Healthy catering options at events shouldn’t be dull or boring. Here are some mouth-watering and health conscious catering ideas to inspire your next event menus.
Attendees are becoming increasingly health conscious and dietary requirements and choices requested are on the increase. Vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten free, raw... the list of diets goes on but the options offered by the venue chef can sometimes be disappointing and unappealing. At the same time healthy options suitable for mass catering sometimes seem to be stuck in a time warp, unappetizing or overpriced.
Healthy and sustainable food options are one of the hottest trends in event catering. With the likes of Instagram and social media encouraging guests to share pictures of amazing food you need to make sure there is a “WOW” factor to the healthy food that you are serving at your event.
Event Catering Advice from a Dietitian
The way that food is cooked and prepared has a massive impact on the nutritional value of the meal. Avoid food that is fried and opt for baked, poached, grilled, roasted, steamed or broiled choices. Don’t select anything covered in rich sauces and dressing or too high in salt. The important thing is to achieve balance in your event menu. A sweet treat is fine as long as everything is in moderation. Offer different portion sizes to give people the personal option of taking a smaller or larger piece. Likewise keep any dips, sauces and dressings on the side so guests can choose if, or how much, to add.
Here are some new and exciting options you can try to make your current menus healthier and revamp some old favorites to make them more waistline friendly. Whatever the occasion we hope this gives some ‘foodspiration’ to satisfy even the most health conscious crowd.
- Noodle Station
Make-your-own stations are always really popular with guests because they can tailor a meal how they want it. An excellent healthy idea is a noodle station because they can be accompanied by a good selection of vegetables and nuts such as carrots, avocado, cilantro, radishes, onions, basil and pine nuts. Low fat sauces such as chilli or soy breaks from the usual unhealthy thick sauces that contain a lot of yoghurts, butter and fat.
- Artistic Fruit Arrangements
Fruit is always an excellent option for those who are looking for a healthy alternative for some of their guests, however a traditional fruit bowl can be boring and often overlooked by guests as whole fruits can be messy, noisy or difficult to eat in company. Creating artistic arrangements or fruit sculptures can be a brilliant talking point and they can also double up as decorations or edible center pieces for the tables make them easier to chose, digest and nibble. Try presenting individual fruits as a starter or desert by carving or creating them into new creations such as flowers. You can try ideas such as strawberry roses, tomato tulips or apple hearts.
You can also choose to have arrangements in keeping with your theme so the catering still follows the trend and vibe you are looking for while also being healthy!
- Savory Sticks
Everyone loves a skewer because it’s quick and easy for serving and there is usually minimal mess or fuss for the guest eating them. The combinations you can have with these are endless and you can offer fully vegetarian or vegan skewers or combine healthy ingredients with meat or cheese for sticks that are bursting with flavor. Some options you could look at are tomato and feta cubes, vegetable medleys with halloumi, seafood or chicken and vegetables for winning combinations that everyone will love.
- Shaken not Stirred Salad
Serve side salad in martini glasses for an extravagant, evening twist or for afternoon events serve them in tea cups. Creating interesting and quirky ways to serve traditional healthy food can make it seem more appetizing and makes a plain salad fun and attention-grabbing.
- Cucumber Cups
Cucumber is an excellent healthy alternative to pastry appetizers and depending on the sizes depends on the different fillings you can add. From cheese to dark chocolate (yes, really) creating mini cucumber cups can be a mess-free way to enjoy the combination of creamy and crunchy which always make for interesting finger foods.
- Fruit and Ice Cream Shots
Have you heard of the phrase “everything in moderation”? Well that definitely applies to ice cream shots. Although ice cream itself is not overly healthy, we think that in smaller portions it still counts (you don’t want to deprive your guests with a sweet tooth!). You can accompany ice cream shots with whatever you like but adding a healthy portion of fruit on top makes it like a mini Sundae (you could also opt to layer it instead for the full effect) and this makes it a lot healthier than larger dessert options such as cheesecake or brownies (and more budget friendly).
- Seafood Starters
Seafood and fish is a popular choice for a starter. Trade out the traditional prawn cocktail which can carry a lot of calories in the dressing and opt for seafood such as salmon, cod, tuna or even oysters.
- Eggplant (Aubergine) Steaks
If you are serving steak to your guests then offer a healthier vegetarian option that is just as interesting. Using eggplant is a great alternative because it has a “meaty” texture that cuts in a similar way to steak so will leave even a meat-eater’s mouth watering!
- Healthier Alcohol
If you are serving alcohol at an event you can opt to serve healthier options such as gluten free wine, light beer or soda mixes which will also appeal to those with special dietary requirements who are usually forgotten about when dealing with drinks. Try to make sure that you offer at least 2 or 3 appealing drink alternatives such as juices, low-calorie drinks or spring water for your guests who abstain from alcohol or are conscious about what they drink.
- Avocado & Quinoa “Sushi”
Regular sushi can be quite unhealthy, especially the “maki sushi” which you would recognize as the rolls. You can either opt for sashimi which is rice-less traditional sushi or for something more aesthetically pleasing (and less fishy) you can use quinoa as an alternative. By cooking it and wrapping it in cucumber or combining with avocado it can look like sushi but is a delicious, healthy (vegan friendly) alternative.
A simple way to reduce the breaded products on offer is to simply use wraps instead. Vegetable, meat and fish wraps can be offered, with a mix of salad and veg combinations added with the fillings. Opt for leaner meat such as chicken or turkey. Wraps look more interesting when set out on a buffet table and can create a more up-market feel than offering old-school sandwich staples.
- Asparagus Blankets
A healthy alternative to traditional “pigs in blankets” (small sausages wrapped in bacon) are vegetable blankets. Asparagus works particularly well because it has a sweeter taste that compliments the bacon but really you could use any other vegetable. Although bacon is not particularly healthy, it is much healthier than its counterpart or you could opt for prosciutto or ham to add a new dynamic and make them more interesting. These will definitely be an event favorite, plus you can serve them chopped, as small hors d’oeuvres or as whole, large side dishes (or even at a buffet table).
- Fruit Platter
Keep the cutlery to a minimum and use fruit platters or kebabs for dessert and sides as well. Create a fruit cocktail on a stick and blend different flavors together, try to make sure they are not all the same and have combinations of exotic and colorful fruits to make them bright and eyecatching.
- Coconut Whip
Substitute the thick cream at dessert with a coconut whip instead. This is just as delicious but it is less heavy and has a ton of health benefits with a tropical twist. It goes well with cake, fruit and ice cream as the perfect healthy substitute for whipped cream. It also makes a great dip option for too.
- Stuffed Peppers
Peppers can create an excellent base to carry other foods such as quinoa, rice or couscous and they can be cooked for different times to suit the course. For example, a whole stuffed pepper as a main course can be cooked thoroughly until it is soft and easy to cut while pepper “boat” pieces can be seared as appetizers. Peppers are colorful and dynamic and a great way to bulk out and liven up a buffet table.
- Hanging Fruit Fountains
Switch out the marshmallows and chocolate pieces for the fondue fountains and choose to have mini hanging fruit trees. That way even if they are dipping them in chocolate there is an underlying healthy base product. You could also have a fruit juice fountain to replace the chocolate entirely and serve small cups and umbrellas to make your own “mocktails” to keep in with the fondue theme but without the calories!
- Crudité Station
An excellent twist on the usual veggies and dips are crudité stations that have a host of pre chopped vegetables and fruits to mix and match and often offered with houmous. These resemble a salad bar and will be a favorite among the hors d’oeuvres because of the crunchy texture. Make sure to make the station bursting with different colors, mix and match so that it doesn’t all look “green” and it will make it more appetizing to guests.
- Meat Pops
A great way to minimize the amount of meat you are serving is to bulk it out with veggies and salad so that it is the healthier side, whether you are serving high fat meats such as pork or leaner meats such as turkey or chicken. Add cubed, cooked meats to skewers along with cucumber, tomatoes and lettuce (halfway) and you’ve created a broken down burger skewer that is far more healthy because of the ratio of veggies to meat.
A great meat alternative to try as well are tofu and pesto lollipops which combine together to make a great flavor that no-one will notice is meatless! Some event menus are even removing meat altogether for environmental and health reasons.
- Stuffed Mushrooms
Did you know you can eat raw mushrooms? Who knew? And it turns out they are excellent as small hors d’oeuvres that you can also stuff quinoa, rice or pate into for an interesting texture combination. They are perfect if you are serving a small meal as they can be quite filling and satisfying.
- Vegetable Cakes
We all know and love carrot cake but other vegetables can make scrumptious cake options too. Try banana, chilli, orange, beetroot, courgettes, pumpkin, parsnip…. the list is endless. You can add dried fruits, nuts and spices to the cake mixture, and experiment with different flavourings for the frostings.
Antipasto is an Italian idea that involves healthy salads combined with hams and light cheeses which make excellent combinations on platters or stations or even on skewers if you are looking for a lighter option for smaller events. These salads combine healthy foods such as artichokes and raw asparagus that you usually don’t find at the salad bar.
- Coconut & Almond Popsicles
A delicious and classy, healthy dessert alternative that you can combine with superfoods, nuts or even create its own dessert station. Swap out the ice cream bar with a decorate-your-own Popsicle stand and provide chopped nuts, honey, berries and other healthy items to make their dessert unique and delicious!
- Kale Chips
For less formal events, opt for kale or vegetable chips with low fat and healthy dip options as part of a small buffet style setting to allow your guests healthier and more interesting alternatives. Kale in particular when dried out properly has the same consistency of chips with a lot less calories (plus other benefits too!)
Soup isn’t just an easy starter for dinners it can also be part of your conference menu. Avoid cream based soups and choose a recipe bursting with vegetables and flavour. Consider serving in recycled paper coffee style cups for convenience, alongside wraps and other buffet items.
- Portobello Mushroom Burgers
If you are looking for a healthier red meat alternative then Portobello mushroom open-topped burgers are the way to go. These have a similar texture to meat, are bursting with flavor and go well with salad without feeling too “healthy”. They are vegan friendly too. Take off the top of the bun and leave it open for a truly healthy and delicious alternative.
You don’t have to make massive changes to your menu to accommodate healthy choices, you can make a few adjustments here and there to leave your guests feeling satisfied but not stuffed and to avoid that post lunch slump. Don’t forget that one of the first tricks for healthier catering options is the presentation, make sure your menu looks too good to miss.