HOCKESSIN, Del. — A lack of produce in restaurant meals presents one of the biggest barriers to encouraging families to eat more fruits and vegetables, according to a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. moms. But, they also say that it is getting easier to eat healthy at restaurants — including fast-food restaurants.
Twenty-five percent of moms said that it was easy to eat fruit, and 17% said it was easy to eat vegetables at fast-food restaurants this year, according to the customized survey, conducted by OnResearch, on behalf of the Produce for Better Health Foundation here. These responses were considerably better than those received in 2008, when 19% of moms said it was easy to find fruit and 8% said it was easy to find vegetables in fast-food restaurants.
Thirty-seven percent of moms also said that it is generally easy to get their families to eat fruit at restaurants, compared with 29% in 2008. Forty-three percent of respondents said it was easy to get their families to eat vegetables at restaurants, which was down from 45% in 2008.
These responses indicate that new, better-for-you items such as salads and fresh-cut fruit are drawing attention when they show up on fast-food menus. However, despite these perceived increases in availability, the U.S. restaurant industry still has a long way to go in terms of boosting produce consumption. Only 8.8% of all menu items include fruit, and only 3% of U.S. fruit consumption comes from restaurants, according to data provided by Datassentials MenuTrends Direct research. Similarly, only 44.8% of all menu items include at least one vegetable — excluding chips and fries — and only 15% of all U.S. vegetable consumption occurs in restaurants. So, on average, only 11% of U.S. produce consumption happens in restaurants — about 72 cups per person per year.
“About 20% of all meals are [purchased from restaurants], so ideally, we'd like to see 20% of all fruits and vegetables consumed when people are eating out as well,” Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive officer of PBH, told SN.
Pivonka added that the salads, sliced apple snacks and fruit cups offered by major fast-food chains are making a difference.
“That really is why moms are saying it's easier to find fruits and vegetables at fast-food restaurants,” she said.
And, these produce-based menu items help serve as positive reinforcement for parents, teaching kids that they should regularly expect to see fruits and vegetables on their plate, whether it's at home or at McDonald's. This can help change shopping habits at retail, Pivonka said.
“It can positively influence how they shop,” she noted. “Children learn to eat healthy fruits and vegetables, and they begin to expect it. Moms don't have to fight it when they buy fruits and vegetables [at the supermarket] and serve them at home.”