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“Do you want to prevent ‘presenteeism’ – being present, but lacking energy, focus, memory and productivity – in your meeting and conference attendees?” asks Mari Pronk, a registered dietitian and ADSA ( Association for Dietetics in South Africa) spokesperson.

Awareness about how food affects us, both immediately and in the long term, is driving smarter food choices worldwide. Events are no different, and careful menu design presents an opportunity to not only satisfy your guests’ taste buds and fulfill their varied dietary needs, but also to help them get the most out of your event – whether they are there to present, learn, network or sell.

There is a lot to consider, but Pronk suggests the following guidelines will put you on the right track:

  • Always establish if any attendees have specific dietary needs before your event, so that you can cater for them. It is usually best to order Halaal and Kosher meals from an appropriate certified caterer.
  • The basic healthy eating guidelines will apply to your menu; this will include lowering the intake of sugar, fat and salt and increasing the intake of dietary fibre and whole-grains.
  • Avoid high fat starchy foods like vetkoek/fat cakes, croissants, pastries and samoosas.
  • Avoid large, heavy meals during lunchtime, as this can lead to drowsiness, seeing that more oxygen is pumped to the stomach instead of the brain.
  • Platters are a great option for in-between meals that can be served at tea breaks, or as lunch during half-day meetings.
  • Variety is key. For example, platters can consist of a mixture of fruits, vegetables, sandwiches, meats, and boiled eggs or cheese. Meat options include grilled chicken, mini skewers of beef or chicken, mini meatballs. Vegetable options include cut vegetables (celery, carrot, cucumber, peppers and cherry tomatoes) served with a tzatziki dip or hummus dip. Fruit options include pineapple slices, pawpaw, watermelon, sweetmelon, strawberries, small bunches of grapes and fruit kebabs.
  • Serve sandwiches made with an assortment of wholegrain breads (whole-wheat, seed, rye, brown), pita, buns/rolls and wraps. Fillings for these can include a protein such as tuna, egg, chicken or cheese, with salad vegetables like tomato, lettuce and cucumber. Small bran muffins are also a good choice.
  • Lunch meals should have at least one lean meat dish option and one vegetarian option, one starch option and two vegetables options. Pronk recommends that you serve one dark green and one yellow/orange flesh vegetable/salad, because they contain a good mix of important vitamins. Serve low fat salad dressings with salads. Vegetarian dishes can include vegetable and bean stew, vegetable curry, ratatouille with chick peas, vegetable lasagne or vegetable biryani.
  • Lastly, Pronk adds that hydration is an often overlooked but critical in preventing fatigue. She suggested you serve jugs of water or bottled still water as the main beverage, and offer tea, coffee and rooibos tea as an alternative. Don’t forget to provide low-fat or fat-free milk, as well as sugar and sugar substitutes for tea or coffee. Lastly, because of its high sugar content, offer 100% fruit/vegetable juice in portions of 250ml or less.