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The A to Z of healthy living

27 September 2007

An alphabetical run-down, in association with Nestlé FoodServices, of the things we all need to do to stay healthy, and the things the hospitality industry needs to do to make sure we have the opportunity. Janet Harmer reports

The subject of health and wellness was discussed with Caterer and Hotelkeeper a few months ago as we debated the ongoing healthy eating furore that continues to dominate the agenda of government, media and society.

David Field, managing director, Nestlé Foodservice
David Field, managing director, Nestlé Foodservice

The World Health Organisation estimates there to be one billion adults and 22 million children under five who are significantly overweight and a staggering four million people a year die from the presence of diabetes and related illnesses. But can the solution be found by addressing the eating habits of a population alone, or is it part of a much wider lifestyle choice that encompasses nutrition, fitness, mental resilience and social and general health? The overwhelming consensus points to the latter and so the concept for this, the first Caterer and Hotelkeeper Health & Wellness supplement was born.

As a company that has had a Nutrition, Health & Wellness division since 2002 and has an ongoing programme in place to continually review and improve our products and solutions, Nestlé FoodServices has been keen to get involved and partner Caterer and Hotelkeeper in this new venture.

We know that by working in partnership with our customers, suppliers and partners, we can not only tackle some of the challenges that creating a healthier society presents, but also build upon the new opportunities that these changes will bring for the food service industry.

The speed of change is being driven by each sector - in education for example, we are all well aware of the swift implementation of the new legislation by the Government and its implications for industry. Manufacturers still choosing to supply the sector have, like Nestlé FoodServices, adapted and changed product lines to fit the new guidelines.

For business and industry, it's a steadier progression to adapt food and beverage offerings in line with consumer expectations. The launch of "A Natural Choice" as part of the Maggi range in 2005 followed extensive research and discussion with our industry partners, and the products were subsequently relaunched with reduced levels of salt and fat. On top of this, all products in the range became gluten free, contained no added MSG and were made with sunflower oil for a cleaner taste.

Across our industry, salt and sugar reduction programmes continue, as does the elimination of trans-fatty acids - after extensive reformulation, 84% of Nestlé's UK portfolio now has no artificially produced trans- fatty acids and we're working to get that percentage even higher. And we were one of the first companies in the UK to put the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) labelling on our packs, and are looking forward to extending this initiative to our vending machines, so that the consumer can make an informed choice before purchase.

Our own strategy has been to work across products and sectors, finding the solution that works best for each market. But it's important to remember that we work in an industry where treats and indulgent foods are expected at certain meal occasions.

In the same way that the consumer isn't expected to restrict choice to ONLY healthy foods, our industry isn't expected to offer only healthy foods. It's a question of balance - and that is precisely the driving force behind this supplement.

We hope it gives you "food for thought" as to how you can bring health and wellness into your business, work and home.

David Field, managing director, Nestlé FoodServices

A is for Army catering

British soldiers have been well fed ever since Alexis Soyer improved culinary conditions in the field during the Crimean War in the 1850s. However, it is only more recently that the Royal Logisitics Corp, which is responsible for feeding the British Army, has increased the emphasis on the nutritional content of meals.

"As we have become more knowledgeable about which food groups will provide a soldier with the kind of stamina to sustain him or her throughout a shift of maybe 12 to 18 hours, we have made adjustments to the diet," says Major Harry Lomas, food service officer for London with responsibility for feeding 10,000 soldiers based within the M25 and at Windsor.

More prominence is now, therefore, given to slow-release carbohydrates found in fruit, vegetables and cereals. So, where a soldier might once have started his day with a fried breakfast, he is now more like to eat cereals with banana and toast. For a snack, nuts and dried fruits are now provided in place of sweets and chocolates.

Adopting different cooking methods - for instance, grilling and steaming as opposed to deep-frying - also helps maintain a healthy diet.

"Ensuring soldiers have good-quality, healthy food is an integral part of maintaining morale during a military campaign," says Lomas. "We aim to replicate everything we do in barracks, with food freshly prepared by chefs, out in the field. Depending on exactly where we are, we aim to maintain good supply lines to provide access to fresh ingredients. Where this is not possible we turn to frozen and dried stores, which ensure we provide soldiers with the correct nutritional content that they require."

It is only in more extreme conditions - maybe at the front line of a battle - that soldiers have to rely on ration packs that provide about 5,000 calories and all the necessary nutrients for a 24-hour period.

B is for Breakfast

It is often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day - and it is, when it comes to the hospitality industry, for all sorts of reasons.

For hotel guests, breakfast will often be the last meal they eat with you. So providing them with delicious, healthy options, served in an attractive way, will send them on their way with satisfying, lasting impressions. For employees, it is important to encourage them to eat a balanced breakfast - either before they come to work or by providing them with one when they arrive - to give them the ability to be able to concentrate well and be fully productive throughout the morning, as well as providing essential vitamins and minerals for general good health.

Eating a healthy breakfast is also an important factor in controlling weight, as skipping breakfast tends to lead to mid-morning snacking on items that are high in fats and sugars - such as biscuits and pastries.

What, then, constitutes a healthy breakfast? "Preferably, one that provides slow-release energy throughout the morning," says Jenny Watson, nutritionist for Kellogg's, who has worked with Novotel to produce Breakfast Your Choice, a new offering at the group's 31 hotels throughout the UK.

Watson suggests choosing a combination of items from each food group and aiming for 20-25% of your energy and nutrient requirement at breakfast. "For example, cereal with milk, scrambled egg on toast and a glass of juice contains about 460 calories and will keep you full up and ready to go throughout the morning," she says.

By providing information on the breakfast menu of the calorie content and the percentage of the daily calorie allowance, Novotel allows its customers to work out for themselves the healthiest options to suit their needs. As well as a wide range of cereals, porridge, fresh and dried fruits, seeds, juices and yogurts, there is also a selection of cooked items, including sausages, bacon and eggs.

C is for Calcium

Calcium is essential in our diets to help build strong bones and teeth, regulate muscle contraction (including the heartbeat) and ensure the blood clots normally. Adults need about 700mg each day, which should be obtained through a varied and balanced diet.

While milk, cheese and other diary products are good sources of calcium, customers may wish to avoid these foods because of their high fat content. Semi-skimmed and skimmed milk, though, will provide the same calcium content, so these should always be offered.

Alternative sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and okra (but not spinach), soya beans, tofu, bread and items with fortified flour, mineral water and fish where you eat the bones, such as sardines and pilchards.

D is for staff Diets

Feeding your staff decent, healthy food is vital for the efficient running and, ultimately, profitably of your company. It is no good putting every effort into nutritionally-sound meals for customers unless employees are benefiting from food that has been selected and prepared with the same care and attention.

It is something that Allegra McEvedy, co-owner and chef at Leon, the healthy fast-food company with eight outlets in London, believes in passionately. "Staff food, traditionally, is given very little attention and is often only fit for the bin," she says. "Our team are massively important to us and we recognise that by feeding them well they will stay bonny and bouncy throughout the day."

Rather than prepare separate staff food, Leon allows employees to select whatever they want to eat from the restaurant's menu. "We find that the specials - either a home-made soup or a home-made slow-cook dish - are particularly popular with the team as they will sustain them throughout the day. We pay a lot of attention on the menu to offering dishes that are packed with slow-release carbohydrates. The team know that these will be better for them, rather than filling themselves up on food that will make them feel flat for the afternoon."

Tasty and filling offerings enjoyed by Leon's staff include chilli con carne with brown basmati pilaf and toasted seeds, and Moroccan meatballs with a seasonal coleslaw that currently contains cabbage, carrots, peas, mustard seeds and herbs, all combined in a soya-based dressing.

E is for Exercise

Encouraging staff to exercise regularly can help boost the efficiency of your business. Not only will it improve the general health of employees - ensuring fewer work days lost because of sickness - but it will also help them be more alert, happier, and have an increased sense of vitality.

There are many ways of getting your staff to exercise. Why not offer, as a staff perk, help with membership at a local gym? The financial outlay will be repaid by a more productive workforce. Village London, which operates the Village East restaurant and the Garrison pub in Bermondsey, south-east London, offers staff a heavily discounted monthly fee at the neighbouring Top Notch gym. As a result, many staff now spend their afternoons between shifts taking a swim, sauna or work-out, instead of going to the pub.

While establishments with their own leisure facilities will often allow staff to use the gym or swimming pool when there is low demand from guests, St David's Hotel & Spa in Cardiff has its own staff gym, as well as a weekly staff aerobics class.

"The gym and exercise class are all part of the value Principal Hotels places on its staff welfare programme," says the hotel's PR and marketing manager, Susan Anderson. "It definitely has a positive impact on the performance of staff at work - it is a proven fact that by increasing the circulation and blood flow you become more alert and energised."

Meanwhile, staff at the Box Tree restaurant in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, have taken to mountain biking to combat the mental and physical exhaustion that comes with working in a Michelin-starred establishment.

"Biking gives us a chance to let off steam and relax, as well as enabling us to enjoy each other's company outside the hectic atmosphere of the kitchen," says chef-proprietor, Simon Gueller.

The Box Tree team recently conquered Lake District peak Skiddaw (3,053ft), following a two-and-a-half-hour cycle. "The achievement was exhilarating and there's no doubt that work morale and team communication are at an all-time high after our excursions," Gueller concludes.

F is for Five-a-day

One consistent message about healthy eating is that fruit and vegetables are essential for good health. Fruit and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals, they are an excellent source of fibre and antioxidants, they help to maintain a healthy weight and they lower the risk of heart disease, strokes and some cancers - it is no wonder then that the Government wants to see us all eating five portions every day.

However, the average person consumes only three portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Chefs and caterers, therefore, can help their customers achieve their daily target of five portions by ensuring there are plenty of fruit and vegetable options, both on their own and as an integral part of main-course dishes alongside fish and meat. Freshly squeezed juices and smoothies are another delicious way of offering both fruit and vegetables.

There is some uncertainty as to what actually constitutes a single portion. For fruit, a single portion amounts to 14 cherries, three apricots, two satsumas, or one apple, banana, orange or peach. Half a grapefruit and a large slice of melon or pineapple also counts as one portion.

A single vegetable portion could be two spears of broccoli, four heaped tablespoons of kale or green beans, or three heaped tablespoons of peas, pulses or beans (eg, haricot beans and chick peas).

For a comprehensive listing of portion sizes, visit www.5aday.nhs.uk.

G is for Garlic

Known as "nature's miracle medical chest", garlic has for centuries been heralded for its medicinal properties. It not only contains anti-cancer, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-blood clotting properties, but it also helps boost immunity, reduces cholesterol, acts as a decongestant and aids digestion.

There are three main varieties of garlic: white-skinned, pink-skinned and purple-skinned. White is the strongest, with the pink and purple having a slightly sweeter flavour. Freshly roasted garlic is a special treat in the spring and summer. With a soft skin and mild flavour, it is ideal served as a vegetable.

While most chefs use garlic to add a hint of pungency to a specific dish, Antony Worrall Thompson created an entire menu based on garlic in Modern Bistrot Cookery. It includes mini aïoli, garlic terrine, white garlic gazpacho, chargrilled squid with chilli and garlic oil, and roast chicken with 40 garlic cloves served with, asparagus with paprika and pan-fried potatoes with garlic, walnuts and parsley.

Read Antony Worrall Thompson's Garlic Terrine recipe >>

H is for hydration

Keeping well hydrated is essential to good health. We need water for our blood to be able to carry nutrients around the body, as well as replacing water lost through urine and sweat.

The first sign of dehydration is thirst, followed by headaches, lack of concentration, and confusion and irritability.

In the UK we should drink around 1.2 litres (six to eight glasses) of fluid every day to prevent us from getting dehydrated. Some fluids are obtained from the food we eat.

Restaurateurs, caterers and hoteliers should provide freely available water for their employees at all times. While customers have the opportunity to purchase bottled water alongside all manner of soft drinks, it is sensible policy to offer jugs of tap water as well.

An large number of hydration drinks are now also available, should caterers wish to offer an alternative to water. One of the newest is the Juice Doctor Hydration Fix drink, available in blackcurrant, tropical, pomegranate and lemon flavours. Delivered ambient in 12 x 500ml screw-cap bottles, they should be chilled before serving. See www.thejuicedoctordrinks.com for further details.

I is for Indulgence

Customers may increasingly be looking for healthier options, but on the flipside they may also want a little bit of luxurious indulgence every now and again. In our increasingly cash-rich, time-poor society, the occasional small indulgence is the perfect escape from the pressures of everyday life or a treat for that special occasion.

When eating out, desserts are the ultimate in gratification, so it's important not to neglect this course when planning a menu. For customers looking to indulge, while not wanting to opt for an entire dessert, why not offer sharing desserts or taster platters of exotic fruits?

Indulgence, however, doesn't all have to be about lots of calories. It can be about providing a luxurious, stress-free ambience, with beautiful linens in the bedrooms, special toiletries in the bathroom, fresh flowers on the tables, and a range of relaxing spa treatments - all provided by genuine, eager-to-please staff.

And when it comes to providing a special culinary treat - a small selection of exquisite hand-made chocolates using the best couverture (high in antioxidants) is hard to beat.

J is for Juice

One of the simplest ways for caterers to provide their customers with a healthy option is to offer a delicious selection of freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices.

Juicing raw fruit and vegetables is one of the best means of achieving maximum nutritionally benefit from these ingredients, for as soon as heat is applied to fruit and vegetables there is some loss of essential vitamins and minerals.

Juices are popular everywhere from student cafés to five-star hotels. The combinations are endless and there is an opportunity for every establishment to create their own signature juice.

At Burst, a juice bar in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, customers can ask for their favourite fruits and vegetables to be combined from a selection that includes apples, beetroot, blackberries, coconut milk, celery, mangoes, raspberries, spinach and watermelon. And for an extra nutritional boost, they will add a measure of aloe vera, echinacea, ginseng, guarana (a native Brazilian seed that is said to combat fatigue) or organic wheatgrass. The current favourite among customers is the "energy boost" juice, containing beetroot, carrot, orange and spinach.

K is for Kale

Kale is one of the most nutritionally rich vegetables grown in the UK and, with its curly leaves, also one of the most attractive. Yet it remains greatly underused by chefs.

Kale is packed with beta-carotene, folate and Vitamin C. It's also one of the richest vegetable sources of calcium, and contains vital minerals such as iron, magnesium and potassium. Significantly, kale contains 17 times more Vitamin C than carrots and four times more than spinach, and more folate than broccoli.

The most common varieties are curly and red Russian, but it is carvolo nero (black cabbage) which is most prized - particularly in Italian cookery. The tightly crinkled dark blueish-green leaves is one of the main ingredients of ribollita, the Tuscan soup that also contains beans, bread and extra virgin olive oil.

Kale has a very pronounced flavour - much richer than other members of the brassica family, such as cabbage or broccoli - so it makes a good partner to other strongly flavoured ingredients such as bacon, garlic, cheese and soy sauce.

Paul Gayler, executive chef at the Lanesborough hotel, London, likes to use kale in the Portuguese soup caldo verde, alongside potatoes, olive oil and garlic sausage, or combine it with mash, olive oil and garlic to make champ, or partner it with polenta, wild mushrooms and goats' cheese.

Read Paul Gayler's creamy polenta with goats' cheese, kale and chanterelle mushrooms recipe >>

L is for Local foods

Purchasing local foods generally means buying ingredients when in season and that means food at its freshest, most flavourful, most traceable and most nutritious. It makes no sense to buy expensive air-freighted food from abroad, which will have lost some of its nutritional value in transit and increased CO2 emissions, when there are delicious foods available on our doorsteps.

"Foods in season contain the nutrients, minerals and trace elements that our bodies need at particular times of the year," says Jennifer Meakin, organiser of British Food Fortnight, which was launched on Monday (22 September) and runs until 7 October.

The fruit and vegetables that are coming into season now and can be purchased locally - such as butternut squash, courgettes, apples and plums - are packed with vitamin C to boost resistance to winter colds.

At Fairyhill, a 60-seat restaurant with eight bedrooms situated on the Gower peninsula in South Wales, the kitchen brigade have embraced the ethos of local food with enthusiasm by offering a menu using ingredients sourced within a 10-mile radius. As well as using herbs, salads and duck eggs from the restaurant's walled garden, they buy Welsh Black beef from the Penrice Estate three miles away, salt marsh lamb Llanrhdian two miles away, cockles and laverbread from the nearby shoreline, lobsters, crab and fish from the local fishermen and vegetables from Beynon's Nicholston Farm. "The ingredients are packed with vitamins because they are so fresh," says chef-partner Paul Davies.

To search out quality local foods there is an abundance of information on the internet to help you. Look at www.farmersmarkets.net to discover your nearest market, www.foodfrombritain.com for details of specific suppliers, and www.britishfoodfortnight.co.uk to find out how you can be involved in promoting local foods.

M is for Meals on Wheels

For some of the most vulnerable members of our community, the meals on wheels service is the only means of being able to eat a nutritionally balanced meal.

More than 40 million meals on wheels are served annually by numerous local authorities and other agencies to about 200,000 recipients - primarily older people. This year marks the service's diamond jubilee [Read article].

"Meals on wheels is at the front line in the prevention of malnutrition among older people living in the community," says Sue Hawkins, who until earlier this month was the chairman of the National Association of Care Catering. "For the service to celebrate its diamond jubilee is a testament to the importance of meals on wheels in its support of care in the community."

There have been many nutritional developments and technological advances in the service since meals were first delivered by the Women's Voluntary Service (now the Women's Royal Voluntary Service) in 1947 in Welwyn Garden City.

As the leading supplier of meals delivered to the community, Apetito works with a team of development chefs to ensure the meals look appetising as well as contain balanced levels of protein, vitamin and nutrients.

"Our appetites tend to decrease with age, so its essential to pack all the goodness into appropriately sized portions," says Graham Russell, managing director of community meals at Apetito. "As all meals in our community meals range are frozen at the point of preparation, we can ensure nutrients are locked in, to the benefit of our end-users, who are guaranteed consistently nutritious meals."

Next week, Meals on Wheels Week - from Monday 1 to Sunday 7 October - will highlight the importance of the service that enables many disabled and house-bound people to remain in their own homes long after they would otherwise have been hospitalised or taken into residential care.

N is for Nutritionally-balanced menus

In putting together a nutritionally balanced menu, chefs and caterers are advised to think about the Food Standards Agency's new Eat Well Plate campaign.

This suggests that, for healthy living, our diets should consist of:

  • one-third fruit and vegetables
  • one-third carbohydrates such as pasta, rice or potatoes
  • one-sixth diary products
  • one-sixth proteins (lean meats and fish) and fats (unsaturated where possible).

While a chef will not want to be tied down to these figures for every dish he or she prepares, they are worth considering in the overall balance of a menu.

"It is also important to be mindful of the target audience," says Nestlé senior nutritionist Nilani Sritharan. "When catering for children, the protein, calcium and iron content needs to be higher to encourage growth. In a sports environment, quick and sustained energy snacks and drinks are important, while in an adult-only environment some dishes with fewer calories are necessary for those customers watching their weight."

www.nestle.co.uk/nutrition

O is for Organics

For the past 30 years Daphne Lambert and Martin Griffiths have been offering guests at Penrhos Court, their 17-bedroom hotel and 30-seat restaurant in Kington, Herefordshire, an organic lifestyle. In 1996 they became the first catering establishment in the UK to achieve organic certification from the Soil Association.

"Organics is incredibly important, both to protect our health and the planet," says Lambert, who provides organic menus, bed linen and toiletries. "There was little awareness of what we were doing when we started out, but the interest has increased dramatically in recent years. Everyone who comes to us today is enticed by our organic status."

The on-going rise of organic food and drink sales in the UK is an indication of the public's increasing desire to buy and eat natural, unadulterated produce and ingredients. Organic food is perceived to be healthy as it generally contains higher levels of vitamin C and essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron, as well as cancer-fighting antioxidants. It also avoids additives, pesticides, genetically modified ingredients and the use of antibiotics, which can all be linked to health problems.

Retail sales of organic food grew by 22% during 2006, to reach the £2b mark for the first time. While the exact figures for the sale of organic food within the catering sector is unknown, the Soil Association - the UK's largest organisation promoting and certifying organic food - reports that 44% of customers would like to see an organic option on the menu when they eat out.

An increasing number of restaurants, hotels and catering companies - 53 in 2006 - are now certified to serve organic food. There is also significant growth in interest in the Soil Association's Catering Code of Practice, which allows caterers to demonstrate their organic credentials when full certification is not a viable option.

P is for Pedicures

For an industry where so many of its employees spend most of their time standing, just how many employers advise their staff of the importance of looking after their feet?

First, you should ensuring staff are wearing correctly fitting, comfortable footwear that is suitable for the specific job - whether it be in the kitchen or front-of-house.

Then, why not emphasise the benefits of a pedicure, which can be an ideal way to soothe and relax feet at the end of a busy working day?

A pedicure is basically a beauty treatment for your feet and will involve the removal of dead skin, softening of hard skin and the shaping of toenails. After the feet are cleansed and soaked in warm, scented water, they will be massaged in soothing oils and creams.

Some pedicures include a reflexology-based massage to help relaxation, while others may include the use of hot stones, mud, wraps or salts for exfoliation.

As well as leaving your staff feeling refreshed, a good pedicure can also treat skin problems such as calluses and help their posture by enabling them to walk more comfortably.

Q is for Quorn

When catering for vegetarians it is important to ensure that they are offered a nutritionally balanced choice of dishes.

Quorn - the brand name for a range of meat-free products containing mycoprotein, which is a relative of the mushroom family - provides a good source of protein, is low in fat, free of cholesterol and contains no additives or artificial colours. It is also a good source of dietary fibre and essential minerals.

Quorn products, which are made by Marlow Foods, include fillets, diced pieces, mince, sausages, burgers, balls and tempura-coated dippers. For further information, telephone 01642 710803.

R is for Rest and Relaxation

Living in a frenetic world in which we are bombarded with 24/7 communications, the need for rest and relaxation has never been more important. Too much adrenalin in our bodies causes our blood pressure to rise, which can create stress. Rest and relaxation keep our stress levels down.

It is no surprise, then, that spas are one of the fastest-growing markets within the hospitality industry.

At the recently refurbished 24-bedroom Summer Lodge hotel in Evershot, Dorset, more than 50% of guests make use of the new luxury spa facilities, which include a swimming pool, gym and treatment rooms using Matis products.

"Spas help to maintain the work-life balance by maximising the guests' relaxation time," says Oliver Bleckmann, deputy general manager at Summer Lodge.

The SenSpa at the 80-bedroom Careys Manor Hotel in Brockenhurst, Hampshire - winner of the Hotel Spa of the Year title in the British Beauty & Spa Awards 2007 - is marketed as "a sanctuary for those who desire the ultimate experience in relaxation." It offers a range of indulgent treatments and facilities, heavily influenced by the Orient, including a tepidarium (a relaxation room with heated loungers), experience showers (tropical and sea storm showers with thunder and lightening effects) and a Rhassoul mud room.

"Our philosophy is that inner beauty creates outer radiance," says the hotel's public relations co-ordinator, Heather McGee. "It is a philosophy that we apply to our staff, as well as our guests, as we allow them to use the swimming pool, Jacuzzi and sauna in the spa during off-peak periods. The result is a happier and healthier staff."

S is for the School Food Trust

Set up in 2005, the School Food Trust has the health and wellness of every schoolchild in the UK in mind as it sets about the challenging task of improving the quality of food supplied and consumed in schools.

Prue Leith, chairman of the trust, says that as well as encouraging children to eat more healthily in order to combat the problem of obesity, she is equally concerned about discouraging children from snacking in the streets and encouraging them, instead, to eat in a more convivial and social manner.

"How can we pass down our values to our children unless we take the time to sit down and eat and talk with them?" she asks. "By not doing so, we are denying our children an enormous pleasure in life and contributing towards an increasingly food-ignorant nation."

Leith recognises that getting the nation's children to engage with healthy food - both by eating it and cooking it - is a major challenge, but she is greatly encouraged by the many schools that have already achieved major improvements.

For instance, St Martin in the Fields High School for Girls in Lambeth, London, has seen the number of pupils eating school meals increase from 55% to nearly 75%. There are about 850 students and 80 staff at the school.

New healthy initiatives include: a freshly made pasta sauce containing tomatoes, onions, carrots, courgettes and garlic, in place of a tinned equivalent a wide variety of salads including braised chick peas, and carrot and courgettes with toasted sesame seeds instant mash being replaced by fresh potatoes with the skins often left on for increased fibre chicken sausages instead of pork sausages and the introduction of roasted root vegetables.

"I feel all staff and pupils have appreciated the improvements and are always complementing me and my staff about the delicious food we serve," says catering manager Allen Milton-Froy. "I am passionate about the food we deliver to our children and believe we have a responsibility to provide them with the best nutritional food to fuel their minds and growing bodies."

T is for Tea

As a nation we love drinking tea and get through a staggering 165 million cups a day. Thankfully, it appears that this is beneficial for us as research shows that drinking four cups of tea a day, as part of a healthy lifestyle, may offer significant health benefits.

Tea, which contains powerful antioxidants called flavonoids, contributes to our overall daily fluid intake. When taken with milk, it can form an essential element in our daily intake of nutrients, such as calcium, potassium and magnesium. Tea also provides a good natural source of fluoride, needed to support bone mineralisation and protect teeth against dental decay.

Taken on its own tea has no calories. Using semi-skimmed milk adds only 13 calories per cup.

The generally held belief that black tea is not as healthy as green tea is not true. Green and black teas, in fact, are from the same plant, camelia sinensis, and contain similar amounts of antioxidants and caffeine.

With the consumer trend toward health and wellbeing gaining momentum, there is plenty of opportunity to offer tea as a healthy choice to customers. As well as black, green and white teas, there are also an increasing number of flavoured teas on the market, all offering different health benefits. As well as real teas blended with fruit, spices or herbs, there are also a wide selection of tisanes available, such as chamomile, peppermint, nettle, or fruit teas, which contain no real tea at all.

Twinings, for instance, report a growing interest in its Benefit Blends, which are designed to either cleanse (containing spearmint, nettle and milk thistle), aid digestion (fennel seeds and peppermint), recharge (blackcurrants, ginseng, echinacea and hibiscus), recover (peppermint, rooibos, milk thistle and ginseng), calm (chamomile, rooibos, lavender and cocoa beans) or detox (lemon, limeflowers, milk thistle and lemon verbena). For further details, visit www.twiningsfs.co.uk.

U for Unsaturated fats

It is important to have some fat in our diet because it helps the body absorb some vitamins, is a good source of energy and a source of the essential fatty acids that the body is unable to make itself.

But having too much fat is likely to lead to excessive weight gain, which in turn can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood and so raise the chance of developing heart disease.

It is important, therefore, to cut back on saturated fats (found in butter, lard, sausages, hard cheese, cream, coconut oil and palm oil) and replace them with unsaturated fats, which can actually help reduce cholesterol levels and provide us with the essential fatty acids that our bodies need.

Chefs and caterers can help consumers by providing foods that are high in unsaturated fats. These include oily fish (such as sardines, herring, mackerel, trout and salmon) avocados nuts and seeds (eg, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame and poppy seeds) sunflower, rapeseed, vegetable and olive oils.

V is for Vending

Healthy vending may sound like an oxymoron as vending machines are traditionally though of as dispensing nothing but chocolate bars, crisps and fizzy drinks.

But not any more: a new breed of vending machines has sprung up to cater for the increasing demand for healthy foods on the go. And nowhere has that demand been greater than in schools, where new rules relating to what can be sold from school vending machines came into place earlier this month.

Schools are now no longer allowed to sell confectionery, savoury snacks (unless they are free from added salt, sugar or fat) or sweetened drinks through vending machines. Instead, they can sell a variety of fruit and vegetable products, such as fresh juices, and must provide access to free, fresh water.

At Salt Grammar School in Bradford, West Yorkshire, healthy vending options have been a hit with the 1,400 pupils. Bradford Council's in-house catering provider, Education Contract Services (ECS), supplies the catering services to the school and reports that income from two chilled vending machines averages about £71, accounting for 7% of the school's total catering turnover, per day. As all the products for the machines are made fresh each day, no preservatives are needed or used. Items include fresh fruit, yogurts, fruit salads, pasta pots, wraps, sandwiches, smoothies, fruit juices and water.

There are many benefits for schools that sell healthy foods and drinks through vending machines. They can increase the variety of food and drink options across the school, they offer additional service points and so reduce the queues at other food outlets, they provide a low-cost option for a catering provision outside of school hours, and they are an additional revenue earner for the school.

W is for Walking

Walking has been described as the nearest activity to perfect exercise. Not only is it good for your physical health - particularly for helping to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, strokes and osteoporosis - but it is also a great way to de-stress. Walking encourages relaxation, relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety, and generally improves your mood.

Why not, then, provide the means and wherewithal for guests to take a walk, enabling them to return to your establishment invigorated and in the best frame of mind to enjoy your hospitality? This could be done simply by providing maps of the local area with scenic locations and pubs marked, and the offer of a packed lunch. Or why not put together a package for a walking weekend, which could be a means of boosting business during off-peak periods?

While hotels in the country may seem to be the obvious location for walking breaks, city-centre hotels could also offer details of walks to major tourist sights and parks.

Help is on hand from specialist walking companies, who provide guides with knowledge of a particular area. In London, Soundmap (www.soundmap.co.uk) is soon to link up with Firmdale Hotels and Holiday Inn, Camden Lock, to provide a range of audio walking tours to enable guests to rent MP3 players with walks loaded on them covering Soho, King's Road and Camden Town.

Upland Escapes (01367 851111) is a walking tour operator that has teamed up with a range of luxury hotels throughout the Cotswolds - including Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter and the Grapevine in Stow-on-the-Wold.

"Guests can choose a short walk, a half-day walk or a full-day walk and lunch may either be enjoyed in a country pub along the way or we can provide a gourmet packed lunch," says director Laura Whinney.

X is for X-factor foods

There are some foods which could be said to have the X-factor because they are packed full of essential nutrients. Often hailed as "superfoods", they include ingredients such as blueberries, pomegranates, salmon, spinach and walnuts. The likes of little-known foods such as the goji berries and blue-green algae are also claimed to be superfoods.

Chefs and caterers, however, should be aware of any products which market themselves as "superfoods" as a new EU ruling has banned the use of the term, unless it is accompanied by a specific authorised health claim that explains why the product is good for you. Beware, therefore, of using the term "superfoods" on menus.

While it is important to incorporate some of the X-factor ingredients into menus, there is no benefit to customers by chefs over-using one particular ingredient, at the expense of others, as our bodies know when they have consumed sufficient nutrients - the rest go to waste.

Far better, then, to offer a varied and balanced selection of unprocessed ingredients, with particular emphasis on plenty of fruit and vegetables. However, some processing can be beneficial as a tomato sauce will contain more lycopene (an antioxidant) than a raw tomato.

Y is for Yoga

Practised for thousands of years in India for health and personal development, yoga is an ideal form of exercise for all ages and fitness levels. It incorporates physical, mental and spiritual exercises which are designed to increase flexibility, promote relaxation, and improve posture, circulation and digestion.

Many different establishments are incorporating yoga into their wellbeing offering to customers and guests.

For instance, Iglu bar and restaurant in Edinburgh, which describes itself as an ethical eaterie specialising in wild, organic and sustainable produce, is in the process of setting up yoga classes. "Nutritious food sourced with a free conscious is only part of a healthy existence," says Iglu's proprietor, Charlie Cornelius. "We have a wonderful room below the restaurant that we wanted to use in a way that complemented what we already do.e_SDRq

At the Soma Spa at the five-star Royal Garden Hotel, London, ashtanga yoga - a method that involves synchronising the breath with a progressive series of postures to produce intense internal heat and a profuse sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs - is one of the most popular forms of exercise.

Clients practising yoga benefit from "improved circulation, a light and strong body and a calm mind," says Carolan Brown, spa manager at Soma. "Our classes are attended by mostly business people who find yoga helps with achieving a good work-life balance."

Z is for Zinc

We all need zinc to help our bodies make new cells and enzymes, process the carbohydrates, fats and proteins that we eat and heal wounds. A varied and well-balanced diet should provide all the zinc required on a daily basis, which is to 5.5-9.5mg for men and 4-7mg for women.

Chefs can provide their customers with a good source of zinc by offering a selection of shellfish such as oysters, mussels, crab and lobster, lean red meats including beef and lamb, Parmesan and other hard or crumbly cheeses such as Cheshire, wholegrain cereals and pumpkin seeds.

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