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Writing a healthy menu

Creating balanced, innovative and interesting menus that provide a range of foods is becoming more important than ever as people are eating out more often. When planning your menu it will pay to keep this in mind.

create a healthy menu for your food service

Why provide healthy options?

One of the most important trends taking place in New Zealand’s hospitality industry is the move towards more casual dining. That’s according to the Restaurant Association of New Zealand’s Hospitality Report 2014, which identifies several other key trends both here and overseas. It appears that Kiwis are eating out more often and although they seem to be spending less on each occasion, their overall spend on food consumed outside of the home has continued to increase. Not surprisingly, restaurants and cafes account for approximately half of the market share. 

One of the trends that stands out for us at the Heart Foundation is the rising consumer demand for healthier choices. This will become even more important, as eating becomes less of a special treat and more of the norm.  Food services in New Zealand are beginning to meet the growing consumer demand for healthier meal options for children, however, there is still a long way to go.  This is a strong trend being seen overseas and we expect food services here to see the benefit and also follow this trend.

Of course there is a range of different styles of food services - from cafes, restaurants and bars with a la carte menus, to large scale caterers and full-day residential facilities.  All of these food services have different needs, however, all the customers have one thing in common - they all need to eat food that supports their health and well-being.

Regardless of the type of food service you run, we'll cover your style of menu

We're not saying everything on your menu needs to be healthy, but enough to give your guests some choice would be great.  Don't forget that in many cases treats can be healthy as well.  We have a lot of healthy and delicious recipes to get you thinking about those healthy treats, so have a browse.

Good menus are those which provide appetising, nutritious meals at prices which are acceptable to your customers and at the same time cover operating and service costs. Many factors must be considered when planning menus, including:

  • Nutritional requirements
  • Availability of food products
  • Seasonality of produce
  • Stock levels
  • Service and preparation times
  • Customer demographics
  • Religious and cultural beliefs
  • Any special dietary requirements such as your customers requiring vegetarian, gluten free or low fat foods.

Cycle menus often provide about 1/3 of a persons daily diet so it’s important the foods provided are healthy, varied, suitable for consumers and of course delicious.

Here are a few tips to help you provide a variety of healthy foods:

  • The foods offered are in season and easily available
  • There is a minimum of six different vegetables offered each week
  • There is a variety of preparation methods used within the week
  • No one flavour or food item is repeated too often on the menu (e.g. the same type of meat is not repeated yesterday, today or tomorrow)
  • No recipes or menu items are repeated in each week
  • No menu items are cooked in the same way as it was the previous week
  • There are a variety of colours at each meal
  • There are a variety of shapes on the plate.

Use our cycle menu planning checklist to ensure you’re providing a balanced, healthy and varied menu.

Full day menus in residential facilities need to provide the residents with their entire daily dietary needs.  As such, it’s important that the menu is well thought-out, provides a balanced diet containing every food and nutrient needed for good health and well-being.  It’s important that the dietary needs of your customers are taken into consideration, as people of different age groups and states of health have very different needs.  This includes New Zealanders in residential settings of one kind or another – boarding schools, halls of residence, the armed services, prisons, community homes, rest and residential homes, hospitals for the aged and other long term care facilities.

The caterer’s role is to entice people by the presentation of food and by emphasising the taste of healthy menu items. Give people the choice of how much dressing, spread or sauce to add. Try changing some ingredients by using reduced-fat products and using lower-fat cooking methods, such as grilling instead of frying.  Focus on providing dishes with plenty of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, lean meats, poultry or fish and minimising the amount of salty and fatty ingredients used.

When planning a menu for an event or large group, there are several factors which will determine whether it will be successful. It pays to be very well organised and to gather as much information about the requirements, wants and expectations of your guests before beginning to plan the menu.  When beginning this process take into consideration the following points:

  • Facilities available
  • Number and experience of the staff
  • Amount of meals or dishes you plan to make
  • Price you intend to charge and the profit margin required
  • Profile of your customers
  • Availability of produce
  • Nutritional value of the food on offer
  • Quantity of food needed for each guest.

When presenting and garnishing food remember the following points:

  • Meal presentation is one of the most important aspects of catering
  • Platters and dishes should look colourful and balanced.  Ensure the food is within the rim of the container
  • Separate different colours and portion foods in a variety of shapes
  • Never use chipped or cracked equipment
  • Make sure there is sufficient serving equipment such as tongs, ladles and spoons available
  • Garnishes should be edible and enhance the food.  It should add interest and a contrast.

Providing healthier food and drinks can be easy – and tasty! A few simple changes can make a big difference to your menu. Encourage your staff to be receptive to accommodating customers’ requests for healthier options. Ideally healthier foods should be well promoted, displayed in a prominent and attractive manner, and if possible, priced competitively. The following are guidelines for providing healthier food in your cafeteria. Some quick tips:

  • Encourage consumption of more vegetables and fruit
  • Limit foods and beverages that are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat such as pies, crisps, sweet baked products and deep-fried food
  • Where possible, try to swap white flour products with wholegrain products, or limit their size.

Our comprehensive guidelines for providing healthier cafeteria foods will help you determine where changes to your menu need to be made.

We also have catering guidelines for meetings and events to help you provide a healthy balanced menu for workplace meetings and events.

Start developing your healthy recipes now