By The Restaurant Dieter

Tag: National Restaurant Association (Page 1 of 2)

NRA show report: J&J Snack Foods a symbol of American obesity problem

J&J Snack Foods 24-ounce pretzel

The Restaurant Dieter saw a lot of contemptible food at the National Restaurant Association’s recent annual show at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

But no exhibitor earned this dieter’s contempt like J&J Snack Foods Corp. of Pennsauken, N.J did. Its large booth offered super-pretzel poppers filled with cheddar or cream cheese; funnel cakes; churros; burritos; cookies; fried pies and pizza sticks. Nutritionally bankrupt pretzels are its specialty.
More healthy food from J&J
Incredibly disgusting was a 24-ounce pretzel served with some kind of liquid cheese.
On the company’s website, a giant American flag waves emblazoned with the words, “stand strong,” and then a quote from President Gerald Shreiber that says, “Hardly a day goes by that I don’t look at this banner of freedom that flies outside our plants and feel both fortunate and proud to be a part of the American dream.”
Is he kidding? This is a nightmare. It’s disgusting that this company waves the flag of freedom while undermining its citizens so thoroughly. Ain’t America grand?
J&J makes the worst possible foods, the kind that are turning obesity into this nation’s most pressing problem. They focus on refined carbs, fat, salt and sugar. That addictive combination generated $55.1 million in net income on $744.1 revenues in fiscal 2011.
Like any conglomerate, of course, J&J also has a healthier food line aimed at the school food service market, where — fortunately — government regulation is there to protect kids. Those products were featured at a separate booth that was one of 14 in the Healthier Kids Fare area.
They included frozen juice cups and mini-fiber bars. But the kids brochure also concentrated on items like nutritionally bankrupt pretzels, churros and even funnel cakes. The brochure indicated that a funnel cake with 280 calories, 9 grams of fat and 1 gram of fiber was perfect for lunch and breakfast. Why the column marked “after school snack” was left unchecked is anyone’s guess.
If you own stock in this company — it’s been trading at about $54 a share recently — I can only hope you have enough moral rectitude to organize a shareholder revolt.

NRA show report: Bell Plantation’s PB2 is peanut butter, without the fat

Donnie Rice of Bell Plantation, rehydrating PB23 powder

Bell Plantation‘s PB2 was one of the more interesting products fighting for attention at The National Restaurant Association’s recent annual show at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

The four-year-old company based in Tifton, Ga., produces a line of peanut butter powder that can be re-hydrated and used like regular peanut butter, or stirred into recipes for a peanut taste without the fat. The powder is made by pressing roasted peanuts at very high pressure, removing most of the fat, said Donnie Rice, a spokesman.
Two tablespoons of reduced fat Jif is 190 calories with 12 grams of fat. Two tablespoons of PB2 powder is 45 calories and 1.5 grams fat. With a tablespoon of water, it re-hydrates to the consistency of peanut butter from a jar.

For a person on Weight Watchers, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter is 1 point on the Points Plus system. For the leader of my Weight Watchers group, this will be nothing short of a miracle. A peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich on low fat bread winds up a mere 5 points if made with PB2.

 At home this week, I tested a sample on toast. It had a true peanut flavor.

In a side-by-side test with a commercial peanut butter like Jif,  perhaps a tester like Annette Funicello might notice a difference. On a sandwich with jelly, I bet not even that choosy mother would suspect. The same goes for stirring it into a smoothie with a banana and some yogurt.

PB also is offering a powder called PB2 with Premium Chocolate. Two tablespoons of the powder are 45 calories and 1 gram fat. It seems perfect for PB-and-chocoholics.

Rice said that some chefs and caterers have adopted it to stir peanut butter flavor into “off the wall” recipes.

On the Bell Plantation website, a 1-pound bag of PB2 costs $4.60.

The company also produces a line of peanut butter crackers called PB Thins. A 22-gram serving is 100 calories and 4 grams fat.
Oh, and if you wondered what happened to the fat, Bell Plantation sells that too. A bottle of the roasted peanut oil goes for $3.30.

NRA show report: Manhattan Chili Co. shows how to dump the beef — and the fat

Bruce Sterman of Manhattan Chili Co.

Next time you’re in New York and need a healthy lunch, try a bowl at Manhattan Chili Co., a quick-service food counter in Grand Central Station. The restaurant offers at least two fairly healthful chilis.

A one-cup serving of Totally Vegetable has 160 calories, 1 gram of fat, 8 grams of fiber and 7 of protein. On the Weight Watchers Points Plus system, that’s 4 points.

A serving of the Red Lentil has 130 calories, .5 grams of fat, 6 of fiber and 5 of protein. It works out to 3 Weight Watchers points.

Some of the fiber comes from the fact that the chili is thickened with parsnip and butternut squash.

Both are pretty high in sodium, however with 690 mg and 720 mg respectively. The latter is about half the sodium a person over 50 should consume in an entire day.

“It is what it is,” said owner Bruce Sterman. “We are not a low-salt product.” He pleaded for understanding. In his 21 years of operating restaurants in Greenwich Village and Times Square, he said he’d tried to reduce the sodium. But the customers complained the chilis tasted too bland.

If New York isn’t on your travel schedule, Sterman says his products are sold in some Whole Foods stores.

NRA show report: Barilla, Mara’s Pasta show how pasta can be better for you

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.”

NRA show report: Chalk one up for the food service giant ConAgra

ConAgra’s Angela Mia no-salt tomato sauce

If the green, locavore, farm-to-table, organic crowd could have just one enemy, it would surely be the food giant, ConAgra Foods. The Omaha, Neb., food giant represents all that is wrong to them. The company’s Wikipedia page offers a  pretty good inventory of the issues.

ConAgra was, however, one of the winners of the National Restaurant Association innovation awards, cited at the annual show that recently concluded at Chicago’s McCormick place. The award was for its Angela Mia no-salt-added crushed tomatoes.

Cindy Bombacino, director of category marketing, said the company arrived at the product by querying its restaurant customers about reducing sodium content. They replied that too many other restaurants products have sodium. Better to get rid of it altogether, so that’s what ConAgra did.

As noted before, the sodium content in some meals is obscene. One Olive Garden lasagna entree has more than double the daily amount recommended for a person over 50.

I don’t know if that totally qualifies as innovation, but it’s at least something.

Post NRA breakfast: Back to normal

Let’s hope today gets The Restaurant Dieter back on track. After two grueling food days at The National Restaurant Association show in Chicago, I’m back in Atlanta. Breakfast today was a high-fiber English muffin, a poached egg and a slice of no-fat Swiss cheese.

Time for a shower and to scour the closet for the loosest trousers I own.

NRA Show Report: Silver Diner restaurant chain takes French fries off the kids menu


Ype von Hengst of Silver Diner
When a restaurant bills itself as “the next generation diner” and has a public relations agency, you know the folks behind it have ambitions.
But brush past what sounds like hype just long enough to meet Ype (pronounced Ee-pah) von Hengst, co-founder and chef of Silver Diner, a chain of 15 restaurants in the Washington D.C. area.
This is the man who took French fries off the kids menu. You heard that right.
“It’s our moral obligation to give these kids great food so we don’t have problems,” he told me recently at the National Restaurant Association trade show at Chicago’s McCormick Place.
Most of the children’s menu consists of items that meet the NRA’s Kids Live Well program. It requires a meal consisting of entree, side and beverage to have no more than 600 calories with less than 35 percent of the total coming from fat.
So a turkey, beef or bison slider comes with American cheese, but also a side of mixed vegetables.  fresh strawberries or a salad. The sides can be substituted for other healthy fare — edamame, brown rice or organic apple sauce.
Silver Diner will serve French fries if they are requested, but they do not appear on the menu.
Keeping fries on the down low isn’t the end if it. The dessert menu has items such as a shake made of pomegranate juice, banana, yogurt and wheat germ and a low-fat strawberry angel cake.
“This is so, so important,” he said. “Obesity is big in this country, and there’s no good reason for it.”

NRA Show Report: I feel sleepy and fat

Broasted? It looks fried to me

For two days now, The Restaurant Dieter has eaten like a typical American. At the National Restaurant Association annual show at McCormick Place in Chicago. I’ve sampled fried chicken fingers, Philly cheesesteaks, flatbread pizzas, meatballs, German soft pretzels, gelato, quinoa salad and one heckuva good little red velvet cupcake.

Pastries anyone?

Is it any wonder that I’m waiting in the Delta Sky Club and can barely keep my eyes open. I feel sluggish, bloated and incredibly fat. I want to take a nap.

An antidote might be the kind of nutritionally virtuous meals I try to eat, mostly at home where I can control the ingedients, the final result and the portion: Lots of lean proteins and vegetables, unrefined carbs like brown rice and quinoa. It’s amazing how quickly food that’s good for you can power up the body and make one feel better.

But I am stuck at O’Hare Airport, where the choices are the salty and sweet snacks that are free inside the Sky Club or the Chili’s by Gate F3.

Which brings me back to the show and all it says about eating out in the good old USA. It’s a mixed bag — but mostly depressing, really. President Bill Clinton gave the Sunday keynote address, lauding the industry for its effort to combat childhood obesity. It seems unlikely he toured the exhibit hall, however. The newly vegan and thinner Bill would have been appalled at what he saw.

More desserts

There were some encouraging signs. A section of the exhibit hall was devoted to organic and natural products, with gluten-free being all the rage. Beverage exhibitors offered more  fortified waters, juices and teas to balance the high fructose corn syrup products that have liability lawyers sniffing around Coke and Pepsi like they were the tobacco lobby.

One of the products winning an innovation award was a “no salt” tomato sauce from ConAgra, the giant food service company typically blamed for our obesity problem. Another was from two entrepreneurs who say they’ve managed to create a whole wheat pasta from a proprietary wheat that tastes more like white pasta.

But unhealthy food just plain overshadowed these efforts.

One section of the hall was labeled “Healthier Kids Fare,” but it had just 14 exhibitors. The only fresh vegetables were at the booths hawking knives and cutting equipment. The show comprised 1,800 exhibitors showing items such as dishwashing systems, menu boards, knives, dishes, smokers, fry machines (of course) and carry out containers.

In the next few weeks, I’ll continue to report on the show. Right now, I hear the Sky Club’s mustard pretzel mix calling.


NRA Show Report: Microcreamery Group’s machine worth wrecking your diet for

The Microcreamery Group showed off the Mixi, a vending machine that makes your flavor right on the spot in 1-cup servings. Choose from among six ice cream favors and your choice of mix-ins, and 45 seconds later, you have ice cream.

Its reps said it was being aimed at cages, colleges, rec areas and so on. This is either good news or bad news. Bad for me, because I ate the whole cup of chocolate chip and loved it.

NRA Show Report: This won an award for innovation!

These are something called Tempura Battered Extreme Beans. They are deep fried. They received an award from the National Restaurant Association for innovation.

They come from a company called Cavendish Farms, whose product line consists of…nearly everything deep fried you can imagine: breaded onion rings, tempura battered onion rings, tempura battered spicy onion petals, tempura battered scallops, breaded jalapeños with cream cheese, breaded jalapeños with cheddar cheese, battered mozzarella sticks, battered pickle chips, battered banana pepper rings, tempura battered mushrooms, tempura battered mixed vegetables.

It is considered innovation, apparently, to take another innocent fresh vegetable and stick in in a deep fryer. Coming soon to a ballpark, carnival or bar near you, I fear.

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