Whatever your tastes, you’re sure to find something to thrill your palate at one of the thousands of food trucks across the country. The majority of food truck offerings are known for being tasty or indulgent. Is there a way to make them healthy, too?
“Most foods you’re getting when you go out to eat are not going to have the right balance of nutrients,” said Dr. Deborah Cohen, physician scientist at RAND Corporation, speaking with Healthline. “They are going to have too many calories, too much salt, too much sugar, and too much fat.”
There are some exceptions, of course. Many public health officials would no doubt love to see a few more nutritious food truck options around the country. But they’d probably settle for food trucks offering one or two healthy meals alongside their best sellers.
This is what Cohen and her colleagues attempted in Los Angeles, where thousands of food trucks — known as “loncheras” — serve up tasty meals to hungry customers.
The big question is: Would food truck operators bite?
Study encourages healthy food truck ideas
Cohen’s team found 11 food trucks willing to participate in the study. These few were “a forward-looking group, a progressive group of loncheras,” Cohen said.
Food truck operators worked with nutritionists to create meals that met MyPlate guidelines for recommended amounts of protein, vegetables, and fruit. Study workers helped the food trucks market these meals to customers, using the name “La Comida Perfecta” — the perfect meal.
Food truck operators also received a small subsidy for participating in the study as well as $2 coupons to encourage customers to buy these healthier meals.
Although the healthier meals accounted for only 2 percent of the trucks’ overall sales by the end of the study, they were still a hit. Still, even with the extra marketing of the healthier meals, customers tended to stick with “the usual.”
Given the low number of food truck operators who volunteered for the study, this could require cities and towns to motivate food trucks to offer healthier meals.
The study was published online in 2017 in the journal Public Health Nutrition.
Shaping healthy eating habits on-the-go
Other research shows the potential of using food trucks to steer people toward more nutrient-dense eating habits.
In a 2012 study, researchers in Oakland, California brought a food truck that sells fresh, precut, and bagged fruit — known as a “frutero” — to an elementary school campus.
The frutero outside the school — which competed with nearby ice cream and cotton candy vendors — did a brisk business. On average, the truck sold nearly 18 bags of fruits and vegetables each afternoon in about half an hour.
In Philadelphia, food trucks visited local schools with bins filled with growing vegetables that students could try. One goal of the program, which is sponsored by nonprofit Greener Partners, was to teach children about growing and cooking healthy fruits and vegetables.
Whether food trucks are selling to eager customers or building an oasis of fresh fruit and vegetables in a food desert, there’s potential for them to transform the country’s food environment.
Healthy food trucks around the U.S.
There are already some food trucks around the U.S. that are offering up tasty, nutrient-dense meals that can fit into a balanced diet. Here are just a few examples.
- Green Truck (Southern California): Vegan-friendly fare and veggie-packed grain bowls and salads abound with lots of seasonal options. Green Truck tours around the L.A. area as well as catering local events and weddings. The “Kale Yeah Bowl” with quinoa, mushrooms, beets, and goddess dressing looks especially tasty.
- Clover Food Lab (Boston, Massachusetts): Clover Food Lab offers meals all day at their brick-and-mortar restaurants, as well as a touring food truck and catering options. The chickpea fritters, Venezuelan plantain sandwich, and BBQ seitan are particularly enticing.
- Native Bowl (Portland, Oregon): With house-made sauces and organic, locally-sourced ingredients, tasty homemade is the order of the day at Native Bowl. Think garlic tofu rice bowls, big vegan chicken salads, and za’atar-spiced garbanzo beans.
- GMonkey (Connecticut): GMonkey caters around New England with all-vegan, seasonal fare like black bean chili, grilled vegan cheese, peanut soba noodles, and more.
- The Corner Farmacy (Chicago, Illinois): The Corner Farmacy is Chicago’s first mobile cold-pressed juice and a “farm to fender” food truck. They serve breakfast and lunch with options like veggie burgers, roasted vegetable sandwiches, and Caprese salads.
- Serious Salads (Dallas, Texas): For a big bowl of greens on the go, Serious Salads offers Texans an easy option for a healthy lunch. Some of their salads include the Honey Zest Salmon, Famous Fiesta, and Buff Chic.