Plant-Based Tuna

Pokeworks’ Cofounder on Navigating the Challenge of Healthy Menus

In the ever-evolving culinary landscape, diners demand more than just taste—they want it all. The surge in health consciousness has prompted a quest for flavorful yet healthy menu options. With “plant-forward eating and drinking” being one of the top trends to watch in 2024, the paradigm shift toward more nutritious menus over the past few decades is more significant than ever.

The challenge lies in meeting this demand and maintaining the richness of flavors that diners and chefs hold dear. Sourcing and affordability can also become obstacles, presenting unique challenges that restaurants must meet to satisfy customers who “want it all.”

Digging deeper, it is essential to consider how restaurants are catering to the increasing demand for healthier choices, ensuring that these options are still delicious, using sustainable and quality ingredients, and managing the growing demand from various demographics.

Satisfying the demand for plant-based options

As the demand for plant-based dishes, especially in proteins, continues to soar, restaurants find themselves at a crossroads. While restaurants that serve chicken and beef have options like Impossible and Beyond, others that focus on salads, poke or other main ingredients have fewer alternatives to choose from.

Finding these alternative products means identifying products that have both flavor and similarities to the “real thing,” as well as meticulous research, sampling, and testing. The emphasis on flavor is paramount, and maintaining a delicate balance between taste and health becomes the top priority. Test kitchens and focused-market testing emerge as crucial, first steps in this process for restaurants committed to the cause.

Early results have been promising for many restaurants. Although finding an exact taste-alike proves challenging, the relentless pursuit of flavor ensures a satisfying dining experience for health-conscious patrons.

Creating healthy offerings without sacrificing flavor

Culinary professionals embarking on the journey to crafting healthier options need to ask themselves three key questions:

  • Does it taste good?
  • Does it resemble the original product?
  • What is the nutritional value? (Does it align to its counterpart?)

Of course, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that the flavors are appealing. Test kitchens can add their own in-house spices, sauces, and other ingredients to create new, craveworthy dishes.

Visual appeal is equally vital. As the old saying goes, “We eat with our eyes first.” Chefs cannot simply put out a dish that promises to be a suitable substitute—they must strike the right balance between resemblance to the original product and alternative ingredients’ color and texture. Identifying the perfect blend of ingredients becomes imperative to meet the evolving expectations of today’s “choosy” diners.

Sourcing fresh, high-quality alternative ingredients

In addition to flavor and appearance, having a source that delivers products with quality, freshness and nutritional value is paramount. Guests who choose a restaurant with a reputation for being health-focused have specific expectations, and any alternative ingredients need to mirror the nutritional benefits of the original.

Involving the public in tests and focus groups—preferably in different regions—is invaluable. Constructive criticism and feedback from the local vegan community, for instance, provide insights that contribute to refining dishes. By actively involving the diners they aim to attract, restaurants can create loyal customers who appreciate their commitment to meet evolving health needs and deliver what they want.

The importance of health-centric options for specific demographics

While the desire for healthier menu options is widespread, certain demographics — particularly Generation Z and Millennials — spearhead the demand for plant-based options. Growing up in a health-aware era, these demographics prioritize plant-based ingredients.

While not every dish needs to be plant-based, younger diners are much more familiar with popular diets like gluten-free and keto. Restaurants that embrace these diet-friendly items, or even full menus, may find it easier to adopt alternative ingredients that align with younger diners’ preferences.

Meeting the escalating need for health-focused options requires effort, research, and adaptation. For restaurants dedicated to this cause, the payoff is not only in enticing guests to sample new or updated dishes but also in cultivating a clientele that returns for more. In the balancing act between taste and health, those who offer a culinary experience that satisfies both palate and conscience become the winners.


Mike Wu is a co-founder and head of culinary at Pokeworks, one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing poke brands. Having previously served as Pokeworks’ CEO, he focuses on menu ideation and cultivation in his current role. Wu is a serial entrepreneur and a second-generation restaurateur.


Read the article here: www.qsrmagazine.com/story/pokeworks-cofounder-on-navigating-the-challenge-of-healthy-menus