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Mindful Menus

Anyone who thinks meeting menus aren’t influenced by food trends hasn’t eaten a cupcake or a kale salad at a conference luncheon. Granted, like ponchos and gauchos, many food fads die before they ever go mainstream; but others, like sliders, find a permanent place on our plates because they are popular and easy to pull off.

Looking at what’s hot on America’s plates is just one aspect of menu planning. Most meeting professionals look at food trends with a skeptic’s eye, keeping the average attendee’s taste buds in mind.

They find simple ways to infuse a little fashion and excitement into their menus without overspending or offending those they are feeding.

Here are three ways you could make your attendees happier and healthier, save money and make your menus more fashionable.

Heap more veggies, fruit and grains on the plate.

Eating your vegetables has never been more popular, especially since most chefs have dispensed with steamed broccoli and found tasty and healthy ways to serve vegetables, fruits and grains. Roasted root vegetables — especially in unexpected colors like purple — are usually hits. Fruits are showing up more, not just as fruit salads, but also in cocktails and desserts.

A whole lineup of little-known grains —  including sorghum and teff — are appearing on plates and in bowls. Ask your catering manager to decrease protein — say to a 4- to 6-ounce serving of chicken, which is the daily amount of protein recommended for an adult by the USDA — and increase servings of vegetables, fruits and grains.

A diet heavy in plant-based foods reduces one’s chances of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and other chronic ailments. If you need some guidance about portions, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate (, which was developed to guide Americans toward healthier eating.

Extract the sweet tooth.

Books like Gary Taubes’ “The Case Against Sugar” have started a national discussion about the dangers of Americans’ addiction to sweeteners. His book makes a case for sugar’s role in widespread problems such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Chances are good that many of your attendees are afflicted with these health problems. A study in 2011-12 showed that half of adults in the United States had diabetes or prediabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70 percent of adults over 20 are overweight or obese. It might be time to do them and their health a favor by making changes in menus.

Instead of pastries and doughnuts for breakfasts, serve fresh fruit, unflavored yogurts, oatmeal and eggs. Steer clear of sodas, and offer coffee, tea and water that’s been snazzed up with slices of cucumber or citrus. Opt for desserts that employ fewer sweeteners and more naturally healthy ingredients like fresh fruit, dark chocolate or nuts. Diabetic Magazine’s website — — is a good source for ideas and inspiration.

Take it to the street.

Add some international flair and fun to a reception, icebreaker or afternoon break by serving street foods. Every country has theirs, and most have qualities that make them perfect for standup sorts of affairs. Eaten on the run, street foods are “handy” foods. And, because they are sold on the street to average folk, they don’t involve expensive ingredients or complicated preparation.

Here are a few idea starters, and it’s likely a fun catering manager will have more: rice balls from Rome, pork satay from Bangkok, tacos from Mexico City, crepes from Paris, hot dogs and sausages from Chicago, souvlaki from Athens and scotch eggs from London.