What can caterers do to help the public eat better?

The healthyliving Award identifies key ways the sector can improve healthy eating options.

1 July 2019
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image credit: Getty Images

Meet the Expert

Who: Dr. Laura Wyness

What: Independent registered nutritionist


With as much as a quarter of our calories coming from the out-of-home market, a figure likely to grow over the coming years, improvements in the health and nutrition of food in this area are becoming a major focus of public health.

Cafes and quick-service restaurants may appear to be, or even promote themselves as, ‘healthy,’ but as consumers become more discerning about what goes into their bodies, there is a greater need that ever for both transparency and a clear-sighted approach to providing healthy meals.

Supporting and awarding the catering sector for healthier eating options

Caterers can play an important role in influencing what their customers eat. Even simple changes to the ingredients and cooking methods used can help people eat better when dining out. 

The healthyliving Award aims to encourage the sector to embark on these changes. The scheme, which is managed and delivered by NHS Health Scotland, is given to businesses committed to preparing and serving food that meet certain requirements, from minimising fat, salt and sugar, to including options such as water, low-fat dairy products, and fruit and vegetables. At least 50% of the food served needs to meet specific healthy living criteria in order to qualify for certification.

Anne Lee, organisational lead for the programme, tells Food Spark that there are many benefits the award can have for caterers.

“A business that achieves the award will be meeting the growing consumer demand for healthier food. As more people are looking for healthier options, the award also helps identify a place as one where healthier ingredients and food preparation methods are used, and the catering team have improved their knowledge and skills.”

So how exactly does the healthyliving Award propose out-of-home establishments help customers eat better?

Levels of fats and oil, particularly saturated fat, should be kept to a minimum

Practical suggestions include using oils higher in unsaturated fats such as olive oil or rapeseed oil rather than butter or coconut oil. Cream can be replaced by a yoghurt, quark or any product with less than 10g of fat per 100g. Recipes can be adapted to reduce the fat – for example, by thickening gravies with cornflour rather than making a roux.

Levels of salt should be kept to a minimum

Adding less salt, or none at all, when cooking can help minimise salt levels. Instead, marinating meat and fish or using natural alternatives can enhance dishes. 

Levels of sugars should be kept to a minimum

Suggestions include using dried fruit or fruit juices to sweeten dishes rather than sugars or sweeteners. Mixing two fruits with different sugar contents (e.g., dessert apples and cooking apples) or mixing dried and fresh fruit (e.g., dried and fresh pears) can help sweeten recipes. 

Fruit and vegetables must be clearly available

Having an attractive and clearly visible fruit basket is a simple action for many eateries. Incorporating fruit, vegetables, beans and pulses into dishes can help increase fibre and vegetable intakes. Cut the vegetables chunky as very small pieces increases the surface area for vitamins to leach out with cooking. Adding lemon, lime or a vinegar-based dressing to salad can help reduce the vitamin C loss, as vitamin C is more stable in acidic conditions. 

Starchy foods must form the main part of most meals

The healthyliving Award advice states that starchy carbohydrate such as pasta, rice and potatoes should be available as an accompaniment to all main meals. If chips are served then a healthier starchy alternative should also be available. Although breads are not usually high in fat, some breads contain added oil. Ciabatta, focaccia or panini, even if higher fibre, are not considered healthy when compared to wholemeal bread, rolls, bagels or pitta. 

Run a promotion and marketing strategy which supports healthier eating

The programme encourages businesses to inform their customers about the ingredients and preparation methods they have used to make the food healthier. Key messages to highlight to customers could include ‘fresh fruit is available every day’ or ‘we grill all our breakfast items.’  Healthier items should be competitively priced with other menu items and grouped together whenever possible to make them more obvious to the customer. 

Staff training

As part of the healthyliving Award it is important that staff understand its purpose and underlying principles. Chefs and those involved in food preparation must know the conditions of the certification in detail so that they can prepare suitable dishes. It is also important for front-of-house staff to have knowledge on healthy eating so that they are able to tell customers about the healthier catering practices. 

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