After the excesses of the festive period, January is usually a time when consumers dust off the scales and put their plans for a healthier New Year into action. In this month’s Category Focus, we explore how operators can help customers stick to their diet by making nutritional information more accessible, introducing healthier dishes or promoting healthy options to their audience.
MASTERING THE ART OF INGREDIENT SWAPS
In the realm of health-conscious dining, ingredient swaps are the go-to strategy for reducing fat and sugar content without compromising flavour. Refined sugars are being replaced with natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, or dates, and butter is often replaced with olive oil. Operators looking to reduce the amount of sugar, salt and fat in their meals can learn a great deal from their peers in the education sector. Here, caterers are often having to meet strict nutritional guidelines in a bid to slow the rate of childhood obesity.
“When we look at healthier recipes, we tend to avoid adding processed products that are usually higher in fat and sugar,” says Liz Greene, CMC School Food. “We also try to replace butter for olive oil or those containing monounsaturated fats and yoghurt for cream. Reduced-fat cheeses are another option as is using a mature cheddar instead of mild, so that you use less product to get the same taste. Easy swaps are reduced salt and sugar baked beans or replacing sugary cereals with wholegrain or porridge. In savoury recipes, swapping some of the flour and sugar for beetroot or sweet potato reduces calories and boosts the nutritional value of the cake in terms of vitamin, mineral and fibre content.”
In April 2022, the government introduced a regulation requiring hospitality businesses in England employing more than 250 staff to clearly display the calories contained per dish on their menu, along with a statement regarding the recommended calorie intake for adults per day. Despite the bad timing and difficulties implementing the regulation, it does highlight an inconvenient truth that many dishes contain more calories than consumers assume. While calories don’t portray the nutritional value of a dish, they are a good guide for those looking to reduce their intake. Not all businesses have the budget for an in-house nutritionist or specialist software, but rather than trying to nail specifics, it is possible to group menu items into calorie bands using your supplier’s nutritional information and the government approved database. As a smaller business, by labelling a dish as “under 500kcal” or with a traffic light system, you are able to give consumers enough of a guide to help them make healthier choices.
Often, the more we try to cut out of our diet, the more we crave what we shouldn’t have. Offering a little light indulgence so your customers can ‘have their cake and eat it too’ helps them stay on track and not feel excluded when they eat out.
Using flour such as almond or coconut in conjunction with natural sweeteners such as date and apple puree, agave syrup or stevia maintain the enjoyment of indulging on cakes and pastries while reducing the impact on blood sugar levels. This doesn’t mean a cake becomes a health-food, but the calories and amount of sugar consumed will be less than a regular treat.
Indulgence doesn’t always take the form of cake, many operators are now offering healthier options in the form of energy balls. Whether home-or-pre-made, they are perfect finger food for snacking and can help diners feel fuller for longer. Alternatively, air-popped and lightly seasoned popcorn is a good healthy snack that can take on many different flavours and is high in fibre. For desserts, look to fruit-based dishes such as a mango and yoghurt layer pot, made with low fat yoghurt, fresh mango and a dusting of high-protein granola. This can also be made in smaller pots for hand-held snacks in residential care homes.
The right snack can be a nutritious way to fuel your body and keep you energised between meals – if they count towards your 5-a-day, its even better. Nutrient-rich ingredients such as kale, quinoa, avocado and legumes are not only great ingredients for hearty main meals, they also pack a punch as savoury snacks too. Pret led the market with their protein pots a few years ago, adding a vegan pot to the range in 2021. The industry has responded with many operators creating their own versions.
In addition to snack foods, antioxidant-loaded salads, grain bowls and lean cuts of meat or fish cater to diners seeking more than just a delicious meal. Not only do they satisfy cravings, they fuel the body with vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients. Recipes such as a chicken hummus bowl, grilled bavette steak with tomato salad, lentil stew with salsa verde and baked halibut with quinoa are not just flavourful and nutritious, they are also visually appealing too – which is critical for encouraging healthy meal decisions.
Packing nutrition into dishes is second-nature to many care home caterers who take every opportunity to increase the protein, vitamins and minerals in every dish. During the cooler months, care home residents can benefit from comforting snacks such as baked vegetable crisps or warm, hearty soups. Smoked mackerel pâté on seeded toast, porridge made with steel-cut oats, chili made with ground turkey mince and stews made with a selection of beans are just a few ideas that deliver high nutritional value and a touch of nostalgia, without compromising on flavour.
GUT HEALTH: SUSTAINING A TREND FOR WELLNESS
Gut health, a trend that has flourished over recent years, remains prevalent in the hospitality sector. The link between a balanced gut microbiome and overall well-being has inspired operators to incorporate gut-friendly foods into their menus. Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kefir are renowned for their probiotic content. As we venture into 2024, gut health will continue to develop, and we will see further innovation for introducing probiotics and prebiotics into menus.
CULTIVATING HEALTHY HABITS
Schools are vital in shaping children’s relationships with food. Many educational institutions are implementing holistic programs that combine nutritional education with hands-on experiences, such as school gardens, in-class activities and dining hall events.
“Schools can help to instill a healthy eating culture by including it as part of the classroom learning, and engaging with parents to encourage healthy breakfasts and lunchboxes. Also, involving pupils with growing your own produce in school has been shown by studies to increase pupils’ intake of fruit and vegetables. Fruitilicious Friday is always a winner in our primary schools; the children argue who will eat the edible figure!” says Liz.
By exposing children to fresh produce and involving them in meal planning, schools can foster a lifelong appreciation for healthy eating and broaden a child’s diet to include fruit, vegetables and flavours they had not previously considered.
The emphasis on health-conscious dining is more than a trend – it’s a commitment to nourishing your customers whether young or old, in body and spirit. Through ingredient swaps, innovative dishes, and an unwavering dedication to nutrition, the hospitality sector is central to enjoying food that supports our well-being. As we count the year down to 2024 and a wave of New Year’s resolutions begin, how will you adapt your menu to meet the opportunities that emerge?