The right menu will keep your attendees alert and ready to learn, and that's important. That makes food and beverage planning an integral part of a total meeting experience. And the trend toward more healthful eating is undeniable.

Nutrition: Food

Understanding the biochemistry of nutrition is essential when constructing menus. However, you don't need a professional dietitian to make good food choices.

The catering manager and the chef should be able to provide guidance in putting together an overall F&B program to achieve the goals and objectives of the program. The information contained here is based on USDA suggested requirements for healthy living.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the preferred energy source for the body. Simple carbohydrates are simple sugars that are broken down easily by the body and are found in fruits and milk products. Complex carbohydrates are plant-based foods and are further divided into starches and fibers. Carbohydrates release serotonin in the brain, which regulates pain, mood, sleep, and hunger. Too much serotonin produces sleepiness; too little results in depression.

Examples of foods rich in carbohydrates are beans, whole grain breads, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Considerable debate exists as to how much and what types of carbohydrates are best.

Glucose

Glucose is essential for sustained mental activity and is obtained through the metabolism of carbohydrates. The body's lowest levels of glucose occur in the morning, and that's why breakfast is so important. Muscles need to have glucose replenished for physical activity.

Soluble fiber

A great source of water, soluble fiber creates a feeling of fullness. It slows the absorption of glucose and is naturally low in fat and saturated fats. It also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and reduces fat storage. Apples, strawberries, some fruit juices, and oats provide soluble fiber.

Protein

Protein provides the building blocks for cell rejuvenation. Proteins digest slower than carbohydrates. There are two types of proteins — complete and incomplete. They are important for the transmission of nerve impulses.

Complete proteins — such as meats and other animal products, which are not necessarily the healthiest foods — contain all nine essential amino acids and are generally high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Incomplete proteins do not contain all the amino acids but combine with other incomplete proteins to create the circle of complete proteins. Examples include vegetables, grains, pasta, soy, and beans.

Fat

And, oh, the fat. Including fat in the menu is necessary to provide energy, satiety, and flavor.

In spite of its bad rap, fat clearly has desirable long-term effects. It provides a feeling of fullness, takes longer to digest, and complements other foods. Apart from the obvious items that are high in fat, the following are high in fat content: avocados, olives, some salad dressings, and processed meats.

But too much fat leads to drowsiness and increased calories.

The perfect meal is high in carbohydrates, protein, and soluble fiber, with just enough fat to add flavor.

Nutrition — Beverage

Water is critical to body function. The human body is approximately 60 percent water, with the brain being almost 75 percent water.

Hydration is key to maintaining body equilibrium and helps meeting attendees to stay alert and responsive. For example, a decrease of 4 percent to 5 percent in body water translates to a 20 percent to 30 percent decrease in performance.

Venues such as hotels, convention centers, and airplanes are notorious for low environmental humidity, which makes people more susceptible to dehydration. Interestingly, by the time an individual recognizes thirst, that person is already dehydrated.

It is of paramount importance to have water stations available to help keep attendees hydrated. The best way for an individual to determine if they are hydrated is the color of their urine. If the urine is clear, hydration is good. The darker the urine, the greater is the dehydration.

Water is the best solution for hydration. Adding sugar or anything to a fluid slows absorption. And while caffeine adds a “jolt” to the body in the morning and late afternoon, excessive consumption can lead to dehydration when it is not accompanied by water throughout the day.

Learning

Food and beverages affect all of the bodily functions that are essential to learning and alertness. The synergy of food and learning affects energy levels, mood, alertness, memory, problem-solving skills, hand-eye coordination, and physical strength. Herein lies the challenge.

The F&B program should complement the educational program — but frequently, the person planning F&B is not the same person planning the educational program. It is important for the two to collaborate.

For example, a breakfast that precedes a golf tournament or physical teambuilding program should be significantly different from a breakfast served before a program that requires intense information processing.

With the right F&B, you can avoid giving your attendees the “meeting blahs” — decreased alertness, acuity, and participation — that often result from poor food planning. Those blahs can lead to sluggish, fidgety, clock-watchers, who aren't able to be a vital part of your meeting.




©Glen C. Ramsborg, PhD, is president of Ramsborg Group Ltd., which specializes in meeting management, educational development/design, and production services.

MEETING Meals

The Common Meeting Meal

A typical meeting dinner consists of a 10-ounce tenderloin steak, baked potato and three toppings, broccoli with cheese sauce, lettuce with thousand island dressing, dinner roll with butter, and cheesecake with chocolate sauce, with unsweetened iced tea to drink.

This dinner offering contains 2,103 calories, 120 grams of fat (51.4 percent of the meal's calories), 59 grams of saturated fat, 106 grams of protein, 147 grams of carbohydrate (including 65 grams, or more than 16 teaspoons of sugar), 10 grams of fiber, and 2,096 mg of sodium.

The typical meal is fattening.

If you hadn't noticed, it is very high in calories, fat and sugar. Its protein and sodium content are high. Its flavors are rich, buttery, and heavy.

In consuming this meal, a meeting attendee would exceed the 2,000 calorie average daily value, and (for average weight maintenance) be unable to consume any other calories for the day.

The Alternative

The suggested meeting meal is a 5-ounce broiled salmon filet, with roasted asparagus, savory corn cakes, whole grain bread with olive oil, and sliced peaches with raspberries, blueberries, and chocolate chips, and unsweetened iced tea.

This meal contains 791 calories, 25 grams of fat (28.9 percent of the meal's calories), 5 grams of saturated fat, 10 grams of monounsaturated fat, 56 grams of protein, 89 grams of carbohydrate (including 24 grams, or 6 teaspoons, of sugar), 9 grams of fiber, and 820 mg of sodium.

The suggested meal is not fattening.

Its fat content is modest, and most of that fat is healthful and unsaturated, and not saturated or trans fat.

This dinner offering is low in sugar and modest in protein, and its fiber content nearly equals the conventional meal while containing less than 40 percent of the typical meeting meal's calories. Its flavors are clean, bright, and satisfying. In consuming this meal, meeting attendees could eat an additional 1,200 calories without exceeding the 2,000 calorie average daily value.




Meals prepared by Karen Levin and John La Puma. Research by John La Puma, M.D., F.A.C.P., medical director, The Santa Barbara Institute for Medical Nutrition and Healthy Weight, Santa Barbara, Calif.; David Schiedermayer, M.D., F.A.C.P., professor of medicine and bioethics, Division of General Internal Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wis.; and Jennifer Becker, R.D., L.D. , clinical oncology nutritionist, Midwestern Regional Medical Center, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Zion, Ill.