How healthy should your menus be?

Obesity levels in the UK are higher than ever. Ruth o’Sullivan, Nutritionist at Unilever, explains how hospitality venues can support healthier eating

Should foodservice venues consider the nutritional content of meals when creating menus?

Some people eat out as a treat for a special event, however, there are a lot more out-of-home eating and drinking occasions than people realise – be that a pastry and coffee in the morning or lunch on the go at work. They’re all classed as eating out but aren’t necessarily special occasions or indulgent treats.

With more than 60% of the UK population either overweight or obese, enabling people to make healthier choices when they eat out is essential. Just like it’s important to off er people choices based on price or dietary preference, nutrition-based choices should also be available for customers.

Most venues don’t have access to a nutritionist to assess their dishes. What are the big things to look out for?

Without recipe-analysis tools, it’s difficult to get an accurate picture but there are some tips that can help improve the overall nutritional balance of a menu:

  • Add salad to sandwiches
  • Add vegetables to sauces, soups, casseroles and curries
  • Offer high-fibre options such as brown pasta, rice and bread
  • Offer a choice of starchy sides rather than always serving mains with chips. Rice and jacket potatoes are great alternatives and add variety
  • Serve sauces and dressings on the side, so diners can decide how much to use
  • If you do offer fried chips, go for thick cut as they have a smaller ratio of surface area to volume, so they’ll absorb less oil per serving
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat, remove poultry skin and trim visible fat from meat where possible
  • Make sure your vegetarian and vegan options contain a source of protein such as pulses, lentils, beans, eggs, nuts, seeds or meat alternatives like The Vegetarian Butcher
  • Use oil sprays to control the amount of fat used when shallow-frying
  • Grill, bake and steam foods where possible to reduce the fat content.
Ruth O'Sullivan

How can kids’ menus be more nutritious?

There are many things you can do and here are just a few:

  • It’s important to offer balanced meals which include some protein, a starchy carbohydrate and a portion of fruit, vegetables or salad
  • Don’t use salt during cooking
  • Use colourful fruit and vegetables
  • Offer reduced sugar/salt baked beans and condiments where possible
  • Fruit-based desserts are ideal served with yogurt or frozen yogurt
  • Water and milk are the best drink choices.

How much do customers care about the healthiness of food when eating out?

According to the Lumina Intelligence Eating Out panel, health isn’t usually the biggest driver for venue choice. Although the report also showed that health is more important to people at certain times of the day, for example, when choosing breakfast, lunch and snacks as opposed to dinner. Health also seems to be more of a consideration when people visit sandwich shops, workplace facilities and coffee shops.

Young boy having a drink
“Health is more important to people at certain times of the day, for example, when choosing breakfast, lunch and snacks as opposed to dinner”
- UK 2019 Eating Out Market Report, Lumina Intelligence

What other ways can venues help people make healthier choices?

I think the key is to give people options so they can decide which part of the meal they don’t want to ‘compromise’ on. For example, a choice of a breaded/deep-fried chicken burger or a flame-grilled chicken breast served with a choice of either chips or rice. Introducing healthier choices at each part of the meal allows people to make an informed choice for themselves.

Look at the layout, design and language used on menus and use descriptive words to draw attention to healthier options such as ‘crisp summer salad’ or ‘zesty salmon fillet’. If you have promotions on your menu, make sure the healthier dishes are included and consider offering different portion sizes for some dishes to cater for smaller appetites or those looking to cut down.

Person putting salad in rolls
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