Criterion number one: Fresh Food, Prepared from Scratch. The first spoon a restaurant or food service establishment can earn is “serves mostly fresh food, prepared from scratch.”
There are three parts to this criterion that are important: the type of food, the amount of that type of food, and how the food is prepared. And there are two things we are most concerned about when food is NOT fresh…the lack of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, and the possibility of the presence of toxins.
The type of food we are concerned with is “fresh” food. That means vegetables, fruits, and herbs will be fresh, as in fresh from the farmer, fresh from the field, fresh from the producer. This is food that comes from the source. Meats, fish, and poultry will be fresh. Food/ingredients will not have come to the establishment preserved in some way, such as frozen, dehydrated, canned, or pasteurized. It will not have a label with a list of ingredients. The food, or ingredient, is just itself.
More than half of the food on the menu must have started as this fresh food. That’s how we define “mostly” for our purposes: more than half, greater than fifty percent.
This fresh food must be prepared “from scratch”. That means prepared in the kitchen in that restaurant or food service establishment, the old fashioned way. The food did not come half prepared, or in a kit, or pre-seasoned. Every step of the food preparation is done from start to finish on site.
All of this is important because real food, fresh food, has not been adulterated in any way. The fresher the food, the more vital that food will be, and thus the better for our bodies. Also, if it is served raw, as in a salad or used to adorn a dish, that ingredient will retain its healthful benefits, such as live enzymes and nutrients. There will not be preservatives to be concerned about, either.
You should be able to get a sense of the amount of fresh food that is brought in to the establishment as you peruse the menu, looking at the number of salad dishes they offer, and the number of vegetable appetizers and side dishes. Typically, most restaurants will bring in fresh vegetables for salads and perhaps fresh fruits for desserts, but they will use frozen or canned vegetables as a short cut. The bigger the restaurant, or more isolated, the more likely this is to be the case. Not only will canned foods be lacking in live enzymes and nutrients, and have denatured proteins , but they may also be high in sugar or high fructose corn syrup (if canned in syrup) or high in salt or citric acid. Also, where a restaurant is located will determine what fresh vegetables are available, how much, and for how much of the year (growing season).
Many “farm-to-table” restaurants will bring in fresh vegetables and fruits for all their needs, including side dishes and appetizers, and salads or crudites. They may even acknowledge the farms or CSAs they feature in the restaurant or food service operation on their menu and marketing materials.
Bottled lemon juice (pasteurized and preserved), canned salmon or fish, frozen fish or meat are some of the things to look out for. The dessert menu is usually a minefield of pre-made ingredients. Many restaurants are purchasing desserts such as cakes and pies from an outside producer. Often the ingredient lists of these items number more than 60 ingredients, (definitely NOT from scratch)!
Some easy questions to ask when ordering:
Are the vegetables fresh?
Do you use any frozen or canned vegetables in your restaurant? Or: Could you point me to the freshest foods you offer?
Did the fish come in fresh or frozen? From where? (Don’t want farmed fish)
Do you make everything from scratch here? If not, which dishes are made from scratch?
Are your desserts made from scratch?