Penn State conference planners meet demand for healthy food choices

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Whether sweet or savory, a small snack or an elaborate meal, conference planners at Penn State say they are receiving more requests for healthy food choices during multi-day conferences on the University Park campus.

“Conference attendees often want food that is low in calories but high in flavor,” said Pam Driftmier, director of Penn State Conferences. “They want fresh choices, not processed food.”

Driftmier said food choices vary with each conference but every meal includes a vegetarian option and chefs can meet special dietary requirements with sufficient notice. She says conference planners choose menus that appeal to a variety of tastes: fruit, yogurt, granola and vegetables are popular, and water has become more of a staple at session breaks.

“For groups requesting healthy options, most caterers are very willing to assist by providing creative, attractive and varied offerings,” Driftmier said. “Often, they surprise the participants with meals that include more vegetables and thin sauces rather than heavy, cream-filled sauces.”

Healthier menu choices are incorporated into the conference budgets and sometimes result in increased registration fees but Driftmier said in these cases, the audience is willing to pay for what they value.

“We listen to feedback from the conference participants and generally, there is enough variety to satisfy every request,” she said.

However, conference participants can still enjoy a cookie or other traditional fare with their snacks and meals.

“The planner identifies what is important to the audience. Our responsibility is to offer options that meet their needs,” she said. “It’s been a gradual transition to include healthier choices and most of our guests eat in moderation while they’re here.”

“It’s critical to give them what they want and need.”

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Last Updated October 01, 2013