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Holiday parties are headed into healthier territory

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

This post is by SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

Caterers and restaurants with party facilities are heading into the busiest season of the year, as corporate America starts gearing up to celebrate the holidays. While it’s too early to tell whether bosses will spend more lavishly to entertain employees and clients than they have in recent years, one thing is for sure — more of them are keeping almost as close an eye on the nutritional tallies as they are on the tab.

Forty percent of employers who responded to a recent survey say their companies have policies in place to promote healthier food in the workplace, both in company cafeterias and at catered events, and the lion’s share of executives polled say their employees appreciate efforts to make workplace food healthier, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Additionally, 64% of respondents say they offer healthier options at corporate events, from staff meetings to splashy holiday parties, presenting a challenge to caterers who must balance the desire for special-occasion indulgences with the desire to stick to healthier eating plans.

At Food Trends Catering in Manhattan, clients’ tastes have been evolving over the past decade or so, says account executive Nina Moskowitz, whose mom, Alison, started the family business 20 years ago and still runs it today. These days, those boxed lunches served at conferences and training sessions are just as likely to hold green salads with grilled chicken and carrot sticks as big sandwiches, chips and cookies, she says, and even simple sandwich selections for staff meetings are served with the mayo-based stuffing on the side and at least one meatless option.

Today’s food-savvy clients request everything from lighter appetizers and baked chicken instead of fried to vegetarian options and gluten-free choices, and clients in certain industries tend to be more focused on offering less-fattening party fare, she says. Fashion parties are big on salads, light appetizers and lean proteins including tofu, for example, and one Food Trends client even requests nutritional details in writing for each dish that will be served at his parties.

Many healthy changes can be made with little or no difference in price, Moskowitz says, which is appealing in today’s economy, where competition is fierce and clients continue to count their pennies, especially when it comes to perks like parties. Baking instead of frying, switching to healthier oils and putting mayo-based sandwich fillings on the side are all alternatives that don’t change the price. Other requests, including all-organic or local menus, may cost more, but for the most part caterers can find creative ways to deliver healthier party fare without substantial price increases, she says.

Creativity is the key. Just as restaurants must continually refresh their menus in response to changing customer tastes, caterers must constantly be looking toward the next trend, Moskowitz says. “In New York especially, you have to be ahead of the trends. You can’t be in your little bubble. It’s a matter of being out there and keeping your eye on what’s going on. Most successful restaurants are doing that, and we try to do that, too. Companies are getting approached by a lot of caterers out there, so we have to be creative and different. We have to give them what they want, sometimes without them asking for it, and we present healthy as another thing we can do.”

Are you tweaking holiday menus with an eye on health? Leave a comment.

Image credit, lisegagne, iStockPhoto