Six tips for adding healthy eating options at business events

Living the double-life in this industry has given me great perspective on a topic I feel is often overlooked. As a frequent attendee of conventions, conferences and galas, I relish these opportunities almost as much as being on the supplier side. One would figure that being a supplier producing thousands of events, I’d have little desire to attend any but wearing an attendee badge provides me the outlet to step over to another perspective. Amazingly enough, it’s actually not too different from the ‘other’ side either.
Healthy eating options at business events
We are, as an industry, slowly “catering ourselves to death” and as both suppliers and planners, need to evaluate our practices and explore creative methods to reverse the cycle. We all treat these business outings as “days off” or if long enough, even as “mini escapes” from our regimented day-to-day routines. Yes, I said it, we are chronic cheaters that have few to blame but ourselves. Let’s use this quick outline below as a point of reference.

How many of us get up in a normal day and do the following routine:

  • 8:00 am, pre-meeting breakfast – American buffet of eggs, potatoes, two meats, sliced fruit, breakfast pastries, toast, bagels, cream cheese, preserves, butter, yogurt, granola, juices, coffee and tea
  • 8:30 – 10:30 am, sedentary meeting session – extra coffee and juice for the ride of course
  • 10:30 – 10:45 am, the “not  so smart-phone break”  – Carry over breakfast pastries, fruit bread, granola bars, top off the coffee, tea and/or juice
  • 10:45 – noon, sedentary meeting session – extra coffee and juice for the ride of course
  • Noon – 1:00 pm – lunch – that classic “working lunch” of four salads, bread and butter, two meats, two starches, buttery vegetables, dessert squares, cookies, coffee, tea and soft drinks
  • 1:00 – 2:30 pm, sedentary meeting session – don’t forget that extra soft drink
  • 2:30 – 2:45 pm, the “not  so smart-phone break”  cookie break, granola bars, ice cream novelties, whole fruit, coffee, tea, water, soft drinks
  • 2:45  – 4:00 pm, sedentary meeting session – don’t forget that last afternoon refill
  • 4:00 – 6:00 pm, meet me in the hotel lobby wind down – a drink or two, bar snacks
  • 6:00 – 7:00 pm, the “dinner” pre-reception – a couple more drinks and some fancy hors d’oeuvres
  • 7:00 – 9:30 pm, the “dinner” – big, bold and fancy with wine and all the necessary accoutrements
  • 9:30 pm onwards, the client “after-party” – take two and call me in the morning

Imagine multiplying this to a two to four day schedule? Most of us actually do, and in fact, on separate, incremental occasions because it’s in our occupation. It’s highly unlikely that any of us live like this on a normal, day but we let the excuse of ‘business travel’ trick us into accelerating an unhealthy practice into high gear. As attendees we fall victim to the events and very seldom take the road more frequently travelled. Yes, we control our own habits, but it’s time we lay some blame to the planners and suppliers for once also.

It’s true that consumer-driven initiatives are almost always ideal, but how both planners and suppliers change their common routine is how the culture of healthy eating at events will be shifted. So how do we get started on the right path? Here are some quick tips on how the collaboration of both planners and suppliers could help shift the cycle:

  1. Don’t bury your healthy food. Hiding a bowl of fresh fruit amongst a stacked buffet of greasy breakfast items makes not a healthy option. Try the reverse and bury a plate of bacon around a 90 per cent health-focused menu.
  2. Focus on local and in-season options. You can’t sweeten January strawberries without loads of sugar, so work collaboratively as planner and caterer to talk about what’s the freshest in the season and don’t mess with the ingredients.
  3. Don’t look at dietary restrictions as a burden. They’re here and they’re the norm. Rather, a focus on healthier options would likely help cut down some of those restrictions for your attendees.
  4. Do what all the doctors and nutritionists suggest: eat smaller, more frequent meals.  Who says breakfast, lunch and dinner have to be big, bad meals. Do a full day of grazing, healthy, hearty break sessions. We waste way too much in this industry already, and really, no one is really going to care if you delete the danishes.
  5. Planners, push your caterers to be creative and obligate them to heighten their offerings. Caterers, stop burying the granola bar at the bottom of your menus and marking it a ‘healthy option’. Are most granola bars even healthy?
  6. Everything in moderation. Whether it’s the chicken and waffle station or the smoothie bar, integrate the new concepts moderately so it’s easier to track the progress of how receptive it is.

It’s tough to argue against the notion that we are all a part of an amazing industry – one that’s chalk-full of excitement and break-neck paced, social interaction. Many times, we are tantalizing in temptation with habits and creativity that get the best of us. Here is a tremendous opportunity to do what we do best: collaborate, create and shift trend into a permanent lifestyle. Think about how you can make your next experience a healthier one, I challenge you.

About the author:

The big city kid from Toronto has always been surrounded by food and events for as long as he can remember. His mission? Take his nearly 20 years of experience and change the way people think before they plan to meet, eat and socialize. At every opportunity, Trevor relishes and tries to learn the trade from every possible angle. Now, his focus is to reciprocate all the knowledge and import funky, stylish and cutting edge methods to implement sustainability into every aspect of business. Social or corporate, Trevor relies on his passion and personality to broker effective relationships. Lessons learned in his times at the largest event venues, hotel chains and entertainment complexes producing and strategizing for his clients. Today, if not directing operations at the iconic International Centre in Toronto, Trevor can be found wired to social media, speaking at events or classrooms, penning an article or at a boardroom stategizing sustainable ideas that challenge the status quo. Trevor’s passion is relentless, genuine and much like his vision and sense of style, both different and memorable. He believes in the thought process as much as the risk within the action even when it comes down to accessorizing his socks and pocket squares to his signature bowties.

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