As lawmakers move to legislate healthier eating in the U.S., it appears that Americans are beating them to the punch, saysThe NPD Group, Chicago. For example, foods high in sugar content or fat have been ordered less frequently at restaurants during the past 10 years.

NPD says its CREST® service tracks consumer purchases in commercial and non-commercial foodservice venues. Researcher say they've found a decrease in consumption of regular carbonated soft drinks, hot dogs, fried chicken, and French fries. Simultaneously, some foods that could be considered healthier (lower in sugar and fat) have been ordered more than in the past. According to CREST, these foods include milk, grilled chicken and grilled chicken sandwiches, non-fried fish, breakfast cereals, fruit, and yogurt.

"This shift in consumers choosing healthier foods at restaurants is partially due to the increasing availability of healthier foods on restaurant menus," says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. "Restaurant operators are responding to their customers' needs for healthier or lighter foods."

NPD's "A Look into the Future of Foodservice" report projects consumer demand for healthy/light foods at restaurants will continue to grow during the next decade. For example, servings of healthy/light sandwiches -- one of the food groups under the healthy/light category studied for the report -- are projected to grow by 13 percent during the next 10 years. Included in the healthy/light sandwich group were grilled chicken and fish, turkey, cold cut combos, tuna and chicken salad, and veggie sandwiches.

"Today the heaviest buyers of healthy/light sandwiches are consumers ages 18 to 34," says Riggs. "However, it is consumers 50 and older, who are the most health-conscious consumer segment, who will contribute the most incremental servings in the years ahead."