Seeing Beyond the Menu: How to Offer Healthier Event Cuisine

Post authored by Kristen Roget, CMP, Senior Meeting & Event Manager at Experient

As the year continues to get underway, we can’t help but think about what we want to achieve in 2013, both personally and professionally. People often want to start fresh each year, and the top resolutions are almost always about healthy living and balanced life styles. As event planners, we can take a lesson from this and make an effort to incorporate wellness into our meetings.

So where do you start? The first and most obvious place to begin is your menus. Are they healthy and well balanced with assorted proteins, vegetables, and fruits, or are they sugar-loaded, carbohydrate-rich belly bombs? Secondly, what about the program itself? Are your attendees sitting in sessions all day with just enough time in between to grab a cookie, run to the restroom, and maybe say a quick hello to their peers? Including elements of wellness in your meetings is easy, and like any good resolution, it starts with you!

I began tackling this issue in 2007 when I was challenged by the American College Health Association’s President to bring wellness into their event. Together, my client at ACHA and I brainstormed about what we could do, and surprisingly, it was quite simple.

The first year with ACHA we started slowly, after all, I didn’t want a riot on our hands! We determined that the afternoon breaks would have the most impact, and on day one, instead of a dual serving of brownies and cookies, we swapped crudité platters for the brownies. On day two, we still kept it sweet, but asked the chef for a lighter style of build-your-own strawberry shortcake. The biscuits were angel food, the whipped topping airy, and the strawberries freshly sliced instead of macerated, sugary sludge. The feedback was well received and we knew we were headed in the right direction.

Over the years, we’ve had to get creative and sometimes it can be a challenge to find healthy items that are also affordable. We’ve all heard about super foods and their many benefits, but when staring at catering menus, we often find limited options that are meant for mass production. It’ll take some effort, but work with the facility and your catering manager to find items that are healthy and easy to create in the kitchen.

Earlier last year at the Sheraton Chicago, I shared my idea of a mini berry pizza with our catering manager. I sent him a link to the recipe and he and the chef loved it and immediately began testing how to make it for 2,000 people. The chef tried countless options and settled on a thin pizza dough cut into triangles, slightly sweetened with honey and precooked with a jam glaze, and topped off with ricotta and berries. It was such a success that the catering manager made it for his family at his Memorial Day cookout! Here are some other ACHA menu items we’ve served over the years:

Savory Crunch:

  • A popcorn break (Set up flavor stations so attendees can customize! Cinnamon & sugar, Parmesan cheese, and spicy curry are all excellent choices.)
  • Build your own trail mix
  • Hummus with carrots or baked pita
  • Edamame paired with vegetarian Vietnamese summer rolls and fortune cookies (With messages tailored to the conference!)
  • Baked tortilla chips with pico de gallo and guacamole
  • Celery with peanut butter
  • Root vegetable chips w/Tzatziki yogurt dip and roasted red pepper dip
  • Caprese skewers or pasta salad on a stick

Fruity Sweet:

  • Granola and fruit parfaits (They aren’t just for breakfast!)
  • Fresh fruit cups
  • Frozen fruit or yogurt bars
  • Chocolate covered bananas and apple wedges with caramel dip (A little sweetness in moderation isn’t so bad!)
  • Fruit skewers of watermelon, orange, and feta, drizzled with mint vinaigrette

Bonus tip: Remember to label your selections so attendees know what they’re getting!

These are just a few of the healthy menu choices that have been successful at events for my clients at ACHA. Remember, there may be some reluctance at first, so start out slowly and incorporate healthy options over time. Like my catering manager, you may even discover a new food that you didn’t know you liked!

Offering healthy cuisine isn’t the only way to incorporate wellness in your events. I’ll be writing another blog post soon showing how to get your attendees up and moving and help them stay active throughout the day.

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