Lyfe Kitchen's Chocolate Budino with pomegranate, chia seeds and almonds provides 260 calories.

LYFE – Love Your Food Everyday

LYFE Kitchen, a hybrid of fast casual and fine dining, burst upon the scene in 2011. Its headquarters have recently moved to Memphis, Tenn., but Chicago is not far from the heart, head and idiom of co-founder and chief brand officer Mike Donahue, a former McDonald’s executive. The first restaurant opened in Palo Alto just four years ago while the 18th opened this October in Chicago. All of the outlets serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and no menu item boasts more than 600 calories or more than 1,000 mg of sodium.

Aiming to disprove the myths that healthy food cannot taste great and healthy food is not affordable, Mr. Donahue has enjoyed the “taste quest” led by chef Art Smith and executive chef Jeremy Bringardner, a protégé of Charlie Trotter.

“Early on, we met in Art’s home kitchen in a Chicago suburb where he and Jeremy had set out 50 to 60 small plates and bowls of turmeric, basil, quinoa, etc.,” Mr. Donahue said. “He was giving us a lesson in how to remove ‘deleterious’ ingredients without compromising taste. Consumers have always indicated they’ll ‘vote’ with their feet if food doesn’t taste great.”

Following about a year of research, they drew their line at a maximum of 600 calories and 1,000 mg of sodium.

“Although we understand there are good calories and not so good calories, it’s a balancing act that’s always about taste,” he said. “So we have learned we can have great taste and lower calories along with significant ingredients and not sacrifice taste; we’re trying to provide great tasting, convenient meals at an affordable price — which is the biggest unmet customer need in America right now.”

This article originally appeared in the December issue of Culinology, the official magazine of the Research Chefs Association. To view the entire issue, click here.