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Compass Group offers beautifully prepared healthy catering options such as crudite with soy dip
<p>Compass Group offers beautifully prepared healthy catering options such as crudite with soy dip.</p>

Healthy catering: Walking the wellness walk

Compass Group offers beautifully prepared healthy catering options such as crudite with soy dip.
Compass Group offers beautifully prepared healthy catering options such as crudite with soy dip.

It’s safe to say that most organizations are doing something to offer healthier options in their cafeterias, but what about catered meetings and events where attendees are a captive audience with less abundant options?

A Fortune article published earlier this year, “5 hallmarks of successful corporate well-ness programs,” states that “healthy vending machine and cafeteria offerings often top the list of ways successful wellness programs create workplaces that encourage healthy be-haviors on a daily basis.”  

The following excerpt is taken from this article:

“’A supportive company culture is exemplified by company cafeterias, where healthy food is abundant, affordable, clearly labeled, tastefully prepared, and sit-uated at eye level at the checkout counter. When possible, these foods are also priced lower than less healthy items,’ writes Ron Z. Goetzel of Emory University in a 2014 review of workplace wellness studies published in the Journal of Occu-pational and Environmental Medicine.  

“In addition, healthy and appealing food is served at meetings, included in company-provided overtime meals, and available in vending machines.”

Companies and organizations truly walking the wellness walk are implementing healthy catering programs because they know the positive effect it has on health outcomes, es-pecially for those attending catered meetings on a regular basis.  

We’ve interviewed three people representing different organizations with varying ap-proaches to their healthy catering programs so you can see how they’ve answered the-se questions and what might be best for your future program.  

•    Jennifer Roberts, MS, RD, director of nutrition communications, Compass Group, North America, Charlotte, N.C.
•    Aatul Jain, operations manager & executive chef, Saint Clare’s Health System, Denville, NJ
•    Maria Dee, national director, workforce wellness, national human resources, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Oakland, Calif.

Describe your healthy catering program.

JR We offer two healthy catering programs—Meeting Well and whole+sum. We have also developed custom healthy catering programs for individual clients. Meeting Well is a program of the American Cancer Society (ACS) to encourage a healthier workplace. The ACS has developed guidelines, suggestions and tips to plan healthy meetings and events by promoting more nutritious meals and snacks, while building physical activity into meeting agendas. The catering program we run under Meeting Well meets these goals through menus and recipes that limit nutrients of concern, utilizes defined portion sizes and promotes waste reduction. We also offer a variety of tips and resources that encourage incorporation of physical activity into meetings and events that we cater. whole+sum catering is a program that brings the whole+sum station concept offered in our cafes into meetings and events. With whole+sum, customers can create a custom meal by selecting options within protein, vegetable, fruit and grain categories that to-gether provide less than 600 calories, 5 grams of saturated fat and 600 milligrams of sodium. With easy-to-follow signs and portion-controlled serving utensils, customers are able to select a balanced meal where we have done the math of calorie counting for them.

Compass Group’s whole+sum program is offered as a healthy catering option to clients, customers and internal associates.
Compass Group’s whole+sum program is offered as a healthy catering option to clients, customers and internal associates.

AJ We don’t have a formal healthy catering program. We decided not to do so. Why send the message that we have an “unhealthy” menu, too, when, as an operation, we want to encourage wellness as an integral part of our mindset. When we revamped our catering menu, it was designed keeping wellness in mind. Additionally, our regular guests know they just need to ask and we will customize the menu for almost any event. Our catering program is predominantly for employees served at internal events. Howev-er, we do a small amount of external catering at various doctors’ offices in the neighbor-hood and occasionally even the local municipal office. Additionally, many of the hospital employees order food and desserts by the tray to take home, especially during summer barbecue season or before big holidays. This comes off the catering division. Senior management wanted to make sure we portrayed the correct image of health and well-ness when designing our menu—if the hospital is paying for anyone’s meals and snacks, they need to be healthful and wholesome. We started by not offering ANY fried items unless specifically requested. Then we added items, which were nutritionally bal-anced and took away not-so-good ingredients.

Singage form Compass Group’s whole+sum program.
Singage form Compass Group’s whole+sum program.

The goal of the healthy catering initiative is to ensure that Kaiser Permanente em-ployees, physicians and visitors have healthy and affordable food options at meetings, events and celebrations. On May 1, 2014, our Healthy Catered Food for Meetings and Events Policy was implemented as our commitment to encourage Kaiser Permanente’s standard for healthy nutrition. Healthy Picks is Kaiser Permanente’s own standard of good, healthy nutrition and serves as a guide for defining healthy food. In 2005, Kaiser Permanente procurement & supply’s national nutrition services partnered with Kaiser Permanente environmental stewardship to introduce Healthy Picks to the organization. What began as a program to bring healthier foods into on-site vending machines has since grown across all regions into cafeterias, as well as for inpatient meals. The Healthy Picks Committee, which guides the program, is comprised of Kaiser Perma-nente dietitians, food and nutritional services directors and managers, health educators, representatives from Kaiser Permanente human resources and the labor management partnership and representatives from our contracted vending machine service providers. The Committee meets monthly and is responsible for maintaining the set of standards that govern whether a food item is or is not a Healthy Pick.

The catering program is designed to promote healthy choices, including an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables, low-fat protein and dairy, moderate sodium and sugar and healthy fats.

When was the program implemented? Has it gained momentum over time?

JR Meeting Well catering was implemented in 2008 and whole+sum in 2010. We have seen growth in the demand for healthy catering offerings over time. In the beginning, the healthy offerings were simply made available. Now we have clients that choose to make the healthy catering options the default menus for all events, with changes made only by request.

AJ The existing catering menu with healthier items has been in place since about Spring 2014. It has gained momentum in that not once has someone asked for items that are fried or carb-intense. Over the past few months, we have implemented some ethnic items that are picking up momentum. We also encourage guests to highlight healthier items that they may find via their own resources and we recreate it for them.

MD Kaiser Permanente released Healthy Picks as a guideline Dec. 28, 2012. With our commitment to be leaders and bring a deeper focus on healthy eating, the Healthy Ca-tered Food for Meetings and Events Policy was implemented May 1, 2014. We continue to gain momentum and our list of vendors who offer Healthy Picks menu items contin-ues to grow.

Healthy catering continued

Were there obstacles that needed to be overcome? Was there any resistance to the program?

JR Finding the right balance of presenting an appealing food display in a way that makes portion control and measurement easy for guests in a self-service environment was an initial challenge. Through careful recipe development, associate training and sourcing of serving vessels and measured utensils that don’t look like back-of-the-house measuring spoons, we have been able to overcome this. We have also benefited from some trends like bento boxes that have made creating balanced box lunches easier and more visually appealing.

AJ The cooks took a few months to adapt to the fact that our hot catering items don’t come from a box in the freezer anymore! We work with fresh ingredients from scratch, show it some love and get the results. To overcome this, our supervisors and I are in the trenches with them often, helping them prepare and showing them how to improve presentation. Resistance? No. Instead, we have had many people stop by our office to ask for recipes. People really want to change their eating style. If we can show them how to indulge (when eating out) in a healthier and less guilty way, they are hooked.

MD Yes, there was resistance in the first few months of releasing our food policy. Some felt it was an infringement on their right to choose what they want to eat. However, we received strong support from our CEO and executive leaders, believing that we can create an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice.

Where is the program going in the future?  

JR We develop seasonal menus and recipes for each program and are always looking for creative ways to meet the changing needs of our varying populations. I see the trend towards personalized nutrition making its way into catering. I also expect we will see some changes in the places that we provide catering shifting away from traditional meeting rooms and towards more community workspaces as employers seek to estab-lish environments that support wellbeing, creativity and productivity.

AJ We don’t plan on promoting a “healthy” program as such. It’s in place and is popular. The plan is to tweak our current offering to add healthier and seasonal items on a regu-lar basis. Everybody is on the weight loss, feel and get better agenda and this is not a fad. So, we have embraced the idea. Yet we want to serve the organization’s financial goals in addition to their wellness goals and [so] our team is cognizant about cost per portion of each item. Just because it’s healthy, we can’t serve it unless the cost is re-covered. For that we try to be continuously innovative.

MD We continue to focus on creating a healthy food culture at Kaiser Permanente. Our goal is to increase partnerships with local, regional and national vendors. We also will continue with education and training to increase awareness of our policy and to inform and educate on nutritional and dietary trends.

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