The question of the moment for restaurant operators: Are the winds of healthy change truly blowing, or is it only so much hot air? Foodservice industry researcher Technomic, Chicago, says its latest study finds that nearly half of consumers want healthier menu items, but only about a quarter of them actively consider nutrition when dining out.

“There is often a disconnect between consumers’ intentions and their actions,” says Technomic Executive Vice President Darren Tristano. “Many consumers are actually making substantial changes to their overall habits, even basing which restaurants they frequent in part based on their impressions of the healthfulness of the brands. However, as many of us know from personal experience, diners do not always follow through on their intentions once it is time to order.”

Tristano says Technomic developed its "2010 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report" to help restaurants, manufacturers, and suppliers understand consumer attitudes and trends as they relate to healthy eating. Interesting findings include:

-- Only 19 percent of consumers feel that food described as "healthy" on the menu does not taste as good as other options. Contrary to previously-held beliefs, it appears more consumers today feel that foods labeled as healthy can still be satisfying.

-- Consumers strongly disagree with the notion that the restaurant industry is responsible for America’s obesity epidemic, with only 16 percent placing blame solely on restaurants.

-- Consumers confirm that their eating behavior differs significantly for at-home and away-from-home dining occasions. Two out of five consumers describe their at-home eating as “very healthy” while only about a quarter say the same about away-from home dining.

Technomic says it analyzed its MenuMonitor online trend tracking system to show how leading, emerging and independent restaurants position menu items as healthy and how this positioning has shifted in recent years. Additionally, the firm says it conducted an online survey of 1,500 consumers to understand how attitudes toward health shape consumers' foodservice usage and purchasing behavior.