- Honestly, Dara -

A Culinary Trend-Watcher’s Guide to the New Year

A glimpse into the future of our food offers some delights — and despair — for health-focused diners.

illustration of woman in front of food options

My dad was a Wall Street research economist, so some portion of my childhood involved crawling under a table and trying to be quiet while he talked to reporters at public radio or the Wall Street Journal and told them whether the coming quarters would be up or down, and whether people ought to buy or sell.

Consequently, whenever I’m asked about food trends, I feel like I ought to be stroking my beard gravely while intoning, “Here at the firm, our research indicates the market for cauliflower will be bullish, while cupcakes are a bearish sell. Meanwhile, third-quarter projections for nachos remain murky. . . .”

Silly? Yes. And yet trends are a big part of human society. And at no time are trends in food more considered than in January, when half of us are making earnest food-related New Year’s resolutions, and the rest of us are pretending we never do anything of the sort. So, in the spirit of the season, I beg you to quietly crawl under a nearby table as I o er my predictions for the best and worst food trends of 2019.

The Top Five

These are the positive developments I predict we will see in American food this year, in no particular order.

1. Vegetables Move Forward

Americans have endured a roller coaster relationship with veggies over the years. First they were good for us, and our parents nagged us incessantly to eat them. Then they became nonentities, because grocery stores increasingly stocked their produce sections with hard pink tomatoes and other unappealing fare trucked in from thousands of miles away. Eventually, we began to view vegetables as little more than toppings on a pizza.

But now they’re back, baby! Bowls packed with vegetables have become a quick-serve favorite in the past few years, and they continue to claim more of our collective plates. Hooray! Keep it up, America. This is a trend worth supporting.

2. Omelet Bars Gain Esteem

Science continues to confirm that bad nutritional advice (i.e., avoid fats in favor of simple carbs) is the primary cause of America’s obesity crisis.

As more of us begin to understand the importance of healthy fats, I predict that omelet bars will become a more popular restaurant-brunch option (veggie-bowl restaurants are nice, but sometimes we need something more filling). Eggs, after all, are full of B vitamins, and an omelet filled with fresh salsa is delicious.

3. Supplements Continue Their Ascent

After my workout today, I enjoyed a protein shake with 16, or 22, or some crazy number of plant-derived vitamins. More and more of us have figured out that the obesity crisis has some part of malnourishment at its core, so naturally derived bioavailable nutrients will continue to make their way into our foods.

4. Home Cooking Rebounds in Popularity

In 2005 I was flattened with despair upon learning that Americans consumed a fifth of their meals in their cars. That isn’t healthy — or safe!

But home cooking has been on an upswing. These days, some 70 percent of Americans manage to cook at home at least four days a week. We needed to get out of our cars. Now if someone would only wipe all that old mayo off the steering wheel.

5. Chain Restaurants Keep Offering Healthier Fare

There was a time when rapidly prepared food meant deep-fryer food. Chipotle, Sweetgreen, Chopt, Tender Greens, and other brands have made not-too-processed food part of our culinary landscape again.

But there’s more to enjoy! A local Minnesota chain I love, Agra Culture, offers organic greens and cheeses, as well as affordable prebiotic sides, like asparagus and Broccolini, that help your essential micro flora thrive. It’s not just healthy: It’s healthy like you’d cook at home. More, please!

The Worst Five

What if these rosy predictions don’t pan out, and we go to a hot place in a handbasket instead? If that’s what happens in 2019, I think these will be some of the culprits.

1. Vegan Junk Food Rises

I’ve become increasingly concerned by the health halo crowning the word “vegan” and thus the growing perception of vegan corn dogs, vegan nachos, vegan cupcakes, vegan cheese doodles, and vegan soft-serve as healthy treats.

Folks, processed flour, sugar, and oils do not combine to make healthy food. Don’t make me sit you down and lecture you about the benefits of eating healthy fats: A study of 135,000 people published in The Lancet in 2017 showed that those who ate the least amount of saturated fat were the most likely to die from heart disease. It appears that fats have been unfairly maligned — and vegan cakes unfairly celebrated.

2. Celebrities Masquerade as Regular Folks

One of my bad habits is hate-reading celebrity eating stories — articles that seem to suggest that these people do their own cooking and shopping. Friends, here’s how celebrities practice those amazing clean-eating habits: A staff of paid professionals feeds them. If you are a woman beaten into submission by a celeb’s post-baby bikini pics, type the following into Google: “[Celeb’s name]’s chef.” Very soothing!

3. Restaurant Quality Declines

Of course, instead of getting better (see “Chain Restaurants Keep Offering Healthier Fare”), restaurants could get worse. The Center for Science in the Public Interest releases an annual report on the worst restaurant meals. And they really do seem to get worse every year: Chili’s took home a top prize in the current contest with its 2,500-calorie Honey-Chipotle Crispers & Waffles, a snack roughly equivalent to eating five Krispy Kreme doughnuts plus 30 McNuggets. Surely we can do better.

4. Cake Alternatives Abound

Being hopeful is good; being self delusional, not so much. We are often able to convince ourselves that a cake with a modifier — a vegan cake, an agave-nectar cake, a coconut-sugar cake, a date-sugar cake, a chèvre cheesecake, a date-and-zucchini cake — is not a cake. I hate to be a downer, but a cake is a cake is a cake, and by any name is not a healthy option.

5. Liquid Candy Tempts Consumers

And what if you want to drink turmeric, vinegar, green tea, or another of the buzzy trend beverages, but you really prefer a Coke? There’s now a whole world of very sweet beverages coming to a grocery store near you that pretend to be healthy but are actually just liquid candy, like all sodas.

If you really want to do something good for yourself in 2019, learn to love something that’s not a sugar drink, like mint tea, ginger tea, or hibiscus tea.

This will be another year in which you face difficult food decisions — and also easy ones. You’ll make some good choices, and perhaps a few that you’ll regret. Overall, it looks like the kind of year in which you’ll resolve to do better, and sometimes you will, and sometimes you won’t. Either way, I’ll meet you back here next time, and we’ll gure out how to get through this bearish, bullish world of nachos, cupcakes, and cauliflower together.

is a James Beard Award–winning food and wine writer.

Illustration by Paul Hostetler

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