Street food, ‘approachability’ among 2012 menu trends

This year’s hot menu trends run the gamut from healthy to indulgent and comforting to kind of crazy, according to a presentation by Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based food industry consultancy Technomic, during the Protein Innovation Summit hosted by HOTELS Magazine along with sister publications Meatingplace and Plate.

Given the focus of the event, Tristano highlighted seven 2012 menu trends centered on proteins:

1. Chef-driven street food

Tristano noted that the rise of food trucks and carts, at least in the United States, has spurred street food offerings that are authentic, portable and affordable.

2. Focus on approachability

Tristano explained an increasing number of restaurants are using higher-quality ingredients and simplifying dishes’ preparations in addition to offering healthier choices and cleaner menu labels.

3. Jazzed-up comfort foods

Pizza and burgers are sporting more sophisticated toppings, and even macaroni and cheese now often includes gourmet ingredients, according to Tristano.

4. Protein trucks

Related to the street food trend is the growing prominence of proteins on food trucks, with barbecue, “better” burgers and even chicken wings taking center stage, Tristano said.

5. Kids eating better

Chefs are crafting menus with more grilled and baked choices for children, Tristano explained, and fresh fruits and vegetables are at the forefront of many offerings.

6. Adults eating better, too

Parents are more focused on trying to set healthy examples for their kids, Tristano noted.

7. Porky innovation

Tristano closed with a quirky trend: the appearance of pork products in desserts and even beverages, with examples including carnivorous cocktails and bacon milkshakes.