Balancing Act

Experts agree that calories and exercise count in efforts to shed pounds. Toward that end, operators offer a growing array of healthful menu choices and help facilitate lifestyle changes.

The national concern over our growing obesity epidemic and how best to conquer it is a headline issue and top of mind in media, business and personal discussions. How to slim down and pursue a healthy lifestyle is no longer a soon-to-be forgotten New Year’s resolutions to shed a few pounds.

It’s also not as easy as we would like it to be. Traditionally, women were more weight-conscious than men, and people often spoke of being “on a diet,” with the inherent understanding that at some point of optimal weight loss, they’d be “off” the diet. Today, weight-consciousness and dieting know no bounds such as gender or time of year.

Calories count: Still, spring is a popular time for people to think about changing their eating habits, as they think about the approaching summer and outdoor activities—as well as how they’ll look participating in them. In response, foodservice providers in every sector are making an effort to menu more healthful choices that will be flavorful and therefore more enticing.

Most are also interested in educating their customers about what constitutes a healthy choice; and an increasing number are addressing the importance of portion size in their educational efforts. Yet few operators are willing to clearly communicate the succinct weight-loss message that “the fundamental issue,” states David L. Katz, MD, associate professor of Public Health and director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale School of Medicine, “is how many calories you eat.”

Dr. Katz urges operators to consider the pursuit of “health” versus restricting food choice on diets. Now, even dessert menus often reflect the reality that customers are looking for that sweet indulgence—especially chocolate-based—but this, too, can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation and compensated for by adjusting overall caloric intake.

Vietnamese option: Operators often turn to ethnic cuisines for lighter, full-flavored dishes. For example, Walter Thurnhofer, RD, DHCFA, director of nutrition services at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, recently introduced Vietnamese sandwiches, prepared at a local restaurant, in the hospital cafeteria. The sandwiches are a good 10 inches long, yet they’re considered to be “on the lighter side,” he points out.

The sandwiches quickly became a favorite amongst the operation’s 5,000 or so daily customers. “Now we sell about 15 to 20 dozen a day, priced at $3.50 each, as a light added feature,” Thurnhofer notes. “Four varieties—beef, pork, chicken and tofu—are offered and they’re not heavy with mayo or piled high with meat.”

The sandwich features thinly sliced and marinated meats, and includes julienned carrots, jicama, cilantro and a bit of thinned-out, seasoned soy sauce marinade. “The restaurant owner delivers them so there’s no labor and, since we make double the cost, there’s a nice margin there,” he adds.

Thurnhofer periodically menus regional ethnic foods, especially Asian and Mediterranean, that are not as heavy as the traditional Western diet. “Chef Elias, a local restaurateur, offers tabbouleh salad, falafel and hummus with toasted pita triangles,” Thurnhofer says. “He spends the day here with our staff just about every other month and these lighter items go very well. In fact, we’re looking at doing that with our patient menus and noting the local chefs’ names as well.”

Trading hot for cold: Speaking of patients, “lighter” menus will debut this summer based upon the suggestions of nurses who interface with them, according to Thurnhofer. The menus will not be constructed with an eye to slimming down as much as they will reflect the patient preference for less hot food—no matter the time of year—and fewer heavier meals in general.

The new items will pose a labor challenge. “We’ll have one vegetarian hot entrée, one hot meat entrée, one cold entrée plate such as a Caesar salad, and one plate with a sandwich and a scoop of salad or fresh fruit,” Thurnhofer says. “It’s likely that one of these will be vegetarian as well. But these are not as quick and easy to prepare as a couple hundred hot entrees that go into ovens or steamers. Each one is hand-made and we cut everything fresh and assemble fresh.”

Labor shift: “We’ll have to reconfigure our labor by looking at the whole structure,” he continues. “Since there will be less need for ingredients in our Ingredient Control Center and there will be less demand on our production staff, we can shift some labor to making these wonderful plates. But in the end, they will cost at least as much, if not more—and budgets aren’t being increased, especially in the area of labor.”

Thurnhofer, who aims to have the latest technology available to enhance his operation, recently purchased a refrigerated work deck where his staff can assemble plates, and a new blast-chiller can accommodate one full-size cart; the upright rack holds between 60 to 72 plates at a time. “Because we’re using pre-chilled items and working on a chilled counter it will only take about 15 minutes for a quick chill for (heightened) sanitation. Plus, it will help with quality to keep it cold,” he points out.

The menu at Symantec, the anti-virus software manufacturer based in Cupertino, Calf., where Bon Appetit Management Company runs foodservice, recently included tuna and halibut kabobs served over wheat pilaf with carrot and ginger jus. It’s an item from Bon Appetit’s healthy menu portfolio known as In Balance, and has very little fat and features whole grains.

The carrot and ginger jus provides additional fiber that customers won’t necessarily be aware of. “We use a pan spray instead of other cooking oils,” says Stephen Higgs, chef/manager for Bon Appetit at Symantec, where lunchtime volume is about 1,000 customers. “Rather than pan-frying, it can be grilled on a propane barbeque, baked or grilled on a flat-top.”

Carrot and ginger  jus is a sauce prepared from vegetable stock, orange juice and seasonings, cooked until the ingredients break down. It’s then blended to a smooth sauce, naturally thickened by the fiber of the carrots. In this way Higgs increases the amount of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. Carrots are washed and scrubbed, but left unpeeled since the maximum amount of vitamins from root crops are found just under the skin.

A little nuts: Higgs believes people are eating more healthfully. “You can still use bacon, heavy cream and even nuts—it’s how you do it,” he says. “Nuts, for example, can be used as an accent—perhaps a basil and almond pesto to go over grilled trout. They won’t overpower the dish and you don’t need to use lots of them. Most of my fellow chefs do tastings with small groups and provide cooking classes to clients just to educate and bring about hanges to help our customers.”

Higgs is currently focusing on providing training for chefs in the In Balance initiative. “By the end of the month, we will have taught four classes to give chefs more knowledge,” he says. “We always have a registered dietitian with us as we demonstrate a lot of (healthful) food techniques. It’s more than giving them a bunch of recipes, since everyone has a different clientele.”

Turning cartwheels: Damian Monticello, corporate liaison at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida in Jacksonville, and his approximately 1,300 customers at the main campus, enjoy swimsuit weather year-round.

"I’m part of the Wellness Committee,” Monticello notes. “For the cafeteria and vending we’re earmarking healthier options with our slogan, ‘Better You From Blue,’ and a logo that features a blue stick-figure turning a cartwheel. This designates items lower in fat, sodium or calories.”

The account also makes use of Aramark’s 10 Under 10 sandwich program. Customers know that each sandwich contains fewer than 10 grams of fat, and they can refer to a complete nutritional analysis on the company Intranet if they wish.

All varieties are menued daily with one featured per week. Each contains five-ounces of protein—such as the Trim Turkey Salsa Sandwich of smoked turkey breast, alfalfa sprouts, cucumbers and tomatoes with salsa mayonnaise—and is priced at $4.29.

Par for the course: Aramark itself takes a very specific, controlled approach to health and wellness and has developed numerous programs to address the issue. Hence, “summer-focused dishes are just par for the course,” according to Jenifer Bland-Campbell, MS, RD, senior director of nutrition program development for the contractor.

Fresh and Healthy debuted a year ago as one such promotion. It runs four times a year, six weeks at a time. The just-completed series featured A.M. Paninis prepared with eggbeaters; Gardenburgers at the grill; and entrees such as tilapia in several variations: citrus spiced, curried, tropical lime, Jamaican jerk and lemon pineapple.

“We rotate stations where we feature Fresh and Healthy items,” Bland-Campbell says, “and we send a kit—including air screen shelf tags featuring the yogurt of the week, for example, and a beverage dispenser cling, perhaps for 100% juices—so operators can easily implement these programs.”

Programming Wellness

From self-ops to contractors, wellness has become a concerted, top-down-driven effort in foodservice fundamentals.

Aramark Explores Styles of Dining
DiningStyles is the culmination of research Aramark conducted as a way to both understand customers’ needs and desires for healthful dishes and tailor menus to meet them.

“Over 5,000 people participated in the national study,” says Jenifer Bland-Campbell, senior director, nutrition program development, “and we’ve just completed our second-year surveys. Customers’ priorities are to limit fat, watch their weight and limit the amount of sugar and calories (they consume), in that order. We design our programs with this in mind.”

Customers generally fell into six dining styles: Health Focused, 64% of whom are female; Indulgent Risk Takers (61% male); Nutrition Curious; Passive Dieters; Health Riskers; and Restaurant Regulars.

Aramark officials also used the DiningStyles research to create the overarching Just4U program of lighter entrees, a program that can only be run after the training and certification of managers is completed.

10 Under 10 is an Aramark program spotlighting 10 sandwiches that boast fewer than 10 grams of fat. All 10 sandwich varieties are menued daily with one featured per week. All contain five-ounces of protein—such as the Trim Turkey Salsa Sandwich of smoked turkey breast, alfalfa sprouts, cucumbers and tomatoes with salsa mayonnaise—and are priced at $4.29.

University of Maryland Eyes Healthy Terps
Healthy Terps, a term playing on UM’s mascot, the Terrapin (an aquatic turtle) is one of several programs officials use in helping the 8,500 students on meal plans make proper food choices.

According to quality control director Sister Maureen Schrimpe, IHM, RD, FMP, the Healthy Terps program—designed under the umbrella of the Health Center—includes a brand new component that encourages healthier lunch choices through one-on-one discussions of what’s in the brown bag or on the tray.

“We’ll meet with customers—faculty, staff and students—during their lunch and discuss their selection as to what might be healthier options,” she explains. “We’ll run the program for about two-and-a-half to three hours each time since we also want to give our own dining services employees time to make use of the program.”

Dining services officials including director Pat Higgins, RD, FMP, Schrimpe and dietitian Jane Jakebczak, along with dietetic student employees, will be on hand in the dining hall on the appointed day. “Our ultimate goal is to point out healthier options,” Schrimpe says. “A chocolate-chip cookie is OK as part of lunch once in a while, but not a whole bunch at a time.”

Healthy Terps program also includes an exercise focus with all parts of the campus mapped out to reflect the mileage accrued if one walked a specific route or the other. “Even our university president, Dan Mote, participates in the program,” Schrimpe says, “and Pat (Higgins) goes to the dining halls, meets groups of foodservice employees and goes for walks with them on their breaks.”

On the Lighter Side is a serving station offering numerous selections with many prepared according to Weight Watchers’ Cookbook recipes. “We do a daily value meal including a salad, entrée and dessert which offers the best bang for the buck,” Schrimpe explains.

The Smart Choice menu lists calorie-counts for each item. The calories are posted on 8-1/2-by-10-inch paper, while a complete nutrition breakout is available on a Web site. “We print about 400 to 500 copies of that menu—they’re available to be picked up in the dining hall—and the stacks are always gone.” Schrimpe adds.

Sodexho Seeks Balance for Seniors
The Perfect Balance program launched in Sodexho’s Senior Services division just four months ago to accommodate a “new generation” of the elderly.

Cindy Lauer, MA, RD, national director of nutrition services, says, “A certain percentage are eating what they want, but still want to know there are healthy options. The program’s tag line is ‘Where Flavor Meets Health,’ since we want the flavor in healthy items to be equal to the more traditional ones.”

Perfect Balance has rolled out to about 50% of Sodexho’s continuing care retirement community accounts of all sizes. It includes education and logo identifiers as well as “certification” stations offering low-fat and no-fat items. Over the past year, corporate chefs have put special emphasis on developing about 150 taste-tempting yet low-calorie desserts, a focus prompted by customer requests.

Portion Distortion is one of several educational pieces included in the Perfect Balance program. “Seniors in general are looking for smaller portions, but sometimes they take meats from the salad bar and add it to the regular entrees,” Lauer reports. “We do a class and have the chef prepare some wellness items—along with a taste testing—and show what the portion size should be. It’s education along with a reality check.”

Lauer believes the most important factor in providing that “perfect balance” is in on-going education to enable seniors to make the right choices. To make that happen, education must begin with the administration of the retirement community so they’ll buy into the program, she contends.

Create Your Weight is a program designed for hospitals and outpatient environments. To participate, a customer must commit an hour each week for 10 weeks to do some type of behavioral exercises in order to understand lifestyle changes mean. It focuses on learning to eat healthier versus losing weight.