Tricks and research to serve up healthy menus – by guest expert Jo Mirtschin APD

Did you know there is fascinating evidence to show that if you label a meal or menu item “healthy choice”, people often think it’s “tasteless” too?  Dr Brian Wansink has shown that just the tweak of a few words in the dish descriptor can turn something drab to fab!   And simply knowing where to place the healthy dish in the best section of the menu can trick your customers into ordering it more often! We caught up with this weeks expert to explore the art of serving up healthy menus.

About Our Expert

Joanna Mirtschin APD dietitian specialising in foodserviceJoanne Mirtschin APD is a highly experienced dietitian specialising in foodservice.  In her role at the Australian Institute of Sport she c0-ordinates and implements foodservice nutrition services at the AIS Dining Hall and network, plus education and nutrition research.  She has been involved in consulting for foodservice sports nutrition at the Australian Sports Commission’s European Training Centre in Italy and was a member of the PINES group that reviewed the menus for the 2012 London Olympic Games Village.  The Balanced Lunchbox - healthy lunch ideas and recipesAnd in her spare time, she is also the founder of The Balanced Lunchbox, a website full of recipes and tips on how to strike a healthy balance at lunch – check out the “how to guides” and other eBooks.

It still surprises me when people think dietitians are the diet police or a food kill joy. I’ve been a foodservice dietitian for over 12 years now and every time I walk into a new commercial kitchen, I’m initially met with skepticism.  How would I  know what good food tastes like?  But it doesn’t take too long to convince them that I’m a food lover and am just as keen on producing great tasting and well presented food as they are.

With the rise of cooking shows that demand well presented meals and people’s access to restaurants who’s presentation is a significant part of their meal appeal, its no wonder that presentation is becoming king as we all “plate it up”.

Healthy Byte - pasta photoBut…

There is simply nothing worse than anticipating a great tasting meal because it looks fantastic, only to be disappointed that when you taste the first mouthful, that the food doesn’t measure up to your expectations.

So, here is my top 3 in getting your food to measure up to expectations:

Know what makes food taste good –  what flavours and tastes work well together is very useful when working in a commercial kitchen, not to mention your own kitchen.  Sitting at the feet of those in the know and learning from them will equip you better for this.  Sometimes just spending time with an experienced cook (or your nana!) is incredibly informative. Flavour is a great balancing act.

Healthy Byte food presentation

Know what will work when changing recipes – knowing what makes food taste good and understanding how ingredients interact with each other, helps you know what will work when you’re modifying recipes to meet nutritional goals or to know what you might make a substitution with, if a particular ingredient is not available. Cook and cook again.

Healthy Byte - healthy menu

Know how to present it so that it is visually appealing once you’ve nailed the taste – there are plenty of websites you can consult about how to present meals and even the cooking shows help with this.  Keep in mind that your audience will be your key, a superbly plated meal that would win maximum points in a cooking competition, might be wasted on the crowd you’re cooking for, but taking a little time to care will pay off.  Check out my tips in this event catered for by The Healthy Lunchbox.

And if you are involved in catering or a restaurant, check out these ideas Emma mentioned above from Dr Wansink on menu design and in these rather basic but insightful videos:

Editor’s comment:

It’s such a fascinating area Jo so thanks for the guest post.  I’m so envious….I would love to see an Olympic dining hall….catering to all that good health and international cuisines.  The Scoop Nutrition consulting team have been actively tweaking ideas in our collaboration with Healthy Byte – serving up health by stealth and a pinch of trending food along the way.  Don’t you love these three photos above from the current Healthy Byte catering menu by stylist Kirsty Bryson? How about you lovelies? Have you word smithed a dish to make it over?  Do you believe in health by stealth rather than labelling the “healthy choice” or “green” traffic light?  Have you got a question for Jo?


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