The month of the new year’s resolution is almost upon us. Soon enough scores of broken, belly bulging foodies with significantly enlarged girths will be calling time on their food and booze orgies. “Enough”, they will whisper feebly en masse in one audible breath as they wake from their food comas.
With that in mind, perhaps it is not the best time to offer double cheeseburgers with extra cheese and freakshakes, although, it is true, some diehards think healthy eating is for the unfortunates that are the gastronomically impaired.
Ken Furukawa, managing director of Japanese food company Tazaki Foods, says it is important to offer a healthier choice so people can still eat in pubs and stick to their lifestyle goals.
Registered dietitian Gillian Farren says reliable information on healthy recipes can be found on the National Health Service’s Change4Life recipe planner web page.
“While you may choose to modify the recipes to suit your own menus, you should be able to get some good ideas about how to health-proof your existing menu, too,” she says.
With a careful eye on portion size and ingredients used, even burgers are possible, Farren maintains.
Choose extra-lean cuts of meat, trimming away visible fat before cooking. Grated fruit and vegetables can be added to bulk the burger and add a healthy dimension as well as enhance flavour and texture.
Farren advises keeping salt to a minimum and opting for black pepper and your signature choice of herbs and spices.
With pizzas, Farren adds: “Keep foremost in mind that the base is rarely the enemy. It’s what we add in toppings that is more likely to tip the balance.”
Start out with a thin base and focus on healthy toppings such as lean meat and fish and a generous mix of vegetables to add colour and flavour, she suggests.
“Avoid processed meats such as chorizo, pepperoni and salami and, when adding grated cheeses, adopt a ‘light-handed’ approach. Consider blending traditional cheese choices with naturally lower-fat cheeses, such as Edam, Feta, Halloumi and Jarlsberg.”
Three Cheers Pub Co executive chef Massimo Tebaldi says: “As a general rule, when we design menus we need to have a light chicken dish, a plain fish main course, a couple of vegetarian options as a starter and a couple of main courses.”
He tries not to add carbohydrate to every dish. “Staying light and healthy is the key but, more importantly, it is vital to buy good fresh seasonal ingredients.”
Tebaldi focuses on delivering dishes for lunch that are complete so there is no need to add sides and extras. “The customer wants to be able to order one dish that will set them up for the afternoon – for example, a leafy, plant-based salad with added chicken or halloumi.”
Alan Lucas, executive head chef at Camm & Hooper’s Six Storeys on Soho, which opens in January in Soho Square, in London’s West End, says: “Everyone feels like they have overdone it at Christmas so even if guests come in and order the burger, you need to have ‘the big salad’ with masses of ingredients in it as well.”
A healthier menu does not have to mean “lighter”, although it can be, but it can also be filling, he says.
“We try to have a balance so that someone can have a light salad, for example, but if they want to add sides to make it more substantial they can – for example, we have a superfood salad, which is fresh and relatively light but also a lovely stuffed mushroom that is more filling.”
Lucas believes healthy options should be part of the main menu. Cauliflower and avocado are on-trend, he says. “We will be having a char-grilled cauliflower steak on the menu and I hope our superfood salad will be a hit because it’s full of delicious roasted vegetables, greens, seeds and pomegranate.”
David Colcombe, chef consultant at design and marketing consultancy Liquid, says imagination and originality in healthy food choices does not necessarily mean expensive. Pubs can improve their bottom line and, at the same time, provide a good alternative.
Furukawa notes that a premium can be added if a healthy menu is also perceived as a speciality menu but if the cost can be kept the same as a standard menu, it is more likely to encourage people to try it.
Maria Chong, managing director of Chinese ingredients supplier Lee Kum Kee Europe, says a healthy menu does not necessarily mean using organic or high-nutrition ingredients. “Balancing the meal nutritionally or cooking the food in alternative ways could also benefit a pub’s business.”
Authentic Chinese food is all about the harmony of vegetables, protein and carbohydrates, taking a balanced approach, she says. “It is totally different to the dishes commonly found in Chinese takeaways.”
Broccoli beef in oyster sauce is a typical and classic Cantonese dish. “We will then add a portion of rice (carbohydrate) as a side dish. Broccoli beef in oyster sauce goes well with a side of mashed potatoes or just stir-fried button mushrooms as a replacement for the rice.”
Applying a different cooking method can make food healthier, such as stir-frying. “The ingredients are cooked quickly at a high temperature and using only a small amount of oil. This means the ingredients soak up much less oil, while retaining most of their nutrients that longer cooking times would destroy,” says Chong.
A healthy menu does not just need to be for January. Furukawa says people often revisit the idea of losing fat and getting fit throughout the year.
“Parents are also keen to make sure their families eat more healthily so a menu that’s aimed at kids could also be a winner.”
Children love to make sushi so giving them the basic ingredients to make it for themselves at the table is a good idea, he says.
“Healthy eating can be repackaged in different ways throughout the year. It’s down to how people promote their menu.”
Creating and promoting a healthier offer, in light of expert advice, could be a draw for customers looking to stick to their resolutions, which will undoubtedly last until their bellies retract to a pre-Christmas paunch.