Expertise Beyond Information

We have received 12 nutrition-related research awards funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH). This research and rich insight gives us unparalleled expertise that reaches well beyond “information” – to impact both environmental and behavioral change.



From 1991–2007, Healthy Dining’s team published 19 editions of Healthy Dining books for the Southern California region. In 2005, the National Institutes of Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (NIH/CDC) awarded Healthy Dining a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) project to expand the regional program nationwide, leveraging the growing power of the internet. This award was based on Healthy Dining’s success in Southern California and its potential for improving public health. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) joined forces with Healthy Dining to encourage restaurants to participate in the program.

In 2007, was launched to the public with 30,000 participating restaurant locations. The site and program have received impressive media exposure, including coverage through: The Today Show, USA Today, National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal, Self, Shape, Prevention, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle and many others.


In 2010, Healthy Dining received two more SBIR projects through the NCI and the CDC. The first sought to test the feasibility of modifying standard restaurant recipes to include less cheese, oil, butter, mayonnaise, salad dressings, etc., to a degree that was not detected by and/or was acceptable to restaurant customers. The modifications resulted in corresponding reductions in the levels of calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium. This research provided Healthy Dining with unparalleled expertise and research data to consult with restaurant companies and help them reformulate and modify recipes for healthier composition.

In 2012,  Healthy Dining received a Phase II project from the National Cancer Institute to expand further the feasibility study to test the recipe modification process with additional restaurants and menu items.

Lawless, Harry T., et al. “Mixed Messages: Ambiguous Penalty Information in Modified Restaurant Menu Items.” Food Quality and Preference, vol. 52, 2016, pp. 232–236., doi:10.1016/j.foodqual.2016.05.005.

Patel, Anjali A., et al. “Reducing Calories, Fat, Saturated Fat, and Sodium in Restaurant Menu Items: Effects on Consumer Acceptance.” Obesity, vol. 24, no. 12, 2016, pp. 2497–2508., doi:10.1002/oby.21684.


In 2014, Healthy Dining received a research grant from the CDC to pilot test a “School Rewards Program” in the San Diego area.  Through this program, families whose children attend five elementary schools were incentivized to patronize six nearby Healthy Dining restaurants.  In return, the restaurants offered a discount to the families, and the schools received a percentage of the revenue generated by the restaurants via the families.  The money was earmarked to purchase supplies to support school wellness efforts (e.g., playground equipment, a school garden, etc.).

A Phase II project received in 2014 provided funding to expand the School Rewards Program.  A new, flashier name was created – Schoolicious! – a second school district was added, and new components of the program were developed, such as incorporating beacon technology at restaurant locations to signal parents that Healthy Dining menu choices are available at this location.

Healthy incentives for kids' meals

A third research project received in 2014 focused on incentivizing kids to select healthier choices in restaurants by offering fun “characters” when the healthier menu items were chosen by the kids.

Lopez, Nanette V., et al. “Promoting Healthier Children's Meals at Quick-Service and Full-Service Restaurants: Results from a Pilot and Feasibility Study.” Appetite, vol. 117, 2017, pp. 91–97., doi:10.1016/j.appet.2017.06.015.

Anzman-Frasca, Stephanie, et al. “Healthier Children's Meals in Restaurants: An Exploratory Study to Inform Approaches That Are Acceptable Across Stakeholders.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, vol. 49, no. 4, 2017, doi:10.1016/j.jneb.2016.11.009.

Communication and Messaging

The second NIH-funded project received in 2010 tested communication and messaging strategies to 1) increase the availability and accessibility of Healthy Dining menu options served at restaurants and 2) increase the number of Healthy Dining menu options ordered by consumers.

small chain Restaurant Nutrition

In 2008, Healthy Dining received a second SBIR project, this one from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This research project, titled, “Nutrition Initiative for Small Chain Restaurants,” developed strategies and tools to help small chain restaurants effectively offer healthier choices and nutrition information.


In 2014, Healthy Dining received several additional research evaluations from the NIH and the CDC.  One was to develop a worksite wellness program.  An employer toolkit containing a variety of materials was created to introduce employees to the concept of healthier restaurant dining and the web and mobile site.  Materials included posters, fliers, table tents, social media content, newsletter content and screen savers.  The proposed materials were evaluated very positively by worksite wellness managers from dozens of companies and organizations nationwide.