Planning Healthy Menus

Linda Illingworth will discuss building delicious meeting menus during Northstar Meetings Group's Destination Mexico.

Connect with Linda Illingworth, RDN, CSSD, and learn more during Destination Mexico, the newest premier hosted-buyer event for Mexican suppliers to connect with meeting professionals sourcing programs in Mexico.

Today's attendees -- and eaters in general, if we're being honest -- are informed and demanding. Yet savvy planners and venue chefs have more resources and available ingredients than ever to design seamless menus that will accommodate a variety of needs without degrading flavor or aesthetic.

Maintaining a healthy diet while traveling is totally possible. While it needn't take a ton of planning for the average traveler, meeting organizers can make things even easier by serving healthy options and steering attendees in the right direction from the get-go. I'll be sharing these health-conscious F&B ideas during my education session at Northstar Meetings Group's Destination Mexico at the Nobu Hotel in Los Cabos, Mexico, Sept. 25-27, 2019. Following, I've shared my favorite tips, ingredients and reference lists for healthy and successful meeting meal planning. 

Serve Complex Carbohydrates

  • Aim to use whole grains in half the starchy dishes served.
  • Reduce the use of wheat, barley and rye (all are high in gluten).
  • When serving rice, opt for brown, black, red or wild.
  • Quinoa, buckwheat, millet and polenta are all gluten-free carb options.
  • Use starchy vegetables like peas, corn, potatoes, sweet potato and hominy in combination with greens or as small side dishes.
  • Squashes are filling without being a dense carb (some great options include chayote, butternut, acorn, delicata and pumpkin).
  • To prepare carbs in the healthiest fashion, use less fat and more herbs, toast/roast them or use a pressure cooker.

Provide Endless Protein Options

  • Use less red meat and pork; serve more chicken and fish.
  • Edamame, tofu and tempeh are wonderful, meatless protein options. 
  • Chickpeas and Corona beans pack a punch of protein. 
  • For a protein-packed breakfast, offer nut and seed butters, cheese, yogurt and eggs. 
  • Veggie patties and falafel can be served pan-seared as opposed to deep-fried.
  • To prepare proteins in the healthiest fashion, grill, sauté, roast or poach them. 

Fill Up on Fruits

  • Apples and berries are the lowest-sugar fruit options.
  • Add citrus to water and salads for extra flavor sans heavy syrups or dressings.
  • Offer apples, bananas, grapes, orange wedges and berries for easy on-the-go attendee snacks.
  • Offer simple but beautiful desserts by serving fruits fresh with cream, poached, in parfaits, as crumbles or bars.

Incorporate Fit Fats

  • Seafood -- especially salmon, sardines, anchovies, or tuna -- is especially fortifying. Offer seafood for one or two meals max.
  • Nuts and seeds offer a healthy source of fat. Try walnuts, almonds, pecans, flax, hemp and chia.
  • Add avocado to any menu.
  • Cook with olive oil, avocado oil,  walnut oil, sesame oil and coconut oil. 
  • Use herbal or spice oil infusions to dress up flavors.

 Add a Variety of Veggies

  • Veggie options should be plentiful. When serving veggies to attendees, be sure to offer gluten and/or dairy-free options. 
  • Add some healthy greens to the menu via romaine, chard, kale, broccoli, spinach, arugula, etc.
  • Complex flavor veggies add an extra layer to meals. Incorporate asparagus, green beans, artichokes, radishes, carrots and beets into the menu.
  • Zucchini works well on both summer and winter menus.
  • To prepare vegetables in the healthiest fashion, blanch, roast, sauté, steam or poach them. 

Enhance F&B Offerings

Offer During Coffee Breaks

  • Slices of fresh ginger and turmeric
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Lemon zest or peel
  • Dark chocolate curls

Offer With Breakfast and Salads

  • Ground flax, chia or hemp seeds
  • Walnut halves
  • Olive oil
  • Almond or cashew cheese
  • Raw or Marcona almonds

Spice Up Snack Breaks with Healthier Options

  • Serve romaine or cabbage leaves with bean dip, egg salad or yogurt dip.
  • Offer blanched or roasted broccoli, cauliflower, carrot and/or Brussels sprouts slaw.
  • Feature kale chips.
  • Add small amounts of apple or pineapple to green juices.
  • Design a homemade trail mix or DIY trail mix bar.
  • Provide fresh and dried fruits. 

Linda Illingworth is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in functional nutrition, with a food-first approach to health. She provides innovative solutions for the lifestyle health problems her audiences face -- using real-life scenarios, hands-on interaction and a healthy dose of humor. Linda is currently the director of nutrition at Lifewellness Institute, where she provides clinical care to patients as well as corporate wellness programming on topics including cardiovascular, cancer, gastrointestinal health, diabetes and vitamin supplementation.