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Best Wellness Concept: Build Your Own Healthy Living Meal, FLIK Hospitality Group at American Express

This program allows diners to customize meals at various food stations through a combination of components while still being assured that they remain within specific limits on sodium, saturated fat and calories.

At the American Express World Financial Center’s Healthy Living Café in New York City, diners looking for a meal with a set limit on calories, sodium and saturated fat traditionally opted for the choices labeled with the Healthy Living brand.

Healthy Living meals—typically composed of a recipe-based entrée, starch and vegetable—were guaranteed to meet wellness criteria of no more than 600 calories, 5 grams or less of saturated fat and 600 milligrams or less of sodium set by American Express and management company FLIK Hospitality Group, which operates the Healthy Living Cafe.

The tradeoff was no allowance for individual customization and creativity.

That’s no longer the case, thanks to a spinoff of the Healthy Living program called Build Your Own Healthy Living Meal.

Under Build Your Own Healthy Living Meal, customers still get the same guaranteed limits on calories, saturated fat and sodium even as they are able to customize their meals to suit their own tastes and dietary needs.

Each food station, such as Burrito Bowl, Taqueria, Baked Potato Bar, Avocado Toast Bar, Pasta Toss and Fried Rice Bowl, offers a variety of lean proteins, whole grains, fresh produce and, usually, unlimited vegetable toppings. Customers are presented with a guide of how many items they can select from each category to stay within the calorie/fat/sodium limits, and their individualized meal is then prepared exactly to their liking.

Ingredients are served with portioned scoops to ensure each dish remains within the prescribed limits. Using the scoops also helps reduce waste.

The stations always include a vegetarian and a gluten-free option and all combinations provide a full serving of whole grains, lean protein and at least one serving of vegetables.

The first Build Your Own Healthy Living Meal station debuted in January 2016 and on its first day beat out two other made-to-order stations by serving 99 orders. A few months later, with the concept now running once a week, they were selling more than 500 plates for the month, or over a hundred each time it was featured.

Currently, the Build Your Own Healthy Living Meal options are a staple in Healthy Living Café, available a minimum of three times a week, with sales exceeding a hundred each time it’s available. Over 850 were sold this past May alone. In all, Healthy Living compliant food and beverage purchases account for about 40 percent of total sales at Healthy Living Café.FLIK uses its Webtrition online nutritional database to ensure that any combination of customer choices set by the station signage meets the Healthy Living meal criteria. A back-of-the-house manager guide was created for each station, listing all possible food combinations, recipes for each item and a portion guide detailing the scoop size for each ingredient.

Front-line associates were also instructed on how to follow the recipes and use the scoops correctly, and also on the importance of maintaining the nutritional integrity of each dish served. An additional benefit of the program was the increased awareness of the serving staff about proper food portioning and healthy eating guidelines, which they now communicate to guests, which in turn increases the program’s effectiveness even further.

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