Healthy Celebrations

Sysco Shape December 2012

Forget the sugar plums and the figgy pudding. This holiday season, adults want real fruits and vegetables in their drinks and desserts. So get ready to serve fresh new drink combinations like tomatoPumpkin Cupcakes peach spritzers, pear cider and red hibiscus ginger tea. Also, don’t forget to add a few small desserts to your menu such as pepper pumpkin cupcakes, carrot and herb frozen yogurt, and zucchini popsicles.

According to the Chicago-based NPD Group, consumers want to indulge during the winter holidays, but they also want to eat and drink healthily. NPD’s SnackTrack Holidays Christmas Profile found that 50 percent of adults who celebrate Christmas purchase candy for the holidays, and 38 percent of adults purchase fresh fruit.

People want to continue this indulgent-but-healthy approach when they eat out, so chefs, bartenders and other foodservice experts are developing healthy mocktails and small desserts that feature fruits and vegetables. “The combination of fruits and vegetables is really trendy right now,” says Chef Neil Doherty, senior director of culinary development for Sysco Corporation. “It’s all very spa-driven.”

Incorporating fruits and vegetables into a drink list and dessert items can be easy because the ingredients are readily available. For example, Doherty says, bartenders are using fresh fruit purees instead of artificially flavored syrups. High-fructose corn syrup is out, and cane sugar is in. Fruits are being mashed or muddled for drinks. New combinations of fruits, vegetables and spices are appearing on dessert menus.

Drink to Health

People know they need to eat more fruits and vegetables, and bartenders are responding with creative mocktails, or non-alcoholic mixed drinks. These mixed beverages go way beyond the virgin Bloody Marys. “You’re seeing stuff you’ve never seen before,” Doherty says. “The biggest trend now is for bartenders to make their own fruit fusions, their own concoctions.”

Among the newest offerings are purees that bartenders mix with seltzer to make a fruity alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink. Puree ideas include cantaloupe, apple and ginger, mango and pumpkin, apple and spinach, tomato and cranberry, and blueberry and carrot. Add yogurt to make it a frothy cocktail.

These are not simply delicious flavors in a colorful drink. The fruits are packed with nutrition:

  • Cantaloupe is loaded with carotenoids, which are associated with a strengthened immune system and lowered incidence of cardiovascular disease, eye diseases and cancer.
  • Apples contain soluble fiber and are a good source of Vitamin C.
  • Spinach is an excellent source of folate, vitamin A, iron and vitamin K.Pomegranate Mocktail
  • Mangos are an excellent source of Vitamin A.
  • Pumpkins contain Vitamin A, beta carotene and fiber.
  • Tomatoes have Vitamin C and lycopene, an antioxidant.
  • Cranberries feature Vitamin C, manganese, fiber and, famously, help prevent urinary tract infections.
  • Blueberries get their blue hue from anthocyanidins, an antioxidant that can strengthen cellular antioxidant defenses and may help preserve brain function.
  • Carrots are an excellent source of Vitamin A, which is associated with vision health.

Color is also important, especially during the holidays. Hibiscus lends a deep red to mocktails, as does pomegranate, another very popular fruit. Pomegranates are high in antioxidants, and most consumers would rather leave the handling of the arils, or red seeds, to a bartender. Try a mixed drink of muddled melon and pomegranate with holiday spices such as cinnamon. Or try pomegranate ginger lemonade, pomegranate with lime and seltzer, or pomegranate iced tea.

Healthy carbonated drinks are also becoming popular, partly because consumers are making their own sparkling beverages at home, using CO2 cartridges. Apple ciders and pear ciders are taking the place of champagne for some celebrants. Fresh ginger, a natural digestive aid, is trending now too, especially in house-made ginger ale.

Room for A Little Dessert

While customers are finishing their delicious and healthful drinks, offer them a savory dessert. No one wants to forsake dessert during the holidays, so in an effort to satisfy their sweet tooth while still eating well, consumers might opt for a treat that is small, contains fresh fruit or vegetables, and tastes delicious.

Although pies and tarts are longtime favorites, other options for holiday desserts exist. “One of the hottest trends right now is homemade ice cream in small portions,” Doherty says. That includes ice creams that feature vegetable flavors such as carrot or Cranberry Tartzucchini, and are made with whole milk or yogurt instead of cream. Popsicles that use vegetable juices such as pumpkin infused with herbs are another healthy frozen dessert.

Cupcakes are still popular, especially mini-cupcakes packed with flavor, and also savory cupcakes. “They are playing on the zucchini breads and carrot cakes and adding more spices, more herbs, and even olive oil,” Doherty says. Flavors include carrot with rosemary, pumpkin with pepper, and other sweet and salty combinations.

Even though the servings are small, the flavors should be big. Cranberries are a bright, tart fruit, and are appearing in updated versions of holiday cakes and pies. Think cranberry tartlets with almonds and apples, cranberry baked apples or pears, and cranberry white chocolate cupcakes.

Another way to present mini-desserts is with a sampler. For the holidays, that might mean a combination of small portions of spiced apple crisp, crème brûlée with berries and a cranberry tartlet.

For diners who want something different, cheese and fruit plates are moving from the appetizer to the dessert section of the menu. Consider serving a small crudité basket with different fresh-cut vegetables that feature a variety of dipping sauces. These small raw plates are part of the clean label trend, or the concept of knowing that a food has simple, easy-to-understand ingredients. Be sure to include a variety of cheeses and fresh fruits, plus honey, jams, chutneys and other complements.

Incorporating new drinks and desserts for the holidays should not require an overhaul of the menu. With a little creativity and a few high-quality fresh ingredients, your guests will be excited to try something new this season. “Everyone is interested in trying new things,” Doherty says. “Chefs and bartenders are on top of this now.”




Related Recipes

Mom's Festive Fruitcake

Holiday Hibiscus Tea

Honeydew, Apple and Ginger Seltzer