Caranfa says it is important when discussing portion control “that you get a lot of trips to mouth. If you get one cookie for 200 calories, it’s OK, but if there are three smaller cookies that give you the same calorie count, that’s better. The three cookies take longer to eat, so you feel you are getting more for your money.”
Many other quick-service restaurants have had success with low-calorie, tasty desserts.
McDonald’s extensive dessert menu includes a 3.2-ounce vanilla, reduced-fat ice cream cone that has 150 calories and just 3.5 grams of total fat, providing 10 percent of daily calcium requirements. Choose a milkshake or hot fudge sundae, however, and those calorie and fat numbers, even with low-fat ice cream, grow substantially.
The chain also has 7-ounce fruit and yogurt parfaits and apple dippers with caramel dip, both of which contain even fewer calories and fat than the cone.
Cinnamon Twists are the sole dessert option at Taco Bell, and the puffed corn twists have 170 calories with 7 grams of fat. Subway has yogurt as well as apple slices, both with less than 100 calories and no fat, while Sonic Drive-Ins have bananas or apple slices with caramel dip, both with slightly more than 100 calories.
But being low in calories doesn’t necessarily equate to being the most healthful. Depending how a food item is processed, nutrients can be reduced while additives are increased.
“There’s been a lot more food engineering out there during the last few years, sometimes naturally and sometimes not,” says Dino Lambridis, one of the founders of EVOS, a Tampa, Florida–based fast-casual chain that has units in four states.
There has been controversy about the benefits and possible health risks of food additives, which include artificial stabilizers and flavor enhancers.
EVOS focuses on serving healthier food, Lambridis says, and he points to the chain’s milkshakes as a case in point. The restaurants use natural, organic ingredients, including 2 percent milk that contains no hormones or antibiotics, to create 16-ounce shakes that have anywhere from 140 to 230 calories and zero to 2.5 grams of fat.
The regular mango guava shake has no cholesterol, sodium, or fat.
For EVOS, healthful doesn’t necessarily mean low-calorie all the time. The chain’s all-natural chocolate chip and oatmeal cranberry raisin cookies use no artificial ingredients and not even high fructose corn syrup. But they do carry a heftier calorie count.
Lambridis says creating healthier food doesn’t require any special equipment, but it often can mean acquiring better ingredients, which could cost more.
Developing healthful desserts is not difficult from a culinary standpoint, either. Hans Rouillard, a California chef who has worked in both the Disney and Hyatt organizations, says all that’s needed is a little creativity and the ability to make small modifications, such as the baking time in pies or other pastries that use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar.
The problem, he says, is getting customers to try them.
“People inclined to have dessert seem to have a penchant for less-healthy options,” he says. “With dessert being such a small part of the overall menu (8 percent in limited service, according to Technomic), you have to consider the value of making it healthy.”
One company that has focused on providing healthful, nutritious desserts for years is TCBY, the frozen yogurt chain that has more than 400 units in about 20 countries.