In the culinary world, just like in any other industry, buzzwords rise up. Sometimes, they’re part of a fad that will quickly come and go. Other times, they’re part of an ongoing trend—and we firmly believe that the notion of functional foods in restaurant dishes and menus is here to stay.

On The Chef’s Garden blog, we recently took an in-depth look at the functional food definition. At a high level, they’re foods that can have a positive effect on someone’s health, going beyond the most basic levels of nutrition. Functional foods, then, are ones that help to promote good health while perhaps also helping to prevent disease.

As the Mayo Clinic notes, there really are two different definitions of functional foods—or at least two types of this kind of food. Here’s how we summarizes those two types on the farm blog.

  1. This food goes beyond providing basic nutrition because of what it contains. For example, oatmeal is considered a functional food because its soluble fiber can help to lower cholesterol—a benefit that goes beyond the sheer nutritional value of this food.
  2. The food was fortified in a way to add to its health benefits. The example they give is orange juice that’s been calcium-fortified for better bone health.

So, if you’re already using fresh ingredients in your dishes and menus that are of high quality, then there’s a good chance that those ingredients qualify as functional foods. If so, the question then becomes how to share that messaging with your diners.

Marketing Functional Foods

An article by the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts shares how the nutritional value in the food you serve is more important now than it’s ever been. In fact, their online culinary arts program includes coursework that teaches how an emphasis on food function contributes to the overall value of cuisine.

From a marketing perspective, they note that the specifics of how you brand food functionality can vary, based upon your restaurant’s menus, goals, and types of diners. “But,” the article adds, “it’s worth keeping in mind as people become more proactive about their health.”

You might decide, for example, to call out nutritional benefits on your menus themselves, printed next to relevant dishes. Or, if menu space is limited—or you don’t distribute menus to diners—then you can teach servers what information might be important to share when a diner is provided with a certain dish. Optimally, if you provide diners with menus, you can include snippets of nutritional information in the menus themselves and also train servers to be able to expand upon that information according to diner request.

By providing this info, you can “help patrons factor the function of your food into their selection process.”

In an article written by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute for FSR Magazine, they note how a “nutritious meal is interpreted differently from individual to individual.” So, a general comment that a certain dish is “healthy” may not be enough for discerning diners. They cite a study that shows how health priorities for someone can include:

  • Weight
  • Heart health
  • Digestive health
  • Food purity
  • Nutrient density

The article also quotes a chef who believes that the average diner’s level of awareness will continue to “become more acute,” with people “demanding knowledge about how their food was raised or caught, handled, and how it may potentially affect their bodies.” The chef then adds a pithy comment that we agree with, 100%: “It’s,” she says, “about time.”

Food as Medicine Trend

The functional food trend is closely related to another trend: that of food as medicine. We delved into the food as medicine movement with a panel of experts at Roots 2018—or, as we like to call it, of healing yourself, one bite at a time.

An article published at also shares intriguing perspectives from experienced professionals, noting how food as medicine was once “relegated to ‘alternative’ therapies and Eastern medicine,” but now it’s more frequently recommended by Western doctors and dieticians.

They quoted Chef David Bouley who deeply researched how people can be healed through what they eat. And friends of his who also researched the subject would share with him how our food was currently being engineered to feed more people—meaning, for bigger yields—but this food is increasingly more difficult to digest.

The article also quotes Dr. James S. Gordon, a Harvard-educated professor of psychiatry and family medicine at Georgetown University Medical School. Dr. Gordon was also a former chair of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy.

Dr. Gordon notes how starchy, sugary foods enjoyed in Western countries are counterintuitive when using food to heal. He recommends foods like mushrooms; cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli; fruits, especially blueberries; beans, legumes, fermented foods and so forth—as well as seafood, eggs, and small quantities of grass-fed meat.

In other words, functional foods.

Food as medicine is, overall, “pretty simple for the general population,” another expert explains. And, that involves stepping back from processed foods to eat whole foods.

What Functional Foods Don’t Contain

When deciding how to explain your healthy ingredient selections to diners, consider also explaining what’s not in your dishes and menus. If you select fresh, whole ingredients, for example, you can share that—but, because those terms can get over-used, you might also encourage your servers to share what’s not in them: chemicals and additives, for example, that can make digestion more difficult while adding toxins to the body.

Here are a couple of resources we’ve put together that share Chef Jamie Simpson’s thoughts and insights into the importance of sourcing quality ingredients:

Visiting the Culinary Vegetable Institute: A Chef’s Playground

If you’re looking to develop a new menu for your restaurant or hotel, then the Culinary Vegetable Institute is the ideal place for that process. Visiting chefs can use our facilities and gardens, stroll through the fields of The Chef’s Garden, where all is regeneratively farmed—and then experiment, taste and cook the ingredients they discovered during their personal journey through the lush fields and greenhouses of The Chef’s Garden.

To set a date and plan your chef getaway, please call us at 419-499-7500 or contact us online.