Event Menus Cater to Everyone’s Dietary NeedsMarch 18, 2019

Healthy F&B Trends By
March 18, 2019

Event Menus Cater to Everyone’s Dietary Needs

Healthy F&B Trends

IFMM-2019-02Feb-Healty_Food_and_Beverage-860x418The New York Hilton Midtown hotel is introducing healthy, protein-rich and sustainable products, such as fresh fruit and lean meat, at their food stations. Credit: New York Hilton Midtown 

With a new year now upon us, there are a numerous health food trends already taking place that planners can get excited about. While keto diets, golden milk lattes and gluten-free may have made inroads in the meetings industry last year, 2019 will see the rise of many additional healthy food and beverage trends that planners can get excited about.

Oat milk’s growing popularity among consumers last year will get even stronger and will soon appear on hotel and private caterer group menus, especially if producers can increase supply, and new spices from far-flung destinations will appear with greater visibility in convention center kitchens.

“We do a tremendous amount of group businesses throughout our 47,000-plus square feet of meeting space,” says Thomas Harkins, executive chef of Loews Philadelphia Hotel and its signature Bank & Bourbon restaurant. “Recently, we have noticed a movement toward healthy foods for our buffets during meetings and breaks. Meeting planners are now vocalizing guests’ dietary preferences and restrictions, like adhering to the keto diet or maintaining a vegan lifestyle. Additionally, gluten-free requests continue to be popular with our guests. We are now building our menus with all these offerings in mind to ensure there is plenty of variety no matter your preference.

“Meeting and conference participants are already requesting healthy food at their events,” Harkins continues. “Some healthy dishes we have created for recent groups include roasted carrots salad with quinoa, charred cauliflower steak with farro and romesco and roasted eggplant with tabbouleh and cilantro curry. Healthy breakfast foods have been increasingly popular as well. We’ve added healthy baked egg dishes and vegan options like acai bowls. The feedback from all these new dishes have been overwhelmingly positive, and I expect they will continue to be some of our most popular items as we go through 2019.”

“We not only keep our guests’ health in mind when making our food selections, but we make a great effort to provide nutritious meals that keep their energy high throughout the day.”
Amanda Sherman, CMP

Most Popular

Some of the most popular and eagerly awaited healthy food trends this year will include:

Oat milk: Nearly every year for the past decade, there has been an alternative milk product and last year was no different. Oat milk took the world by storm thanks to the fact that it foams just like dairy milk (perfect for lattes) and it tastes pretty similar. Oat milk’s reach will spread much farther than the metropolitan areas it currently has under its spell.

Moringa: If meeting attendees like to start their day with an energizing morning beverage, then moringa might be perfect. Native to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, moringa is a plant that’s entirely edible — from the stems to the leaves to the seeds — and is packed with nutrients like vitamin C, magnesium and potassium. Planners can request it from their F&B contacts.

Shelf-stable probiotics: Probiotics aren’t exactly new, but shelf-stable probiotics are. Whole Foods and product distributors in many U.S. markets report that there will be more products containing strains of probiotics like Bacillus coagulans. GBI-30 and MTCC 5856 are two strains that will remain safe to eat when stored at room temperature; thus, conference and meeting attendees will start seeing them in granola, oatmeal, nut butters, soups and more. Even beauty brands will be jumping on the trend by incorporating probiotics into things like lotion and sunscreen.

Alternative fats: With keto, paleo and grain-free diets continuing to gain popularity, the demand for dairy-, animal- and grain-free healthy fat sources will continue to rise. The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that offers many health benefits. Alternative fat sources will increase this year, especially MCT oil (a type of oil extracted from coconut oil), coconut butter and lots of ghee, a kind of clarified butter that has been used in southeast Asian cooking and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.

Snacks from the sea: For those afternoon breakout sessions, attendees will be seeing new types of snacks that originated in the ocean. These may include puffed snacks made from water lily seeds, plant-based tuna alternatives made with algae ingredients and crispy salmon skins. These healthy products aren’t just limited to snacks — perhaps your attendees at an upcoming conference may be served kelp noodles and seaweed butter.

Tahini: The new “almond butter” is a condiment made from ground hulled sesame seeds that has been used for thousands of years in the Middle East and parts of the Mediterranean. It is a major ingredient in foods like hummus and baba ghanoush. It has a slightly more savory flavor that makes it great for adding to dips like hummus, but it’s also perfect in everything from smoothies to baked goods.

Frozen treats: Perhaps 2019 will be the year of avocado popsicles, hummus ice cream and coconut water soft-serve. Planners may want to order pints of ice cream swirled with artisanal cheese; or stretchy, chewy Turkish ice cream; Thai rolled ice cream; or Taiwanese snow ice cream at your next event.

Middle Eastern and North African spices: Professional chefs have been incorporating more and more Middle Eastern and North African spices into their food. This includes spices such as harissa, sumac and za’atar. Za’atar is a popular Middle Eastern spice mix consisting of oregano, thyme, sumac, ground sesame seeds and salt, and meeting planners will see a lot more of it on catering menus at hotels and restaurants across the country.

Orange wine: This is said to become one of the new healthy alcoholic beverage trends this year. Made from the same grapes as white wine, orange wine gets its distinct hue from letting the juices of the fruit ferment with its skins and seeds. The wine is often described as having a rich flavor with a hint of honey, apple, orange rind and juniper, all healthy-sounding ingredients even if they are not actually in the wine. Meeting attendees will be pleasantly surprised at its taste.

Organic Gardens

Some hotels are using their own organic gardens to make sure that fresh, healthy vegetables are available for their 2019 menus.

The Boulders Resort & Spa in Arizona “has a certified, 5,600-square-foot organic garden that makes it easy to provide healthy menus for meeting guests,” says Harold Fehr, the property’s director of catering and conference services. “The garden has eight elevated planter boxes that grows seasonal organic vegetables offering the pure quality of the ingredients and flavor across the board, so that we can provide a true, healthy experience that focuses on healthy eating, keeping attendees well-fueled and at their physical best.

“Over the summer the Boulders hosted a major women’s athletic wear group meeting. We provided menus that were all-organic, using healthy salads and lean protein along with water stations,” Fehr continues. “From the onset, they made it clear that they didn’t want the ‘traditional’ buffets with multiple chaffers and a long line. So we separated their healthy buffets into various and distinctive stations around the room. It worked very well and was truly a farm-to-table experience that they really enjoyed.”

For meeting planners from financial and insurance firms, and for independent planners who work with these industries, it helps that F&B directors and chefs at luxury properties are well aware of the trends regarding healthy food and beverages and are more than happy to create new combinations or use unique ingredients in order to satisfy attendee needs.

“Typically, items that are in a heavy sauce, fried and encrusted are found on most banquet menus,” says Amanda Sherman, CMP, marketing specialist, corporate events, Frankenmuth Insurance. “In 2019, we are looking to our trusted chefs to provide grilled options that do not compromise the quality or flavor of the protein offerings. We not only keep our guests’ health in mind when making our food selections, but we make a great effort to provide nutritious meals that keep their energy high throughout the day. Limiting heavy carbs and unhealthy fats allows us to ensure that our guests are returning to the meeting fueled to engage in meaningful dialogue.

“Additionally, we are seeking out flavorful beverages that do not have artificial ingredients, such as flavored sparking waters or infused waters,” she continues. “We also like to see stronger brewed coffee with fair trade coffee beans or with local producers. Buying local and supporting our community is important to our company, and we are simply thrilled when our venues share similar values.”

Sherman says that “meeting attendees are tremendously appreciative of healthy offerings during events we host. Our team and guests travel for a majority of their work, which results in eating out more often than not. We are more than happy to provide them with balanced meals that do not slow them down. For some time, customizing menus was unheard of and we were left serving heavy menu options that consisted of rich sauces, buttery vegetables, creamy starches and a variety of sugary desserts. We have since moved to lighter fare with lean protein, steamed vegetables and an assortment of flavorful sides that leave our guests satisfied. We still offer starches, carbs and sweets, but they are no longer taking center stage on our buffets.”

Jennifer Squeglia, CMP, independent event professional at RLC Events is very active in Financial and Insurance Conference Professionals (FICP) and believes that everyone involved in a planned event should be on the same page regarding the F&B selections.

“I understand that new and healthy food and beverage trends are important not only to the planner, but to the participants and venues as well,” she says. “The idea of knowing where the food products are sourced from is not really new, but has been gaining strength each year, and 2019 will not be any different. The chefs especially try to source locally, which makes every meal fresher and healthier and supports local communities. Attendees appreciate this, too. When they are attending events, they tend to eat more than they do at home, so it is important to offer healthy options not only at meals but throughout the day.”

Squeglia says that offering healthy options like fresh fruits at water stations, pop chips rather than potato chips, or mixed nuts are trends that will definitely continue this year.

“There are always new and healthy snack brand options that can be served not only during breaks, but throughout an all-day conference or incentive gathering,” she says. “Venues are well-aware of this and in regions throughout the country, especially in southern California, fresh, organic and non-GMO trends are well-established, and I expect this trend to continue through 2019 and beyond.”

Global Flair

For planners seeking a menu with global flair, head to the Caribbean’s Hotel Xcaret Mexico. The property’s 10 restaurants and eight bars, ranging from casual to upscale, offer a tantalizing array of international and Mexican gastronomy, declared by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The resort’s signature restaurant is Ha’ — meaning water in the Mayan language — by Carlos Gaytan, the first Mexican chef to receive a Michelin Star. Attendees can partake in an elaborate seven-course tasting menu, perfectly paired with Mexican fine wines. Gaytan describes his dishes as a meeting of authentic flavors with the finest traditional, locally sourced ingredients. “This is more than just a restaurant. It is a way to taste and experience Mayan and Mexican culture,” he says.

Other dining options include Cantina Los Faroles, with offerings such as duck tacos, grilled beef picanha and cucumber salad with jicama, agave syrup and chia vinaigrette; Fuego Restaurant’s signature dish “Risotto de mi comadre,” a culinary experience that combines mole, shiitake, foie gras and chocolate; and Las Cuevas, a Mexican restaurant cut out of the natural caves below the resort.


Sodexo’s National Director of Culinary Development, Kevin Cecilio, says that many of the F&B selections that planners of all industries order, including those for insurance and financial firms, are driven by price/budget.

“Most of the planners want to offer healthy options, so we must work with them to make sure it works within their required budgets per event. It is a job we take very seriously,” Cecilio says.

He believes that the following four categories will become more popular with planners and attendees this year.

Fermented Foods: “Building on last year’s rise in popularity, the fermented food trend continues to move beyond traditional foods into cocktails, sauces, snacks, frozen treats, kombucha cocktail mixers, miso dressings, hot sauces and more.”

Seeds: “Adding a crunchy, delicious texture to everything from salads to soft cheeses, seeds are no longer what gets thrown away. Roasted, tossed into soup, even mixed with chocolate to make a healthy dessert, seeds provide healthy, omega-3 oils and protein and are a great option for people with food sensitivities or those who maintain a vegan diet.”

Exotic Citrus: “The coming year looks to bring bright citrus flavors from exotic fruits, such as kumquats, pomelos, yuzu, Ugli fruit, bergamot and Meyer lemons. For example, yuzu is an essential ingredient in ponzu sauce, and pomelo, which can be found in drinks and desserts.”

Lemon Verbena, Savory and Caraway Flower: “These three herbs are poised to become household names in 2019. The Savory herb has a pungent flavor and pairs well with slow-cooked meats, beets, eggs, potatoes and tomatoes. Lemon verbena provides a lemon flavor and is often used for light marinades, dressings, even chicken and fish dishes. The seeds and leaves of the white caraway flower provide a flavorful addition to a variety of foods, including bread, cheese, cakes and sausage. The leaves can even be cooked like spinach or used in salads.”

At the New York Hilton Midtown hotel, Victor Wilson, director of events, says that for insurance and financial meetings and events, planners will be looking to increase their use of healthy foods.

“As the corporate meetings landscape evolves, we adapt our approach to mirror the needs and wants of the client,” he says. “Our aim is to introduce trending healthy and sustainable products as well as activity breaks that promote balance and wellness. One of our more popular breaks, ‘Yoga and Yogurt,’ is a 50-

minute yoga class followed by nutrient-dense power shots — ginger and wheatgrass is the favorite — with others that include kombucha, superfruit, avocado and, of course, yogurt. In 2019, I think the focus on hyper-local, minimal ingredient meals and health-base break options will continue to dominate the meetings space.

“Meeting planners are diligent about creating events that encompass the attendee needs, as well as cognizant of the footprint their meeting or convention has on the city,” Wilson continues. “In 2018, there was an upward trend toward unique, healthy breaks. At the New York Hilton Midtown, we have had planners organize smoothie breaks, deconstructed salad bars, as well as protein-rich, regional meals that showcases the range and simplicity of New York-based meat and produce. Not only does this focus lean toward less waste, but it also starts a conversation with the attendees and within their company about sustainability and wellness.”

Making Requests

What types of new healthy foods or beverages will be requested of venue F&B managers or professional chefs? Sherri K. Lindenberg, senior vice president, marketing communications, at Crump Life Insurance Services, says, “We have been using infused waters at most events. It’s a nicer presentation than plain water and aside from being healthy, is a cost-saving alternative to sodas and bottled water. We are also seeing more interest in tea than coffee, so this year we are looking to have tea bars with more assorted flavors.

“We are always making sure we cater to the gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan guests, but find it easier to have general meals selected that can work for everyone,” Lindenberg says. “Salads are getting more interesting. We are seeing a lot of interest in mixing the traditional cold salad with roasted vegetables and more root vegetables. An increased use of vegetable alternatives for rice and pasta with various root vegetables is easily able to be ‘riced’ or spiraled.”

Lindenberg says that her attendees definitely appreciate the trend toward healthy F&B, and they let her company know that through surveys.

“Most of our attendees travel frequently, so they don’t see the meeting as an opportunity to ‘splurge,’ and they feel a stronger need to stick to their regimen when at our event,” she says. “We get requests for, and positive feedback on, including healthy proteins at breakfast like eggs, turkey sausage, omelet stations, etc. Also, healthier carbs at breakfast, like oatmeal and whole-grain bread, and always having fruit at breakfast.

“We’ve also learned that going forward into 2019, we are going to do more ‘make-your-own-snack’ breaks, where people can fill bags with their choice of nuts and dried fruit, and having prepackaged snacks so attendees can have a clearer sense of what they are eating and can control the portions. Obviously, there is much less interest in the traditional cookies and brownies,” Lindenberg adds.

Kosher products are now more mainstream than ever. The $24 billion kosher food market is projected to grow by 11.5 percent by 2025, according to Jacksonville, Florida-based Kosher Network International. Venue F&B directors and caterers see kosher as a quality and healthy certification, seeking out kosher food products that incorporate Mediterranean ingredients, particularly those from Israel, as well as kosher products that adhere to specialty diets, like vegan and gluten-free. Although using kosher food for group dining functions will normally increase your costs, attendees will appreciate the taste and healthy qualities inherent in the product.

“In the marketplace now, all of our clients have been exposed to more high-quality food, and they’re looking for that even at the corporate meetings and conferences they attend,” says Judy Marlow, owner of Simply Divine, a New York-based event, design and planning caterer that’s been in business for more than 20 years and has created kosher dishes for venerable New York venues like Bouley and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, at Olivier Cheng Events, as well as for clients like Gourmet magazine and Gucci. “There’s no reason why kosher can’t be great and stylish, even for our clients that do not normally request it.”

“There are more and more requests to offer a broad array of dietary offerings for group attendees, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, which I believe will continue,” says Michael Barrett, regional vice president for Centerplate, a U.S.- and U.K.-based hospitality firm that works with corporate clients as well as convention centers, sports venues and event organizers. “We realize that our guests are more diet-conscious than ever before, and it is our responsibility to be able to offer something delicious for everyone. In time, as the space grows, the market for plant-based meat will not be just vegans or vegetarians, it will be meat-eaters, too. Working with our joint Sodexo and Centerplate culinary teams, we will always have our fingers on the pulse of the newest trends.”

Barrett says that meeting menus really depend on the demographics of the group.

“Millennials, for example, trend toward healthier/small-batch/local offerings. As their buying power and influence grows, so will the frequency of these F&B offerings,” he says.

Meeting planners and attendees want more than just hydration from their beverages and more than just nourishment from their food as they are more educated about health and wellness than ever before. I&FMM

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