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Catering, Reconsidered

Do you pay less attention to what you wear and more attention to what you eat? If you are a meeting planner, focusing on food is justified, as a significant portion of your meeting budget — one study suggests 30 percent on average — is devoted to food and beverage.

So instead of knowing that leopard print trumps zebra print this season, you’re better off knowing that more diners are opting for meatless meals or indulging in dishes inspired by South American or African culinary traditions.

By being up on food trends, meeting planners can work with caterers and food-and-beverage staffs to liven up menus, providing attendees with surprise and delight as well as sustenance.

Here are a few food ideas for 2019 as identified by Nation’s Restaurants News, Whole Foods’ annual survey, the New York Times and others.

Liquidate your assets

Not so long ago, the martini, the Manhattan and other classic cocktails returned, perhaps as a nod to the 1960s, when keeping a bottle of booze in the desk drawer was cool. Yet, young professionals today apparently aren’t so keen on drinking. Mintel reports that the 35-and-under set is more apt to sip spiritless cocktails. In terms of meetings, this trend has upsides — fewer worries about overindulging and its associated hazards, as well as a smaller bar tab at the end of an evening.

Along the same lines, as we all wander around with our water bottles in hand, there’s a move to infuse plain water with flavorings to make it more palatable. It’s a trend that can easily be implemented at your next meeting break. Just have your caterer add fruits, vegetables or even cactus to water.

Dessert — decadent or do-gooder?

When it comes to dessert, two decidedly different paths dominate in 2019. In one direction are treats like artisanal doughnuts, high-calorie and guilt inducing, but oh, so yummy. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the round mounds of fried dough become after-dinner delights when makers dip them in ganache or pile cocoa nibs on top.

On the flip side are desserts that leave guests sated without the unhealthy fats and sugars: ice cream made with hummus, avocado and tahini instead of dairy — which has the upside of eliminating a major food allergen — or adding fruits and other nutrient-rich ingredients into desserts to make them tasty and healthful. The Daily Meal has a good list of possibilities, from low-sugar pumpkin pecan cookies and chocolate-dipped strawberries to baked purple sweet potatoes and banana sushi.

Where’s the beef, or the meat?

Take plant-based proteins like soy, potato, wheat, mushrooms and rice; mix them and voila, you have meatlike products that aren’t meat at all. Companies are already manufacturing products that taste like meat but have no meat in them. These protein-packed foods — like Pig Out Pigless Bacon Chips and Snacklins Cracklins Without the Pork —  have a meat flavor and nice crunch. Vegans, vegetarians and those who are  cutting back on meat consumption will be happy to give them a try. agrees that protein has gone beyond meats as seeds, lentils, chickpeas, hemp and split peas find their way to plates. Jackfruit is also becoming a popular meat alternative.

Look South for worldly inspiration

International travel expands our minds and broadens our palates. This wanderlust can be expressed in menus not only in restaurants but also at meetings. Regions of the world expected to pepper our meals with new flavors and spices this coming year include Africa, South Asia and Latin America. So instead of ordering hash browns for your breakfast event, imagine serving a spicy fruit salad of mango, kiwi and pineapple with lime, red chili and ginger. Lunch or dinner could feature a grilled salmon with a nectarine-Thai basil relish. Guava, dragon fruit, passion fruit and other exotic fruits will also be used increasingly in entrees, drinks and desserts.

The last (plastic) straw

Plastic straws are going out of style in a hurry. Soon, your attendees might sip drinks through straws made of bamboo, beeswax, paper, glass, metal or even pasta. A number of cities and states, especially in coastal areas where people see the damage plastics do to sea life, are enacting laws that ban plastic straws, and it’s expected that more will follow. In Europe, bans are motivating corporate hospitality giants like Marriott and McDonald’s to look for other options. Straws and stirrers are small, but they have a big impact, as an estimated 500 million land in the trash every day in the United States.