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Menu Development for Healthy Cooking

Menu Development for Healthy Cooking

Culinary Institute of America

Your menu will also depend on logistics. The availability and cost of ingredients, the price you are able to charge customers, and your facilities are factors that affect what you can offer. Chefs who are responsible for all of a person’s meals have a greater obligation to provide healthy options than chefs whose patrons are infrequent guests.

Restaurants run the gamut from fast food to haute cuisine, from ten-top independently owned stores to international chains with vast resources. Restaurants may well have the most flexibility in determining a menu. Because a chef really has no control over the other food choices a customer makes in a day, he or she doesn’t need to be overly worried with providing balanced nutrition. You should, of course, offer nutritious dishes, but you have no way of knowing how they will fit into a customer’s diet. It is the customer’s responsibility to make smart choices. You know what your facilities can handle and how much storage you have, and you can plan your purchases, and your menu, accordingly.

A caterer, particularly one who specializes in preparing hot food on location, faces much greater limits. Turning out dozens or hundreds of dishes in a matter of minutes requires a great deal of organization. You may find yourself working under a canopy in a parking lot or in an unfamiliar kitchen. Space and site issues, as well as flavor and nutrition, must be kept in mind when planning a menu with a client.

Chefs who work at institutions have a greater responsibility to keep nutrients in mind, and may face the biggest challenges. The director of food service at a hospital or school will most likely work with a dietician to ensure that menus and recipes fit specific parameters to meet patrons’ needs. A sixty-five-year-old quadruple-bypass patient will have distinctly different nutrition needs and food preferences from a child whose tonsils were removed. Sick people often have limited appetites, so creating foods that will tempt them to eat and will help them to heal is the primary goal. What is considered “tempting,” however, may vary considerably by age as well as by ethnicity or cultural background. An elderly Chinese immigrant may ignore mashed potatoes, polenta, or cream of wheat, but might welcome a rice dish such as congee.

Cost can be a critical factor at institutions. The chef at a private facility may have a much larger budget than the director of food service for a public school district who charges two dollars for a meal. In addition, school lunch programs serve a customer base with a broad range of caloric and nutrient requirements. A sixteen-year-old boy needs on average about 3,000 calories a day, about 25 percent more than a girl of the same age and almost twice the amount that a first-grader does. Menus with a variety of portion sizes, as well as with options for side dishes, make sense. Appealing choices mean less waste.