6 Ways to Use Food as Fuel at Meetings

By Tony Porcellini, September 10, 2013

Has your afternoon brainstorming session produced more yawns than ideas? Are your attendees having trouble keeping their eyes open in your breakouts? It might not be the content or the late nights dragging your attendees down. It might be your menu.

For all the effort that goes into planning informative and engaging programming at meetings, one of the most common oversights I see as director of food and beverage at a major convention hotel is the lack of understanding and planning of how food serves as fuel for meetings. What we eat throughout the day can have a huge impact on how we feel, think and function. If a menu does not allow your attendees to get the proper nutrition, you’ll have a problem getting the most out of them. Here are a few guidelines planners should follow when creating their menus to make sure they’re fueling attendees properly:

1. Determine the purpose of the meeting. Figuring out what you want to achieve from your meeting helps pinpoint when your attendees need to be their sharpest. If the morning is the most critical time, make sure your breakfast provides the big boost your attendees need. If it’s the afternoon, focus on your lunch. Typically, dinner is the meal where your attendees can indulge and relax. After a full night’s rest and a good breakfast, they’ll be ready to go again.

2. Balance carbs and proteins. Our food consumption has become so reliant on carbohydrates, we consistently see meetings with carb-heavy menus throughout the day. That is the perfect recipe for a groggy group. Carbohydrates are essential to providing the energy we need, but too many cause a crash. The key is to balance carbs and proteins to help sustain energy levels. I recommend making one meal protein-heavy and one carb-heavy. A protein-heavy breakfast will fill your guests and sustain them while also preventing the physical crash from overindulging in sugars. For an extra boost and a unique breakfast twist, offer lean choices like turkey, chicken or salmon. These are high in protein and less fatty than bacon or sausage, which also can cause lethargy. All three of these lean proteins can be adapted for breakfast and pair great with poached eggs and hash.

3. Limit portion sizes. Another common factor that can have a negative effect on energy is overeating. When attendees overeat, their stomachs use the energy to digest the extra food their minds could be using to focus. Although how much an individual eats is ultimately up to him, several strategies can help you as the planner to encourage moderation. The best way is by serving plated meals. If this isn’t an option, choose buffet or serving stations with smaller plates.

4. Offer options. People don’t usually veer too far from their everyday eating habits. You can’t force healthy eating on anyone, but you should offer healthy options. One idea we’ve implemented at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort is setting up specialty stations like vegetarian or gluten-free and identifying them with signage. The menu for those stations can change daily, and your attendees will learn to expect healthy options. Often by the end of the meeting, more people are in line for those stations than the standard menu items.

5. Don’t forget the breaks. While meals are important, don’t forget the vital role that breaks play as well. Breaks should follow the same principles as the meals: balanced proteins and carbohydrates from previous meals, healthy options and limited portion sizes. Breaks are often expected to offer caffeine, which provides a great pickup, but everything that causes an up results in a down. Time caffeine offerings for immediately prior to most important sessions. For a more creative afternoon caffeine boost, consider mocktails using energy drinks. They provide a fun way to energize your attendees and also limit intake.

6. Consult the catering team, including the pastry chef. Planners should utilize the venue’s team of food and beverage professionals as consultants. A good team has a catering manager, executive chef and quality pastry chef. A misconception that the pastry chef is only responsible for sugary foods exists, but that role is vital to providing a good balance of alternative options for all meals. The pastry chef comes up with creative options to help attendees focus. An example is a dark-chocolate–covered almond, which is high in protein and antioxidants and also makes for a tasty, energizing snack.

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