Healthy casual food trends ahead

With the much-hyped Mayan calendar “end of the world” approaching this week, it’s reassuring to know that there are folks who remain optimistic that our time on Earth will continue by providing a glimpse into the future of food trends for 2013.

Chefs, food purveyors, culinary magazines, nutrition experts and restaurant business consultants have begun to release their predictions of what will be hot in the coming year.

Year of the vegetable

Technomic, a food-service research firm, lists menu momentum in the vegetable category as No. 1 on its list of 2013 restaurant trend predictions as more diners discover meatless meals and chefs continue to cook up innovative salads and creative veggie side dishes.

Kale may have been the queen of greens in 2012, but it looks like a wider assortment of greens will be in the spotlight on next year’s menus. Baum & Whiteman, international food and restaurant consultants, predict beet greens, chard and turnip greens will be more popular.

Registered dietitian Janet Helm, who writes the blog Nutrition Unplugged, says, “Hallelujah, vegetables will finally get their star turn. Veggies are moving to the center of the plate and are being prepared in tons of innovative ways. Lots of restaurants are gaining acclaim for their newfangled vegetable plates.”

Vegetables are even showing up on dessert menus. Sure, we’ve always had carrot cake, but Food Technology magazine notes that corn, cucumber, celery, beets and eggplant are adding substance to sweets. For instance, the creamy texture of avocado is showing up in ice cream and mousse and adding healthy fats to the dessert course.

Farm to table

The locally grown trend moves even closer to home with what Helm identifies as “hyper local sourcing” as more restaurant chefs tend their own gardens. Ecco’s rooftop garden is staying on trend. The Midtown restaurant recently installed eight new Farmer D custom-built cedar beds and a new irrigation system.

As the country moves to the city, Andrew Freeman and Company predicts that “eco-urban chic” will embrace the animal kingdom, too. Don’t be surprised if you hear some clucking while walking the Chattahoochee River side grounds at Canoe. Executive chef Carvel Gould, one of the first to plant substantial herb and vegetable gardens on property, looks after a cute flock of chickens, too.

Casual cuisine

As we dine out more, we want less formality. White tablecloths are giving way to food presented on wooden cutting boards and tag-sale mismatched china, according to Andrew Freeman and Company.

The W Hotel in Buckhead recently remodeled and renamed its restaurant Cook Hall, billed as a bar-centric gathering place. Chef David Gross serves up shareable gastropub fare such as small plates, sliders, cheese and charcuterie plates, locally sourced salads and tacos. Apparently more folks would rather nosh on crispy duck tacos with chipotle coleslaw than order a fancy big meal of duckling a l’orange.

But the cocktails are getting fancier. Expect more hand-crafted concoctions created by professional mixologists in the year ahead. Cheers!

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Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” Email her at