Healthy eating is hot.
Dietary fiber will be the little black dress in Food World 2005. Desperate housewives seeking solace from the disappointment of a low-carb lifestyle will rediscover the benefits of roughage, including lower cholesterol and more "regularity." And packaged food purveyors will be happy to accommodate, touting added fiber at every opportunity. There's even a new form of fiber-rich whole wheat flour that's ground fine enough to taste like white flour.
2. Drive-By Dining
It's official: we no longer have enough time for a relaxing meal at our desks. If current trends continue, we'll be eating the majority of our meals behind the wheel. Fast-food chains have been quick to tout cup-holder cuisine for lunch and dinner. The whole concept got a big breakfast-time boost with the roaring success of McDonald's "McGriddle" sandwiches. Expect more of the same in 2005.
Combine plain old food with a pharmaceutical pitch and you get phood: comestibles with health benefits. Breakfast cereals and margarines tout their ability to reduce your risk of heart disease. Baked goods are fortified with folate to reduce the risk of birth defects. There's even a brand of chocolate packed with natural cancer-fighting flavonoids. Watch for more phoods in 2005.
4. White Tea
Green tea has gotten the spotlight recently thanks to its antioxidants, natural chemicals thought to inhibit cancer. White tea, made by steaming, then drying the leaves and buds of tea plants, has a higher level of these promising compounds. White tea also carries a higher price tag than green or black tea. Regardless, expect to hear more about white tea in 2005.
5. Local vs. Long-Distance
For some folks, organic isn't enough. Their food also has to be grown next door. Proponents of locally produced foods say the practice ensures fresh, wholesome food. Instead of woody "shipper-friendly" tomatoes, you get the juicy kind (but only in-season, of course). Local production also reduce the energy expended in shipping and supports local jobs. Watch for local growers in 2005 who will offer you a full season of produce on a subscription basis.
6. Let Someone Else Do the Cooking
HRM -- Home Meal Replacement -- has been gathering steam for some time now. Pizza joints have eliminated their dining rooms in favor of delivery and carry-out. And grocery stores now stock huge buffets of hot and cold fare that's designed to pack up and bring home. In 2005, watch the "fast casual" chains -- think Applebee's -- launch curbside catering programs that let you call ahead and pick up your meal in dedicated parking spaces.
7. Gender Vending
Men and women are different, so why should their foods be the same? That's the philosophy behind a nascent trend in the food industry: products marketed to one sex. Vitamin and supplement makers have long touted products to ease menopause symptoms or improve prostate health. Now products like "Harmony" cereal and "Nutrition for Women" oatmeal are being aimed squarely at women. So far, the main "food" being marketed to men seems to be beer. But expect more gender-vending products as food makers battle for increasingly crowded grocery store shelves.
In prehistoric times, cave dwellers divided into two camps: carnivores and vegetarians. Today, these mutually exclusive clubs are being bridged by "flexitarians": (mostly) former vegetarians who find they still crave fur-, fin-, or feather-based protein. Although primarily herbivores, flexitarians may nosh on small amounts of poultry or fish. Meat-heavy restaurants that offer "veggie" options on their menus are really going after the flexitarians, say trend mavens, catering to folk who might want to go vegetarian a few times a week.
Seitan (say-tahn) is the new tofu. This wheat-based, high-protein food has been around for ages, but its natural chewy texture makes it an easy replacement for meat in many dishes. Although you can make seitan from scratch, most home cooks will want to purchase it ready made. White Wave is one brand that makes seitan in various flavors and shapes for easy recipe substitution.
10. Just a Taste, Thank You
Restaurants on the coasts have been offering bite-size portions for a while now. Expect the small-plate trend to make inroads to the heartland in 2005. Whether you call it a tasting menu, appetizer party, dim sum, or tapas -- the opportunity to enjoy a little bit of a wide variety of foods is another example of the hunger for more adventurous dining-out experiences.