Healthy eating is big business. Supermarkets – always a good barometer of changing public tastes – have been quick to develop ranges of ready meals and sandwiches to meet the demand for healthier food with reduced-fat ready meals and sandwiches, and logos highlighting healthier choices.
If customers are keen to eat well at home, then it’s not surprising that they will want to do the same at work.
Providing everyday healthy food options in response to demand not only keeps customers happy but can help to increase meal sales by winning new customers.
Gardner Merchant is one contract catering company which sees offering healthy options as a key part of its service to a client and its employees. A number of dieticians work for the company – advising and helping to develop menu options. Anne Pawan is one of them.
“The aim of the training course is to encourage our restaurants to always offer a choice, aiming to reduce fat or modify the type of fat used where appropriate, and to use salt in moderation and increase fibre,” she says.
The company’s training programme has won it accolades, including a National Training Award from the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) and a Health of the Nation award from the Department of Health.
The ideal Gardner Merchant menu, Pawan reveals, includes one healthy entrée, vegetables without added fat and, if chips are on the menu, a potato option without fat.
Providing healthier menu options is also about purchasing and cooking methods. Pawan recommends buying leaner cuts of meat and finding a supplier of reduced fat products – in particular yoghurt, fromage frais, half-fat cream, semi-skimmed and skimmed milk – all of which can be used as substitutes in cooking.
Cooking methods are also vital in producing healthier food. The first step is to ask yourself whether you really need to add fat to sauces – they can often be thickened using cornflour or potato starch. Also look for opportunities to reduce the meat content of dishes, advises Pawan. Extra beans can be added to chilli con carne, for example, providing protein and fibre.
Minced meat in spaghetti bolognese can be reduced and replaced with vegetables – red and green sweet peppers, for example – providing extra vitamins and fibre to the dish. In addition, the balance of the dish can be altered by serving it with a greater proportion of pasta to sauce, making it essentially a low-fat, carbohydrate option.
One of the simplest ways to provide healthier food is to serve items separately and allow customers to make their own choice. Some salad items, for instance, can be made available without dressing, and low-fat dressings can be offered.
Low-fat yogurt mixed with mayonnaise can taste good and reduces the fat levels. Lemon juice and fresh herbs can make light, tasty dressings. Where possible, fruit can be served as a fruit salad without added sugar. And rather than just offering cream or ice-cream to accompany it, low-fat fromage frais or low-fat yoghurt can be made available as an alternative.
Sandwiches can also pile up fat. Here again the issue can be resolved by providing choice. The range of speciality breads now on the market, for example, together with a variety of fillings can make for some interesting options.
However, sandwiches are often overdosed with mayonnaise and butter. This can be avoided by offering mayonnaise and butter-free pre-packed sandwiches, or by making sandwiches to order. Again, low fat dressings are a good option, as are fillings that include some lower-fat ingredients – in particular lean meat, turkey and chicken.
A lack of healthier options frequently occurs in buffets – where pastry-based hors d’oeuvres and flans are often the order of the day. However, an impressive buffet can be put together using prawns, Cajun chicken, chicken satay, Thai fish cakes, stuffed vegetables and filled mini-pittas.
Plates can be decorated with fresh, crunchy, bite-sized vegetables. Again, dips can be mixed from half-fat cheese and low-fat fromage frais. And if a range of cheeses is required, then lower-fat cheeses such as Edam, Brie and cottage cheese can be included.