Eating by numbers

23/11/2015 - 07:37
Whether it’s five or seven daily portions of fruit and vegetables, caterers are keen to follow the government’s lead and encourage the uptake of fresh produce for a healthier lifestyle. Sheila Eggleston reports.

Getting the better-for-you message across has been a long slog, but healthy eating is now classed as one of the megatrends, even though some younger consumers still have to get over their hang-ups about vegetables, which has led to the ‘health by stealth’ approach many caterers have adopted.

While eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day has been advised since the 1980s, many organisations have made it more of a priority recently because of the vital nutrients they provide, and the government supports this stance.

Last year, the School Food Plan was published, and suppliers have been keen to help caterers provide healthier meals without breaking any budgets.

According to Stuart Hiscott, marketing manager at Ardo UK, the cheapest and easiest way is to take advantage of frozen fruit and vegetables.

“The short time between picking and freezing means frozen fruit and vegetables retain their vitamins and minerals better than fresh, helping to get the best from food without worrying about a short shelf life,” he explains. “This means you get maximum nutrient value for minimum cost and effort.”

Hiscott says Ardo’s products are prepared in such a way that 100% of the product can be used, and the company only ships fully prepared products, so there is no waste. Another plus is that frozen products can be used instead of chilled ones for all-day menus, he adds. For example, quickly blended frozen fruit smoothies or frozen berries in porridge can be used for breakfast, and frozen spinach to complement dinner without it wilting during the day.

Many manufacturers have products that boast nutritional credentials, and their ability to offer high portions of fruit and vegetables. For example, Mars Foodservice claims its whole Dolmio range has great than 84% vegetable content, with a 90g serving counting as one portion daily portion.

Cost sector caterers have also been finding clever ways to boost uptake of fruit and vegetables in daily meals, and high-powered blenders are increasingly being used to achieve their goals.

Heather Beattie, Santos brand manager at Nisbets, says that the Santos Miracle Edition centrifugal juice extractor produces up to 140L of fresh juice an hour, and the extra-wide feeding tube means fresh produce can be fed-in whole, so there is no need to waste time chopping.

“Making drinks fresh to order in front of customers is a key selling feature,” comments Beattie. “They will enjoy the theatre associated with it, and appreciate being served a beverage that looks and tastes great.”

Business and industry operator Artizian Catering recently introduced vegetable-based Whizzies to capitalise on the popularity of the Nutribullet blender.

“Particular attention was paid to the combination of ingredients to balance blood sugar and energy production, thus eliminating the sugar spike you can get from commercial fruit and vegetable juices,” says manager for nutrition and well-being Catherine Attfield. “As a result, Whizzies have been incredibly popular.”

Artizian’s healthier offerings also include bespoke juice bars, power soups containing antioxidant-rich vegetables, and a popular balanced fruit and vegetable grab-and-go range to support good energy and mood.

Constantly communicating the benefits of fresh food to its customers is a must, she says. “Take for instance some of the recent misconceptions surrounding fresh fruit and fructose,” she explains. “The belief that this is the worst kind of sugar has led to some people avoiding fruit altogether.

“We feel strongly about this and wanted to give our customers accurate information, so we produced ‘Fruity Facts’ to set the record straight and inform them of the benefits of whole fresh fruit, where the fructose is bound up within high levels of fibre.”

School caterer Eden Foodservice runs healthy-eating workshops, while one of its most successful initiatives is the ‘Smoothie Bike’, whereby pupils can choose which fruit and vegetables to have in their smoothie, and then ride the specially designed bike to power the blender and make their drink.

“We often find they will try a new fruit or vegetable for the first time during the workshop,” says development manager Rachael Venditti. “It’s a great tool to educate pupils on healthy eating and drinking, and the importance of effective hydration, topped off with exercise.”

Eden focuses on the health and well-being of youngsters but says that, unfortunately, recent research shows that only 10% of boys and 7% of girls are meeting the national target for their daily intake.

“While 5-a-day is a practical target for the UK population, many may struggle to achieve this,” comments Venditti. “This is why we aim to provide an offering that ensures pupils increase their intake of fruit and vegetable, in line with the government’s recommendations in the School Food Plan.”

She says it has developed ‘Food Farm’ – a way of delivering menus that provides nutritionally balanced meals, cooked from scratch using fresh ingredients. “It helps children understand the origins of food, and the link between what they’re learning and what they’re eating, through fun educational activities,” she explains.

The introduction of ‘The Greens’, a family of superhero cartoon characters that entice children from nursery up to Year 6 to eat fresh, healthy food also educates them on food, growing, health and the environment, while another initiative being rolled out is ‘Back to Your Roots’, which encourages pupils to grow their own food, cook and eat well through hands-on activities.

“Although government guidance recommends eating at least 5-a-day, eating 7-a-day does provide even more health benefits,” says Venditti. “We have therefore developed dishes that incorporate additional fruit and vegetables to support this.”

For instance, Eden makes tomato-based sauce to use in dishes such as bolognese and pizza bases, and, in secondary schools particularly, it ensures there are modern dishes influenced by the high street.

“Engaging with parents is crucial if we are to be successful in delivering the School Food Plan,” adds Venditti. “We produce a menu leaflet, which goes to parents twice a year, that provides an overview of our approach to quality, nutrition and special diets, together with a local point of contact should they have queries.”

Menus are easily accessible via its website and that of the school, which uses symbols to highlight dishes that contribute to the 5-a-day recommendation.

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