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Menu Development for Healthy Cooking

Menu Development for Healthy Cooking

Culinary Institute of America

The chef at a spa, hotel, or on a cruise ship faces some of the responsibility that an institutional chef does, some of the limitations that a caterer does, and some of the flexibility that a restaurant chef does. When consumers have no choice but to eat your food, particularly for several consecutive meals, you must offer an array of healthy choices. The menu at a spa will reflect the philosophy and mission of the facility; meals may offer dishes at specific calorie ranges or with a limited number of fat grams. A cruise ship might be able to replenish supplies in different ports, but if this is not an option, menus must be designed that take into account storage facilities as well as keeping properties of foods. Guests whose meals are included in their fees expect quality and variety, and they will often expect a high level of service and presentation as well.

Home-meal replacement is one of the fastest-growing segments of the food industry. People who don’t have time to cook also might not have time to dine in restaurants, where they must wait for their food to be prepared, but they might not want to eat takeout Chinese or pizza or drive-through fast food every night. Freshly prepared foods, whether from a favorite restaurant or a local supermarket, that can be ordered ahead and eaten at home are finding a wide audience. Allowing customers to build their meals by choosing from a variety of sides ensures that their nutrition needs will be met.

All chefs should keep in mind seasonality and availability of foods. Thanks to faster shipping, virtually every food is available year-round, all over the country. But just because you can get tomatoes in January or apricots in October or apples in April doesn’t mean these foods no longer have a “season” or that seasonality doesn’t matter. Perishable produce shipped in from far away may have flavors and textures you can barely distinguish from those you buy at the height of the season from a local farmer’s market, or they may be nice-looking but tasteless.

Regardless of their flavors, the price these imported fruits and vegetables command, however, is usually significantly higher. Instead, change your menus to reflect the bounty of each season. When local tomatoes are at their peak, create a BLT that reflects your establishment’s sensibility: arugula, pancetta, and ciabatta for an Italian restaurant, perhaps. Soft-shell crabs, shad roe, and wild salmon are in season just briefly; it may be easier to add them to your list of specials than to your regular menu.

Even minor modifications can reflect seasonality. Adding asparagus to sautéed mixed vegetables or fresh garden peas to a pasta dish can herald spring. A spinach and goat cheese salad might use blood oranges and olives in the winter, berries and pine nuts in the spring, peaches in the summer, and apples or pears and walnuts in autumn.

Although you might not want to remove signature dishes, consider changing your menu periodically to keep your staff and your customers from getting complacent or bored.