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Catering for January diets…

It’s that time of year when the kitchen has to do a merry dance around diners with a multitude of substitutions and short lived, but well-intentioned diets. However, things have become increasingly more challenging in recent years. Traditionally, it would have been a few vegetarians and some carb dodging new gym members, but today the diet choice landscape is a little more complicated.

With vegetarians and veganism now representing a huge swathe of the population, and a wider awareness of coeliac and other gluten intolerances, creating a menu that appeals to a broad audience requires some serious thought. Thankfully, there’s a huge buzz around Middle Eastern cuisine that encompasses items like hummus topped with roasted veg, baba ganoush and a plethora of stuffed and filled flatbreads.

Buddha, or grain bowls are another versatile offering that allows you to weave through a number of diet choices easily. By blending grains with a mix of cooked and raw produce, the ubiquitous avocado and additional items like soft boiled eggs, stewed lentils and toasted pine nuts, you can offer hearty, substantial menu items that can be put together in mere minutes.

What’s important to remember is that people are committing to modern diets in a big way, not just for January. The Paleo diet, which is said to be similar to what man would have eaten two million years ago, has been an enduring one that is popular with those dedicated to fitness. In essence, it’s a hunter gatherer diet that emits grains, dairy and refined sugars, but embraces an abundance of fresh produce, meats and fish. What at first sounds quite restrictive actually gives the kitchen some great parameters to work to and can work particularly well with those establishments that have an affiliation with foraging.

A particular diet that’s set to be big this year is the Ketogenic diet, which embraces good clean fats. This brings back lard and beef fat into the menu, but also creates an increased interest in things like schmaltz, grass fed ghee and butter, as well as coconut, avocado and MCT oil.

Of course there is the usual lighter fare that diners favour following the heavy overload of Christmas and New Year. Filling salads are a sensible way to go, and with Veganuary now almost as popular as dry-January, not only should you expect on-sales to take a hit, but also your meat and dairy based dishes. Now’s the time to double down on fresh produce and experiment with techniques like fermentation and pickling to bring new and interesting flavours to the table. While jackfruit remains one of the most promising meat alternatives for a variety of food service operations, the introduction of whole roast cauliflower, or mushroom wellingtons could be a strong addition to roast dinner menus throughout the cold months ahead.

Catering for various diet choices is nothing new in this profession. But we’re at a time when diet choice has become a way for people to differentiate and express themselves, Catering to a broad audience is good business practice, and helps keep large group bookings in your restaurant, and not someone elses.