by Linda Pratt – NAVIS Events

Wellness is a becoming the new normal in the meeting industry.  The challenge is offering better, healthier alternatives to attendees without increasing the budget.  At NAVIS Events we strive to achieve both.

A recent IACC survey concluded that gluten-free dining, vegetarianism and veganism are no longer just trends but  choices often adhered to for years or a lifetime. “Menus within conference venues must have food and beverage that is aligned with these paradigms,” says Mark Cooper, IACC’s CEO.  “Delegates are demanding functional foods,” he says. Cooper defines that as meals with superior well-being benefits through increased nutrient or mineral content. This includes walnuts, quinoa, blueberries, acai berries, dark chocolate, avocados, beets, spinach and kale—brain foods that have the potential to positively influence mental clarity.

We have found that chefs are open to making menus healthier and they understand that there is a budget to maintain.   We ask what’s in season and if there are local farm-to-table options.   We keep dressings and condiments on the side and ask how the food is prepared, is it baked, roasted or poached?   Where possible we taste the food ahead of time and ask about salt content and oils used in preparation.

Beverages are a fun way to change things up.  Flavored teas and lemonade and even infused water can be a different, healthier option.

Snack breaks are another way to keep the energy flowing during the day.   Instead of a cookie break, dried fruits and nuts where attendees can make their own trail mix is popular or veggies with pita and hummus is a healthy alternative.

For dessert, a nicely decorated table with bite size desserts and fresh fruit gives attendees a little something sweet.  If the dessert is at the end of a plated dinner a parfait with soft serve yogurt and fresh fruit is lighter and healthier option.

Christine Couvelier, founder of Culinary Concierge, sees vegetables becoming the star of the plate such as purple cauliflower becoming the focus and the meat becoming more of a side. “It is all about grilled, smoked, roasts, crunchy, crispy—and most of all flavorful food,” she says.   Couvelier says these trends are because attendees are more educated about food.  They watch Food Network; enjoy culinary restaurants when they travel and want to know where their food comes from. “Personalizing food is absolutely the new normal and not just a trend,” she says.

Every year we are seeing an increase in attendees with allergies.  We ask every attendee of every group about any food allergies they might have and work with them and the chef to find the perfect solution.  For buffets we make sure everything is labeled so attendees know which foods are gluten free or vegetarian and if something might include shellfish or dairy so attendees can make informed choices.

There are a variety of reasons that people want better food options at meetings.  Healthy eating doesn’t have to be tasteless and boring it just requires a little extra creativity.

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