Making dishes healthy without compromising on taste

The New Year heralds a time to lose weight and get fit after the excesses of the festive season. With 67% of men and 57% of women in the UK classed as overweight or obese, plus the ongoing focus on salt and sugar consumption, caterers have their part to play in helping the nation make better nutritional choices. Here, eight professional chefs and food experts share their tips and ideas on making dishes healthy without compromising on taste.

Owen Kenworthy, head chef, Blueprint Café, on the first floor of the Design Museum in London Food should be able to be enjoyed without putting on the pounds. Swapping the pan for a griddle is not just an easier way to cook but it also improves flavour without the need for extra oil and is an elegant way of reducing calories. I prefer not to use a lot of salt and I find that introducing lemon to a dish as an alternative can help balance more than salt could. Restaurant cooking is changing, as customers become increasingly conscious of how much salt they consume we have to think about ways of incorporating aromatics in preparation and bringing natural seasoning to dishes.

Marie Medhurst, sales director at Bannisters’ Farm Watching your weight after the festive season doesn’t mean living on salads or going hungry at the coldest time of the year. The beauty of baked potatoes is that they’re low in fat, rich in nutrients, and they’re deliciously warm and filling. Obviously, what you put on them is the important thing here – smothering them in rich, creamy toppings, or piling on mountains of cheese probably misses the point a little if calorie reduction is the goal. Offer protein-rich fillings like herb-dressed tuna, garlic and lemon prawns, or spicy chicken, and promote them as a lean, healthy, winter-fuel dish. Serve them with steamed vegetables – broccoli, green beans, sweetcorn – for a lunch rich in nutrients, or with a warm power-salad of almonds, walnuts, mixed beans and shredded carrot.

Jessica Lalor, brand manager for Kerrymaid According to Mintel’s 2015 Food and Drink trends report, consumers are moving away from fad diets in favour of more holistic and sustainable lifestyle changes. This consumer mindset is never more true than in the New Year when the ‘new year, new you’ is the philosophy for a large proportion of out of home diners. Consequently the first few weeks of the New Year is a prime time for operators to show their support for this mantra and allow customers to enjoy dining out without worrying about the guilt of overindulging. Listing calories next to dishes on the menu is one way of helping customers to have control over their calorie intake. Offering a range of nutritionally balanced, small dishes during the day’s covers not only helps customers looking to make healthier lifestyle changes but also caters to the extension of this trend, which has seen significant growth in the demand for a wider variety of snacking options and small plates in place of three set, larger meals.

Will Matier, managing director, Vegetarian Express With Horizons highlighting health as an increasing factor in consumer choice when eating out and research showing that vegetarian diets are often healthier than those of an average meat-eater, a meat-free option can become a menu hero in the New Year. Following the excesses of the festive period, January tends to see a shift in consumer habits when it comes to eating out, with diners looking for lighter, more nutritious options. It’s a common misconception that catering for vegetarian diets is boring and difficult but that doesn’t have to be the case. With almost 60% of people feeling there aren’t enough vegetarian dishes on menus, there is a clear opportunity for caterers to step up to the plate and profit in the process.

Katrina Ellis, McCain Foods product manager When you think of desserts, potato isn’t usually the first ingredient that springs to mind, but mash is a great way to ensure desserts are moist and creamy without the need to use lots of butter. Our new range of recipes, which includes classics such as Fruity Fruit Cake and Sticky Date and Apple Pudding as well as on trend treats such as Berry Cheesecake Muffins, show caterers how to use the Simply Mash in sweet dishes to deliver healthier versions of much loved puddings without compromising on taste, texture or flavour.

EXPERT TIPS… Paul Gayler MBE, consultant chef and former executive head chef at London’s Lanesborough Hotel on Hyde Park Corner and brand ambassador for Vegetarian Express

1. PEOPLE EAT WITH THEIR EYES: make sure veggie options are colourful, full of exciting flavours and presented in an interesting way when plated. Combine flavours and textures to add interest – for example add almonds, walnuts or pecans to liven up a salad, or use shiitake mushrooms to give a similar texture to meat. By using a variety of vegetables and a diverse range of spices it will ensure the dishes appeal to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

2. CHOOSE THE RIGHT SUBSTITUTE: items such as tempeh and tofu – which have long been staples of Asian cuisine – make great substitutes to meat but it’s important to consider their different uses. There are two different types of tofu for example; fresh, firm tofu is best for holding shape when baking or grilling, while the soft silken tofu is better suited to desserts, creamy sauces and dressings. Beans are also a great way to substitute meat while keeping a vegetarian’s protein intake up – in fact 63% of people opted for beans as their favourite ingredient in a recent survey.

3. BE CREATIVE: prepare interesting and attention grabbing features that set you as an operator apart from the competition. This could include a colourful, seasonal – therefore always changing – ‘pick and mix’ salad bar where customers can help themselves to the variety on offer, or a juice bar serving freshly squeezed, made-to-order vegetable and fruit blends.

Jane Mitchell, nutrition and weight loss expert and founder of the Jane Plan (www. Experiment by using less sugar when baking – most cake recipes will work even if the quantity of sugar in the recipe is reduced. Use fruit to provide your sweetness in cake recipes, not only are they much healthier option than sugar, they provide us with an abundance of antioxidants.Choose your fats wisely! Avocado is an excellent source of omega 3 and vitamin E, try to substitute half the amount of butter in your recipe for mashed avocado. If you substitute the whole amount, you’ll end up with flatter results. Use carrots and beetroot as baking ingredients – both make fantastic cakes.

Richard Drane, managing director of Taste Trends The demand for smoothies is clearly on the rise with 87% of consumers wanting to see more on menus despite the fact that over three quarters (76%) already drink them on an occasional basis. Importantly, two thirds of consumers drink smoothies for health and nutritional benefits – a smoothie containing the pulp of the fruit or vegetable often counts as more than one portion of an individual’s ‘five a day’ – so including these on menus is a simple way for operators to meet the demand for healthier options. With M&C Allegra recently highlighting frozen yogurt as an established trend, using this as a base for smoothies will further entice consumers. Smoothies are also versatile and can be used throughout the day to meet a variety of nutritional requirements – operators can blend seeds and oat bran to increase fibre content or boost vitamin content by mixing a range of ingredients such as green vegetables with apple, banana or pineapple. You can even add coconut water instead of fruit juice for a more premium feel.