Drinkable Meals

Are your customers steadfast grab-and-goers at mealtime? If so, consider drinkable meals to suit their busy lifestyles.

Many of your customers are likely to be morning grab-and-goers. This means they may select a bottled beverage for breakfast, rather than eating a meal. You can easily wean them off their morning bottle and offer healthy options for a liquid breakfast.

Breakfast in a mug can be part of a meal, sipped leisurely during an early morning class or meeting. It can be  paired with fresh fruit, an omelet or hot or cold cereal. Or it can be a “gulp-able” meal unto itself, taken on the dash to wherever the customer wants.

One way to ease labor requirements in the morning meal period is to build a meal-in-a-cup the night before service: Load a blender or food processor canister with fresh or frozen fruit, tofu or plain or fruited yogurt, applesauce, fruit juice, etc. Leave it in the refrigerator over night, then just blend away in the morning. Your staff doesn’t have to measure in the morning and your customers can sip their breakfast.

Smooth out: You can also pre-make and cup up breakfast smoothies or offer a made-to-order smoothie bar at your location. Either way, you can make a nutritious meal in a cup.

Have one of your more vivacious servers serve as a breakfast bartender and make smoothies to order. You can make smoothies or breakfast drinks with a minimum of ingredients and equipment, or you can go all out.

  • Fresh stuff for smoothies: bananas, grapes, carrots, celery and seasonal fresh fruit.
  • Frozen stuff for smoothies: thawed strawberries and blueberries, orange and apple juice concentrates, frozen soy or rice ice cream.
  • Dried and canned stuff for smoothies: applesauce, wheat germ, nutritional yeast, dried fruit, cocoa powder, maple syrup, soy or rice milk, assorted juices.
  • Smoothie suggestions: orange juice, wheat germ, banana and strawberry; apple juice, celery, carrots, nutritional yeast or protein powder; berries, low-fat and soy milk, apple sauce, maple syrup.
    Quick get-aways: Consider some exotic Central American breakfast beverages you can offer your customers. For the five or so minutes they are sipping on a mango horchata, they can imagine they are on their own private resort island.
  • Licuados traditionally contain milk and sugar or honey and fresh fruit. Condensed or evaporated milk is usually used, but fresh milk or aseptic-packaged milk works just as well. Banana and papaya are popular flavors, as are mango, pineapple, melon, prickly pear (cactus fruit), carrot and even chocolate (made with Mexican chocolate and cinnamon). Offer your customers a “mariposa” (butterfly) licuado, light as a feather with melon, pineapple and mango.
  • Aguas frescas are delicate fresh fruit juice blends. They use only fruit juice, pulp, edible flowers and ice for their flavor. They are prepared fresh and served over chunks of ice. For a modern twist, add sparkling water for a “frescas” spritzer. Strawberry, orange, sweet lemon, grape, guava, apple, lime, pina colada (pineapple and coconut), melon, tamarind and jamica (made from the hibiscus flower) are favorite varieties of “frescas.” Invest in some large glass display jars and line up your “frescas” where your customers can see them.

Horchata is a milky-sweet agua fresca made from cooked rice, flavored with cinnamon. Cebeda, a full-flavored agua fresca, is made from barley. These two frescas are a mild counterpoint to spicy foods and make a good brunch beverage. Offer licuados or aguas frescas later in the day as a dessert item, paired with sliced seasonal fruit and cookies.

Licuados and aguas frescas can be frozen and used for meal intermezzos or refreshing desserts. Freeze them in scooped-out lemon, orange or apple shells for a dramatic presentation. Garnish with the same fruit used to make them.

That’s hot: Mexican hot chocolate is a meal in itself, made by dissolving disks of Mexican chocolate in hot milk with brown sugar and cinnamon. If Mexican chocolate is not available, use unsweetened cocoa.You can find the few special ingredients you need for these concoctions in local markets, in the “Import” section of many grocery stores, or even on the Web. Mexican chocolate is becoming more available as it gains popularity.


Pink, Blue or Yellow?

According to the USDA, sugar consumption of the average American was 146 pounds in 2004. Many consumers are looking to other “sweeteners” to reduce the amount of sugars consumed.

According to AC Nielsen, the sugar substitute market topped $310 million for the calendar year 2004. According to Landor Mills Commodities, the equivalent amount of sweeteners (food and beverage use) translates into 16.2 lbs per person per year.

As we look down our order sheets, there are sugars and at least four FDA-approved artificial sweeteners from which to choose. It is also important to note that FDA regulations allow the amount of calories to be rounded down to the nearest five-calorie value.

Artificial sweeteners, due to their intensity, contain bulking agents (such as dextrose, sorbitol and maltodextrin) that add on average four calories per teaspoon, although the sweetener itself may not contain any calories, nor will the package list the calories. Your customers probably have a preference when it comes to artificial sweeteners, so be certain to stock a rainbow of packets at the condiments bar.

Here is a rundown of some of the more commonly used sweeteners:

Sugar
Sugar is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in every fruit and vegetable, but occurs in greatest quantities in sugar cane and sugar beets. The chemical composition of both of these plants is identical, and separating the natural sugar from the plant material produces sugar. There is no whitening or bleaching in the production. Refined white sugar is pure (99.9%) sucrose, and does not contain any additives or preservatives. The term “refined” is defined as “making pure,” as the refining removes the yellow or brown pigments. A teaspoonful of sugar contains 16 calories, but due to the FDA regulation may be rounded down to 15 calories.

Saccharin
Saccharin (Sweet N Low) was discovered in 1879 and has been used commercially for about a century (the first artificial sweetener). Saccharin starts with methyl anthranilate, a synthesized organic molecule derived from petroleum. Methyl anthranilate is also found in many fruits, especially grapes. It is 300 times as sweet as sucrose and produces no glycemic response; its sweetness is not reduced by heating. Saccharin dissolves well in hot and cold beverages.

Acesulfame-K
Acesulfame-K (Sunette or Sweet One) was approved by the FDA as table-top sweetener and as an additive in a variety of desserts, confections and alcoholic beverages. It is 200 times sweeter than sucrose, is non-carcinogenic and produces no glycemic response. Its sweetening power is not reduced by heating and can synergize the sweetening power of other nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners. It does not provide any energy, as it is not metabolized in the body and is excreted unchanged. Acesulfame-K has a slightly powdery texture and may need to be well-stirred to dissolve adequately in cold beverages.

Sucralose
Sucralose (Splenda) is 600 times sweeter than sucrose and is not perceived by the body as a carbohydrate. It has no calories and the body does not recognize it as a carbohydrate. It produces no glycemic response. Approximately 15% of sucralose is passively absorbed in the body, and the majority is excreted unchanged. The small amount that is passively absorbed is not metabolized and is eliminated within 24 hours. Heating or baking does not reduce its sweetening power. Sucralose is available in both “white” and “brown” versions and can be used in baking, beverages and dessert preparation.

Aspartame
Aspartame (Nutrasweet and Equal) provides the same energy as any protein (four calories per gram) because it is a combination of phenylalanine and aspartic acid, which are two amino acids, which is then combined with methanol. It is 180 to 200 times sweeter than sucrose, so the small amount needed to sweeten products does not contribute a significant number of calories. The FDA has set acceptable daily intake at 50 mg per kilogram of body weight (equivalent to about 17 cans of aspartame-sweetened soft drinks). Aspartame dissolves well in hot and cold beverages, but may lose its sweetener power if hot beverages are allowed to stand.

Stevia
Stevia rebaudiana (stevia) is a plant of the daisy family and a South American shrub. The plant material between the veins of the leaf contains the sweet compounds, which is 250-300 times as sweet as sugar; but stevia, or stevioside, has not been approved by the FDA as GRAS (generally regarded as safe). The Dietary Supplement Act of 1994 allows stevia to be sold in the U.S. as a dietary supplement. It has been used in South America for centuries and Japan for over 30 years as a sweetener. The FDA position is that stevia’s safety has not been adequately demonstrated.

Neotame
Neotame is the newest FDA approved artificial sweetener that is the most intense sweetener to date, with a sweetness of between 7,000 and 13,000 times that of sucrose. It is a derivative of dipeptide, and made of amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It is quickly metabolized and fully eliminated through normal biological processes. There are no products currently on the market that use Neotame.


Licuado Lingo

  • icuado—similar to a smoothie; traditionally made using milk and fresh fruit
  • Batido—another name for licuado
  • Chocomilk—chocolate flavored powder commonly used in blender drinks, like licuado
  • Mixto—means “mixed;” most licuados are made using a mixture of fruit
  • Mamey—a football-shaped fruit similar to a papaya
  • Guayaba—Spanish for “guava;” a tropical fruit the size of a lemon with smooth, green-yellow skin
  • Guanabana—a common licuado combination of guava and banana

Source: California Milk Processor Board