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Co-founder of Raising Nutrition explains why it’s about more just than the food

20th Mar 2024 - 04:00
Director and co-founder of Raising Nutrition David Titman
In the second part of RaisingNutrition’s look at diet and health, director and co-founder David Titman explains how managing key aspects of a meal experience can enhance not only the enjoyment, but the nutritional value of meals eaten.

A recent report from the market intelligence and research agency Mintel reported that ‘enjoyment tends to supersede healthiness for many consumers’. This is the kind of insight often presented by food manufacturers as a barrier they face to selling healthy foods.

However, this argument is flawed. In the first instance, it is important to remember that being healthy and being enjoyable are by no means mutually exclusive. Secondly, ‘enjoyment’ comes from the eating experience and not just from the food itself.

For purely retailed products it could be argued that there is little control over the wider factors that govern the ‘enjoyment’ of a product, but catering is quite different. Caterers have a unique opportunity to enhance and direct the eating occasion at multiple levels, including through the food, the service provision, and the eating environment.

The Five Aspects Meal Model (FAMM) is an established tool that can be applied to help explore how consumers experience a meal occasion. FAMM was originally inspired by the Michelin Guides assessment criteria but has been developed over the years to apply to a wider range of settings, including public sector catering. It can be used to quickly identify how an eating experience can be enhanced but importantly, it can be adapted to highlight areas where people may be nudged towards making healthier choices.

The model identifies and evaluates five central aspects of meal provision, namely the ‘room’, the ‘product’, the ‘meeting’ the ‘management control’ and finally the overall ‘atmosphere’.

The ‘room’ is essentially the environment where the meal is eaten. This includes elements such as the lighting and the noise levels in a room and includes the more immediate physical environment such as the positioning of foods in a buffet or the type of cutlery available.

This is important as the positioning and presentation of food (even on a menu) is widely known to influence selection. Implementing a strategy of making the healthier choices highly visible and the easiest to access has been shown to encourage uptake of these options. For example, simply swapping white bread with wholegrain bread, positioned directly next to the toasters in a self-service breakfast setting, has been shown to significantly increase the uptake of whole grains.

The ‘meeting’ encompasses all the human interactions with staff and other diners. Positive social interactions at mealtimes are one of the key features that can enhance enjoyment of an eating experience.

Positive interactions between customers and between customers and staff should be actively facilitated. Additionally, training staff to use both verbal and non-verbal cues to encourage and direct people to make good choices can be very impactful. Simply recommending pairings or highlighting specific dishes can be effectively used to ‘upsell’ healthier choices that wouldn’t otherwise have been chosen.

The ‘product’ is the food and drink itself. Nutritionally focused menu frameworks, together with the application of culinary skills, can ensure that the food is both nutritionally rich and delicious to eat.

Drinks should also be considered to optimise hydration whilst being aware of sugar and caffeine content etc. Depending on the setting, the food must also be appropriate to the physical, medical and cultural needs of the individuals being catered for.

The ‘management control’ considers the various organisational systems including the co-ordination and logistics of activities in the kitchen and dining room, regulatory compliance, financial control and staff training. From the customer experience perspective, this clearly impacts things like service efficiency and availability of menu items.

Beyond this however, it has been shown that management of staff training can directly impact nutrition; with multifaceted management strategies including the provision of ongoing support, guidance, practice audits, and feedback to staff being the most effective at improving nutritional routines.

The ‘atmosphere’ of the meal is the overall experience, as a combined result of the other aspects. Atmosphere may be difficult to define and quantify but represents an overall sense of the meal environment.

Words such as ‘calm’, ‘homely’, ‘dignified’ and ‘inclusive’ may describe a positive atmosphere, whereas something like ‘unruly’ or ‘rushed’ may describe a negative atmosphere. The aim of the FAMM is to optimise the atmosphere, creating a positive eating experience, through the management of the other four aspects.

It is essential that both the food and dining environment are aligned to create the desired atmosphere to support healthy eating. However, in some situations, the food production and eating environment may be managed by different organisations.

In these cases, such as in schools or hospitals, the optimal atmosphere will only be achieved with organised collaboration between partners.

This alignment requires commitment from both organisations to implement common training and policies, driven by a shared desire to actively improve nutrition and support healthier eating.

In essence, the combination of a positive atmosphere and delicious food is a primary goal for any food provider. If the food in this context has been designed to be of high nutritional value, then there is no barrier to anyone choosing to eat well.

The argument that healthy food may be rejected at the expense of ‘enjoyment,’ fails to consider the vast array of foods that are both delicious and healthy. Additionally, it assumes that enjoyment only comes from the food, and undervalues the importance of key things like the environment in which the food is eaten and the social interactions that are linked to the experience.

Written by
Edward Waddell