Brendan McEntee of Mara’s Pasta

The Restaurant Dieter has a friend who’s been a restaurant critic for several major newspapers. He’s a trained chef who’s traveled widely and sampled all kind of exotic fare. One of his daughters was equally adventurous when it came to food. The other was not.

Like a lot of little kids, all her preferred food groups had one thing in common: They were white. Rice, refined pasta, potatoes, sandwich bread. Like a lot of people, she probably wouldn’t touch wheat or whole grain pasta.

Growing up in an Italian American household, plain old semolina pasta was a staple. We had it nearly every Sunday, and I’d never seen a noodle that wasn’t white. But in recent years, I’ve turned to whole wheat and whole grain pastas.

It’s particularly great to see that more restaurants are discovering that pasta doesn’t have to be the enemy anymore.

That was the message from pasta purveyors both large and small at the National Restaurant Association’s annual trade show at Chicago’s McCormick place. At the large Barilla booth, employees held a taste test showing off Barilla Whole Grain and Barilla Plus offerings.

Felicia Pierce, food service manager/brand, explained that more restaurants are integrating these products into their menus. They already have wider acceptance in schools, where school lunch guidelines necessitate better-for-you pasta.

In a 2-ounce serving Barilla’s regular pasta has 2 grams of fiber, 7 of protein and 42 carbohydrates per serving. But Barilla Plus offers 4 grams of fiber, 10 of protein and 38 carbohydrates. And Barilla Whole Grain has 6 grams of fiber, 7 of protein and 41 carbohydrates in a serving.

More intriguing was a pasta that won one of the NRA innovation awards from Mara’s Pasta of Oakland, Calif. A 2-ounce serving has 7 grams fiber, 8 of protein and 40 carbohydrates.

Brendan McEntee, president and CEO, explained that his company cultivated a proprietary wheat in Montana and North Dakota. He said he’d had 30 years in the speciality flour and grain industry before he started the company. He named the product for his daughter, whose preference for refined pastas always bothered him. But his pasta, he said, “has a nice, pleasant nutty flavor that kids love.”