FAQs about REAL Certification and REAL Criteria
The USHFC is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to fighting diet-related disease by realigning the foodservice industry’s incentives with consumers’ health interests. Check out the USHFC website here.
Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership (REAL) Certification is the trusted, nationally recognized mark of excellence for food and foodservice operators committed to holistic nutrition and environmental stewardship. The goal of REAL Certification is to affect change in the food and foodservice industries by providing market-based incentives to promote more healthful and sustainable food and beverage offerings.
Based on the input of its diverse Panel of Experts with backgrounds from industry, academia and government as well as veteran chefs and restaurateurs, the USHFC began developing the pilot version of the criteria in 2012. A two-part pilot project was commenced in 2013, during which time we worked with 20+ restaurants in the greater Washington, DC metro area as well as with four large-scale foodservice operations at workplace and public dining facilities in California, Nebraska and Massachusetts. From this project, we identified Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that correlate to the nutrition and sustainability practices of an establishment, and these KPIs serve as the foundation for the current REAL Criteria. We anticipate that the criteria will continuously evolve and expand as innovation, nutrition guidelines and consumer demand drive the foodservice industry towards higher standards.
Generally speaking, KPIs are select metrics that measure progress towards defined goals. With respect to the REAL Criteria, we have identified KPIs that have a strong correlation to nutrition and sustainability best practices and the overall healthfulness of menu offerings. For example, evaluating how sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are made available to consumers is indicative of the quantities of SSBs served at any particular establishment.
The core tenets of REAL represent the USHFC’s ethos for nutrition and sustainability best practices in foodservice and serve as the framework for the certification criteria. Each of the following core tenets is further defined by KPIs that collectively comprise the REAL Criteria.
Responsible: Provides nutritional benefit
Epicurean: Preparation enhances food quality and experience
Agricultural: Comes from the safest and highest quality sources
Leadership: Enables better choices
For specific KPI examples, see the REAL Criteria.
The REAL Criteria consist of a series of KPIs that relate to nutrition and sustainability best practices. Examples of select KPIs include:
¨ What is the largest size cup in which sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are served? How are refills made available?
¨ What percentage of entrées contain a full serving of non-deep fried vegetables or fruits?
¨ How many menu items are available in reduced portion sizes?
¨ Are the most served grain-based items available as whole grains?
¨ How many appetizers (or entrées) are deep-fried?
¨ Are sauces, dressings and stocks made from scratch?
¨ What percentage of entrées are prepared with healthful, plant-based cooking oils and fats?
¨ Is the most served meat (vegetable, seafood, eggs, etc.) locally sourced? Regionally sourced? Sustainably sourced? Organic/non-GMO? Pasture raised? Cage-Free?
¨ How many seasonal menu offerings are available?
¨ Does the menu clearly state that healthy substitutions are available?
¨ Are customers automatically served water or can they readily access it on their own?
¨ Is a full serving of non deep-fried vegetables or fruit available with every children’s entrée or as the default side option?
¨ Are sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) listed on the children’s menu?
The REAL Index is the flexible, points-based system developed by the USHFC to assess nutrition and sustainability best practices. Similar to the LEED model, the REAL Index is the quantitative representation of the REAL Criteria used to determine an establishment’s eligibility for certification. From the 100-point scale, a minimum of 50% of available points must be attained in order to achieve certification. To date, even the most health conscious and environmentally sustainable restaurants have not achieved 100%.
The REAL Criteria encourage serving and promoting nutrient-dense foods using healthful preparation methods. For example, providing a full serving of non deep-fried produce with entrées and children’s meals is a significant component of the criteria. As part of the certification process, REAL RDs review the types of oils used in preparing foods, awarding points for utilizing healthful, plant-based oils containing predominantly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Establishments also earn points for scratch cooking that eliminates the use of highly processed food additives and artificial ingredients. Additionally, offering whole grains, modest and multiple portion sizes and unsweetened beverages are also included in the nutrition-focused KPIs of the REAL Criteria.
The REAL Criteria encourage the serving and sourcing of food that support sustainable agriculture. As plant-based foods are more environmentally sustainable than meat and animal-based products, establishments earn points for offering vegetarian and vegan options as well as providing vegetables and fruits with entrées. Similarly, the use of plant-based oils is encouraged over animal-based fats.
Establishments can also earn points for purchasing foods from local/regional sources as well as foods that are seasonal, organic or non-GMO. Additionally, points can be earned for sourcing meat and meat-based products from pastured animals as well as free-range poultry and cage-free eggs. Bonus points can be earned for composting and other waste-reduction practices.
There are many ways that food (and beverage) can be both better for you and better for the environment. Growing plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruits is much kinder to the environment and more efficient than raising animals, requiring significantly fewer natural resources. Similarly, foods that are locally grown or organically produced also have a smaller impact on the environment.
In fact, many of the KPIs in the REAL Criteria incorporate both nutrition and sustainability standards. These include encouraging the use of vegetables and fruits, preparation methods with healthful, plant-based oils and environment-friendly sourcing practices, as well as promoting drinking water.
An establishment or foodservice operation undergoes a voluntary review process that assesses its nutrition and sustainability practices against the REAL Criteria. Only those that meet the minimum requirements are awarded certification, which is renewable on an annual basis. To apply for REAL Certification, contact us.
REAL RDs play an essential role in the certification process. They work one-on-one with establishments or foodservice operations to guide them through the comprehensive review process, performing menu analyses and verifying sourcing information from invoices provided by the establishment. REAL RDs also provide suggestions for preparing, serving and promoting more healthful menu options and for improving overall nutrition and sustainability practices.
Restaurants, Caterers, Food Trucks, Grocers, Public Venues, and Dining Halls and Cafeterias at institutional, workplace and corporate sites.
There is a nominal fee associated with the certification and the ongoing marketing and media support provided to REAL Certified establishments.
All REAL Certified locations are listed on eatREAL.org, searchable by city and type of cuisine.
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For more ways you can get involved, go to REAL Change.