Catering and Refreshments at Disability and Senior Community Events

Serving refreshments at public events and meetings is the perfect opportunity to model healthier food options for our communities. Serving unhealthy food, even though it is what people may typically eat, isn’t doing anyone a favor. Serving good, healthy food is information!

We don’t want to try to control what people eat, and of course, we have to keep our agency budgets in mind. However, we do want to offer options and information to our communities that are struggling with secondary conditions such as diabetes and obesity, along with limited access to information about nutrition. We need to find common ground with typical sub-culture choices and helping people learn options to improve their health. Low-income communities have gotten used to less-nutritious foods because that’s what they can afford. Here are some tips on how to find the middle ground between what is tasty and familiar and what is healthy.

An overhead view of a yellow peach with two pieces sliced off
This yellow peach is an example of a healthy snack | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • To prepare for events, include consumers in the planning. Ask people to brainstorm about healthier options within their ethnic and cultural comfort zones.
  • For venues making space available to the community, offer proposed guidelines for food choices and recommend employing catering services with higher standards.
  • Sodas are a poor beverage choice for populations that face osteoporosis, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Serve water, tea, or low-calorie, lower-sugar, real juice-flavored drinks without artificial sweeteners (which research has shown do not help with weight management). Many events want to include coffee, but include other choices as well, as coffee is dehydrating, as well as a caffeine stimulant.
  • Offer alternatives to pastries (which are most often laden with sugar, white flour, and fat). Pastries served at morning and lunch meetings contribute to a collective “sugar-crash” later in the day. Consider fruit, hard-boiled eggs, and nuts instead.
  • Serve protein options to balance carb-based dishes. Protein options can include almonds, edamame (soy bean), black bean and kidney bean dishes, sliced turkey, and chicken.
  • Chips typically contain high trans fat and high salt content. Instead, serve baked chips, whole grain crackers, and sliced veggies, along with healthy dips such as guacamole, salsa, hummus, or low-fat, dairy-based dips.
A veggie tray with carrots, broccoli, celery, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, and ranch dressing
Veggie trays are an easy, healthy option | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • Include fresh fruits along with standard snack foods.
  • For treats, offer whole grain cookies, such as fig-bars and oatmeal cookies, which have more fiber. Serve granola bars but check the sugar content; some brands have higher sugar content than a candy bar. Dark chocolate, for most people, is a better choice than other kinds of candy, as it has more nutrients than milk chocolate and much more than the full range of brightly colored candies.
  • Less expensive meal-time options for a crowd, such as pasta, potato salad, and rice dishes, can include chopped vegetables and protein sources within the recipe, adding nutrients.
  • Choose whole grain and sour dough breads over white bread.
  • Request half-sandwich individual servings to enable easier eating as well as smaller servings. Full-size sandwiches often result in wasted food and encourage over-eating and high carb consumption. Typically, many people in the senior and disability communities don’t want to eat a full sandwich per individual serving.
  • Consider your population regarding likelihood for allergies. You may want to avoid foods that are often allergens for people, such as peanuts. The most common food allergies are to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. Read more about allergies in our food allergy post.
On a desk, there is a handful on peanuts near a blue pen
Peanuts are a common food allergen | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
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