Stealth Health at the Drive-Thru

In a recent post, I mocked a story from Nation’s Restaurant News which suggested that fast-food chains are pushing healthy options on unwilling consumers. But looks like this possibility is no joke: An article in the trade mag QSR advises “quickservice” chains to start sneaking fruits and veggies into foods that would otherwise be nutritional ciphers (turning the concept of “mystery meat” on its head). As writer Marc Halperin explains:

It’s a concept known as stealth health, and it’s what would happen if a quick-serve began introducing, say, some dried mushrooms into its beef patties, some whole-grain flour to the batters with which it coats fried menu items, or even some finely ground vegetables to its chicken tenders. None of these additions would likely alienate loyal customers; indeed, it’s entirely possible that guests would respond positively to the more complex flavors. Mushrooms, for example, lend a touch of umami—often known as the fifth taste—to menu items they adorn.

Halperin hastens to add that “more overt tactics for offering fruits and vegetables in quick-serve settings” shouldn’t be abandoned: He suggests that fast-food joints also try using their existing kitchen equipment to make tempura-battered and grilled vegetables, chickpea fries, and spinach-laden egg sandwiches.

In theory, it would be great if people had these nutritious options at their drive-thru windows—but how good could a Burger King version of, say, tempura broccoli really be? I could imagine this kind of thing putting vegetable-skeptics off greens for good. As for stealth health, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea from a nutritional or flavor standpoint, but what’s in it for the restaurants if nobody knows about the wholesome additions? To get good PR out of the deal, a chain would of course have to publicize the changes.

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