As a caterer, I’m generally not asked how the menus I design for weddings and cocktail parties comply with recommended nutritional guidelines. The simple fact is that–broadly speaking–when folks get together for a special event or to honor a person, the focus is on the celebration rather than their concern with nutritional “correctness.” People figure that since their event features one meal, they and their guests will feel comfortable indulging in foods that might not be the best for their health or their waist line.
Things get a little more strict when cooking on-site for an extended period of time as I generally am when I’m catering backstage at music concerts or festivals. Because my dishes comprise a few days of menus for these clients, I find that in addition to nutritional content, diet and weight maintenance restrictions come under higher scrutiny. After all, image and health are important when your reputation depends on ticket sales, the expression of vitality and beauty, and how many magazine covers one scores. Many have the additional desire to offset the rigorous lifestyle–sometimes due to their schedules but often as a result of their late-night “extracurricular activities.”
And then there’s that whole mom thing I do. Sail Club, the weekly lakeside playgroup I attend, is the perfect forum for me to witness the dynamic between children, parents and healthy food. Sail Club–a tongue-in-cheek misnomer intended to imply we engage in anything besides the noble cause of routinely socializing– is a group of 12 moms and our combined 25-ish kids. Every week throughout the summer, one mom takes on the task of preparing lunch for 37 people, almost 70% of whom are kids aged 4-11 with, um, well let’s just call it “established and consistent food preferences and biases.”
It’s a tough job for a caterer like me to design meals that satisfy clients and (hopefully) the majority of their guests. It’s even harder to accommodate picky kids–and adults, frankly–and the stakes are even higher with ever-increasing food intolerances and allergies. There are obvious benefits to keeping our menus healthy and kid-friendly. All of us moms feel the pressure to provide healthful options because it’s the right thing to do, and none of us want our kids jacked up on junk food or starving because they didn’t find anything they liked. We all embrace the importance of showing love for each other through tasty food that everyone likes.
But when it comes down to brass tacks, jacked up or irritable, hypoglycemic kids are trouble: they might melt down, they’re prone to making what we all diplomatically term “a bad decision,” or they’re more likely to get hurt, which would really cut into our own socializing. And that, my friends, would be a travesty of epic proportions for 12 moms who pine for Sail Club on pretty much any other day besides the day that Sail Club falls on. Leaving playgroup because Junior slapped his playmate is something to avoid at all costs.
Well, today is my day to cook for Sail Club, and it happens to fall on the very same day that I’m catering a luncheon for a long-time and important client. In the interest of streamlining efforts, I wanted to focus on menu choices that with a few alterations can accommodate both gigs. My new assistant Alex and I put together a menu of generally well-liked foods devoid of any exotic flavors and made from the freshest high-quality ingredients to minimize our need to, well, work that hard to make it taste good. All of the breads and starches are whole grain, and I have gluten-free wraps made from high-protein teff flour. To round out the kid offerings, we added a giant fruit salad made with berries and fruits, soy nut butter and jelly rollups–basically a cinnamon bun-style peanut butter and jelly sandwich–some 100% juice boxes, and Alex’s homemade macaroons for dessert.
All of us moms seem to be on the same page regarding the importance of good solid food to feed our kids and complement (and support) their long and busy days of being physically active and mentally stimulated. None of us are famous musicians and none of us are planning our wedding receptions, but we are rock star moms whose primary priority throughout summer vacation is making sure that every “tour date” we have goes off without a hitch. To that end, the food we fuel our “long and arduous” play dates with has to be just right. After all, in just another few weeks, the show will end, the kids will be back to school, and Sail Club will be on hiatus until the following June.