumers are embracing foods and spices from various multicultural backgrounds and want to experience flavors from around the world. According to the National Restaurant Association, the top five ethnic flavor trends right now are African, Latin American, Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, and Mediterranean. South African peri-peri sauce, anyone? Chefs are also combining cross-cultural ethnic flavors into unique fusions such as Japanese Italian dishes.
Turmeric, a spice commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, is now one of the top searched words according to Google's Food Trends report. Turmeric has potential antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects. If you haven't jumped onto this trend yet, add turmeric to soups, stews, egg dishes like shakshuka, sautéed veggies like cauliflowers, and kebabs.
6. Healthy, one-bowl meals are everywhere.
Colorful, balanced one-bowl meals are very popular these days — think quinoa bowls for breakfast and taco and poke bowls for lunch and dinner. It's easier to blend all the flavors and to enjoy every ingredient in each bite. Plus, these bowls can be tailored to individual preferences.
In a similar vein, slow-cooking and one-pot meals like soups help create a healthy bowl at home. Make sure you include all the food groups: fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins.
7. Meal kits are helping more Americans cook at home.
Because consumers want to cook more at home and are looking for healthy, fast, easy dishes without shopping and extensive prep, meal delivery kits are booming. There's a large range of options catering to different lifestyle and health needs, from family plans and vegetarian to locally sourced, organic and gluten-free.
Studies show that cooking at home increases the overall diet quality, especially among children who participate in preparing meals. Involving kids in meal preparation provides an opportunity to teach them lifelong healthy eating habits and may increase veggie preferences and veggie consumption.
8. We're steering clear of added sugar.
The new dietary guidelines recommend restricting added sugar to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. Statistics confirm that consumers are following the trend and soda use has declined while water use has increased!
In response to the shunning of sugar, manufacturers are introducing savory products such as yogurts with vegetables (think beet, carrot, and parsnip flavors). You can try adding veggies such as radishes, peppers, or cucumbers, and herbs like dill to plain yogurt and create your own yummy savory yogurt at home.