Food fashions for 2011

As the year winds down, forecasters are in full swing predicting trends for 2011. That includes what we’ll be eating and food fashions for the new year.

If you like finding foods from local farmers on restaurant menus, you can rejoice because one of the top predictions is increased interest in locally sourced products, including produce, meats, seafood and dairy products.

According to an annual survey of chefs by the National Restaurant Association, a new term enters the sustainability scene, “hyper local,” referring to restaurants with their own gardens and beehives, as well as chefs who make their own cheeses and even do their own butchering from primal cuts.

Atlanta chefs are on the cutting edge of this trend with honey bees on the fifth-floor roof terrace at the Four Seasons Hotel and in the garden at Canoe Restaurant. Executive chef Robert Gerstenecker of the Four Seasons Park 75 restaurant has been so successful with his honey production that there’s more than enough to use on the menu. So he’s packaging his Fourteenth Street Wild Flower Honey for guests to take home in 16-ounce jars.

Lower fat, calories

As a dietitian, I’m thrilled to see that many emerging trends are focused on eating healthier foods. The restaurant association’s survey found that 21 percent of chefs recommended creating diet-conscious menu items, such as dishes lower in sodium, calories or fat.

Nineteen percent suggested adding more fresh produce options, and 17 percent advocate getting involved in school nutrition and children’s education efforts. Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the association’s research and knowledge group, says, “The top trends identified by these culinary professionals for 2011 are reflecting larger societal trends, underscoring that American diners are becoming more and more interested in what’s on their plate. Sustainability and nutrition are becoming key themes in our nation’s nearly 1 million restaurants.”

Meanwhile, expect to see the word “organic” a bit less next year. Projected trends from Independent Restaurateur include a decline in organics because farmers and growers have realized that growing organic produce is too costly due in part to regulations for defining and achieving organic status.

More predictions

Less becomes more. Restaurants are beginning to see more requests for smaller portions.

Better nutrition on kids’ menus. Chicken fingers aren’t going away but they’re being paired with more fruit and vegetables and fewer french fries.

It seems that if parents know their kids are eating well, they don’t mind paying for it.

Pies are the new cupcakes. Expect to see more pie shops, including sweet, savory and bite-size pies according to Nation’s Restaurant News. Pies made with seasonal fresh fruit such as peaches in summer and apples in the fall can offer significant nutritional benefits, including vitamins, minerals and fiber. Avoid syrupy fruit fillings.

Popsicles. Think outside the ice box with flavors such as sugar-snap pea and pear-ginger. Dining trends identified by international restaurant consultants Joseph Baum and Michael Whiteman include upscale popsicles with exotic flavors. These dairy free, usually not over sweetened, frozen treats are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth and appetite for taste adventure with relatively few calories.

Southern exposure. It’s interesting to note that Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Baum and Whiteman list grits as the new hot grain. They say, “Expect grits to leap from morning food to an all-purpose starch. It’s part of another trendlet: down-home Southern cooking.” They go on to predict that shrimp and grits could be the dish of the year. I thought it was always dish of the year! And the recipe website predicts sweet potatoes will hit it big and be crowned vegetable of 2011 because of a bumper crop of the orange tuber, more prominence on restaurant menus beyond fried and its impressive nutritional profile. If we get the word out on their great taste and good nutrition, collard greens may win in 2012.

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolynoneil .com.