Fuelling up on Fibre in Our Institutions
In the latest budget the government pledges for 35,000 more children to receive hot meals in schools and the HSE are currently looking to feed an increased capacity of workers and patients it raises questions about the food we serve in institutions and the attitude of the institution themselves towards the people they are feeding. How much do those who control the purse strings the nutrition and wellbeing of the people consuming the food produced in these institutions?
I have spent a significant part of my career looking at what we feed large group of people in my role as a group catering manager and chef before this. In the food operations I oversee, we primarily look after office-based staff so the consumer of what is produced can broadly be defined as sedentary due to the nature of their work. So, in a recent applied research project I decided to investigate what is the appropriate nutrition to feed sedentary workers to help them feel fuller for longer and perform their best at work without a disproportionate intake of calories.
I’d love to say I came across some magic ingredients to achieve this, and by consuming said magic ingredient, the nutritional prayers of institutions have been answered. But this is not the case, in fact, the optional macronutrient chefs should be concentrating on is Fibre. Nutritionists have been saying this for years, usually via a boring beige infographic with pictures of brown rice and wholegrain bread so my research is hardly ground-breaking in this field.
However, there is a lot that chefs can do in order to make this old information more current.
Fibre as a prebiotic
The first thing they can do is to jump on a very trendy bandwagon and start to think of high fibre ingredients as prebiotics.
The wider public have never been more aware of the role of gut heath towards their overall wellbeing and this trend is not going away soon due the vast amount of research which backs it up.
The gist of it is if you look after your gut health you can enjoy benefits such as a stronger immune system, heart health, brain health, improved mood, healthy sleep, and better digestion. And in order of keep a healthy good you need a steady intake of prebiotic and probiotic foods.
For those new to this; Probiotics are a beneficial bacterium that live in the gut and prebiotics is the food source for them.
This is where a high fibre diet comes in to play. Forget about wholegrains food products for a second and look at other high fibre foods beans, peas, legumes, bananas, berries, asparagus, and oats. These sources of fibre also come packed with other nutrients such as plant-based proteins and are excellent carbohydrate sources.
When chefs prepare dishes with these ingredients and other prebiotic alliums such as onions, leeks and garlic the prebiotic box is well and truly ticked.
The mechanics of fibre working in your body is important also. There are two types of fibre; soluble and non-soluble. When soluble fibre is consumed it absorbs water and makes you feel fuller for longer. When non-soluble fibre is consumed it slows down the digestive system also making you feel fuller for longer.
Newer research has shown that non soluble fibre goes through a secondary digestion of calories in the gut which send signals telling the brain that your still digesting food, again making you feel fuller for longer; all the while feeding the good gut bacteria.
Producing probiotics such as fermented foods, kefirs and Kombuchas is unfortunately not as straightforward. Chefs have guidance from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in all aspects of their food production, as do all food producers. This guidance is translated into control points for chefs to monitor such as the cleanliness of food production areas, the temperature of the fridges, the cooking temperature of food etc. these control points are audited by the local heath inspector a few times a year and all going well the food produced by the chefs is deemed safe to consume. In producing probiotic food there is no guidance from the Irish or European food safety authority. This means that chefs have no systems to follow to ensure their fermented foods are safe to eat and can leave them very exposed if anyone was to fall ill. The only way around this is to buy commercially produced fermented foods and drinks with the live bacteria in them. It’s a mystery to me how I can buy these foods from a producer but cant make them in any of my food operations, surely the producers have approved control points ensuring their products are safe and that the authorities could share these control points with chefs so we can make our own safely.
But, I digress, fibre is my go-to focus for feeding people who spend most of their day, like myself, sitting at a computer, spending very little energy. But what about other institutions like hospitals and places of learning, these people also may expend little energy throughout their day.
For chefs catering in these institutions their job is relatively straightforward; build a stock of readily available high fibre ingredients and design your menu around them.
This is not as hard as it sounds; if the kids in a school, love chicken nuggets and demand them every Friday that’s fine. The chefs in this school can marinate the chicken pieces in a thick yogurt then roll the chicken pieces in a mix of wholemeal breadcrumbs, sesame seed, flaxseeds and even some porridge oats. Baked in the oven until crispy and golden and served this with a crunchy fresh coleslaw or even better some BBQ baked beans and the students wants are catered for while the institution has invested the food budget in a nutritionally beneficial meal that day. The finished product may not be as popular as McDonalds nuggets, but the kids feel that their needs are being met so the uptake will still be significant compared to the “Healthy Option”.
Consumer wants and needs
It’s this type of thinking that bridges the gap between what what’s good for the customer and what the customer is likely to purchase. If a person chooses to have lunch in a fast food outlet or dinner in a fine dining restaurant, they are fulfilling a want that is not based on their nutritional needs
However, people who eat in institutions such as hospitals, school cafeterias or workplace staff restaurants are mainly a captive audience and institutions which provide food to cater for these people have a responsibility to ensure they are providing the right nutrition to the right people.
It’s the institutional chef’s job to bridge the gap between the customer wants and the right nutrition to give to the customer and recipe reformulation in the way to do this. Institutional chefs know their customers well so if its lasagne on a Tuesday, shepherd’s pie on a Thursday, fish and chips on a Friday this can all be catered for by recipe reformulation using high fibre ingredients in lieu of starches and even proteins.
Recipes are not sacred, even classical ones. There has never been more online tools and resources at the disposal of chefs to let them know the nutritional breakdown of what they are producing. By reformulating their recipes with imagination and the right ingredients they can give their patrons what they want, in a way that will provide them nutritionally with what they need.
About John Core:
I am a Group Business Manager with Sodexo and have been professional chef for nearly 25 Years.
I started my training at a local steakhouse before gaining my professional qualification in IT Tallaght in 2001. Since then I have gone on to work in various restaurants, hotels and my own event catering operations across Ireland and abroad before progressing into corporate catering management with Sodexo in 2007.
Although not active in the kitchen every day I still have an active role in developing food offers, specialising in recipe reformulation to enhance the nutrition of new and existing recipes.
I’ve won numerous awards with Sodexo for both food quality and healthy eating in the catering services I oversee.
Originally from Dublin, I lived in Kilkenny for many years before moving to my current home in coastal Wexford.