MenuDirections 2013: What Sunk in During Day One

Takeaways from the opening sessions of MenuDirections.

The first day of Menu Directions, FoodService Director’s culinary conference for FSDs looking to offer more-healthful options, provided plenty of food for thought. It didn’t stint on food for the more usual sort of consumption, either.

Here are some savory tidbits of both sorts:

  • Adjustments by foodservice suppliers to the new school meal regulations will help operators in all non-commercial sectors add more healthful options to their menus. That gem, offered by Editorial Director Paul King, was one of several served by the editors of FoodService Director during the Meet the Press-style session that kicked off the conference (full disclosure: I was the moderator).

Among the other noteworthy observations offered by the press:

  • College students talk health, but they still want burgers and fries, an observation from FoodserviceDirector.com Managing Editor Lindsey Ramsey that drew visible nods from the audience.
  • Today, healthful options are often showcased in stand-alone stations or separate areas of an operation because they’re still the outliers on many operations’ menus. But the day will come when those options are the mainstream and indulgence items are the ones segregated to special serving areas.
  • ŸSenior living’s days as a splinter segment usually lumped into healthcare feeding are coming to an end. After the Meet the Press session, when FSD’s editors provided a segment-by-segment review of health trends, two operators from senior living buttonholed participants to ask why their sector was overlooked. They explained that foodservices in adult-living communities are dramatically diverging from the patient-feeding operations of hospitals or continuing-care facilities. Indeed, they described multi-outlet complexes that sounded closer to the gamut of dining operations that are found on a college campus.
  • ŸCroquette-style finger foods are back in vogue, at least in and around the conference rooms of MenuDirections. Attendees who tried the host hotel’s Oystercatchers beachside restaurant found a conch beignet listed as an appetizer choice. Inside the vendor fair, where sponsors provided the lunch choices, featured products included Caribbean jerk chicken and garbanzo croquettes. Among the specialties sampled during a dine-around of local restaurants were a lobster croquette and a duck risotto ball that fit the category.
  • ŸYogurt is figuring into healthful preparations the way refined sugar serves as a constant in higher-calorie indulgences. During a workshop on the use of fruits to prepare more healthful desserts, chef-presenters repeatedly mentioned the use of yogurt, and Greek yogurt in particular, as something that added texture and smoothness. For instance, it was a key ingredient in a healthful milkshake served to attendees.
  • ŸIsland flavors were much in evidence at the conference. During a lunch where sponsors provided samples of their products in preparations consistent with prevailing menu trends, attendees could try such tropical selections as mashed black beans served on tostones and fruit garnishes for meat. Mango in particular was everywhere, providing flavor and texture to everything from Indian dishes to flatbread toppings.
  • ŸThe definition of a classic Cuban sandwich depends on where you are in Florida. Miami’s version—i.e., one stuffed with ham, roast pork, cheese, pickles and mustard—may be better known. But Tampa, the host city for MenuDirections, is known for a variation that includes salami, as attendees found in the hotel restaurant or virtually any grab-and-go place in the area.
  • ŸCitrus zest was cited several times as an ingredient that can add flavor, particularly as a salt replacement, while boosting the healthfulness of a dish.

Quote of the day: To illustrate that not all dried fruit is created equal, noted nutrition expert Dr. James Painter described dried cranberries as virtual sugar drops whose nutrients have largely been squeezed out. “Go ahead and use a dried cranberry, but know you’re putting a Gummy Bear on there,” said Painter.

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