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Make Breaks Count: Healthy and Creative Catering

By Kimberly Lord Stewart

You’ve seen that look before. A few hours after attendees have been in a meeting, their eyes start to glaze over, heads nod, arms stretch, and watches or phones get checked. Yes, it’s time for snacks and a mental break to freshen up the brain cells.

In truth, meeting breaks are a golden time for networking and catching up on everyday life with colleagues. So how do you make those precious 15-30 minutes tasty and memorable? We’ve gathered ideas about healthy, local and highly interesting treats so groups have something to look forward to when snack time rolls around.

Indulgent food has a place, but healthy should be a top priority for meeting breaks. “Conference attendees like popcorn for an afternoon break because it’s a light and healthy snack that has that extra DIY element that makes it fun,” says Cherie Paller, sales manager, Antlers at Vail. “They enjoy selecting, trying and discussing the different flavors.”

Served in movie theater cardboard to evoke happy movie house memories, flavors include bacon cheddar, ranch, jalapeno nacho, chocolate caramel and classic movie theater butter. “The flavoring possibilities are endless; we can even work with event organizers to create a customized signature flavor,” adds Barry Robinson, Antlers’ catering chef from Caterers of Vail. He recommends also serving a fresh raspberry-watermelon lemonade with melon balls and mint on a toothpick for that extra pop of fresh fruit flavor and color.

Beyond-the-Norm Catering

The Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce hosts a meeting called 12 at 12, where member businesses have a private meeting with the Chamber president in a casual setting. “We wanted our members to feel welcome, as if they were having a fun casual conversation with friends,” says Chad Beane, who coordinates member engagement. “But we also wanted them to feel appreciated with a catered meal.”

The Chamber chose Roasted Beet catering, owned by Shannon R. Jaeger, as the caterer for 12 at 12. Jaeger caters the way she cooks for her family, which means scratch made, farm-to-table, organic and local food raised by northern Colorado farmers and ranchers. Among Roasted Beet’s most popular meeting break items are rosemary-spiced cashews, puff pastry and parmesan cheese straws, and fig and herb toasts with a charcuterie board of wild boar, chorizo and cheeses from Fox and Owl in Fort Collins.

Add Some Sizzle

For afternoon breaks, consider “eatertainment” with Catering By The Inventing Room in Denver. Chef Ian Kleinman and his wife, Stacey (director of everything) put the spectacular, pop and fun into food. “For afternoon breaks, people ask us for the entertainment value to break up the monotony and bring in a breath of fresh air,” says Stacey.

Mocktail bars are a great afternoon refresher, including yuzu blackberry sorbet with gold dust on the glass rim or choose a flavor and color to match the company logo.

How about frozen mochas with exploding whipped cream? If you haven’t seen exploding whipped cream, it’s kind of like a middle-school science project that tastes awesome. “A whipped cream canister shoots flavored cream (such as chocolate or butterscotch) into a bowl of liquid nitrogen, which freezes and gives it a crunchy texture,” says Stacey. “Put it in your mouth and a plume of smoke comes out.” Another favorite is always the nitro popcorn in flavors like white cheddar, chile relleno, salted caramel and chocolate cinnamon.

While you might think it’s just a snack, creatively displayed food can change the mood of a meeting. “I like food to tell a story, to allow guests to engage and interact,” says Scott Skomal, executive chef of Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. An afternoon chocolate dipping station is an irresistible way to help guests interact for example. Skomal and his team prepare the bonbons ahead of time but set some aside for guests to finish.

They also have been known to set up make-your-own-milkshake stations with peaches and Olathe corn ice cream or hazelnut chocolate ice cream with made-to-order fries for dipping. For morning breaks, Skomal and company serve aebleskiver. These enticing bite-sized Danish pancakes can be sweet with lemon curd and strawberry rhubarb or savory with Colorado elk and jalapeño cheddar or Tender Belly serrano bacon.

“The creativity of the culinary team at the Sheraton is second to none,” says Jessica Rife, senior events manager at E Source. “We have had our annual conference there since 2016, and each year they continue to outdo the previous on our food and beverage experience. We’ve had breaks with donut towers, flavored popcorns, gourmet cupcakes, artfully displayed veggies with dips, the list goes on. Even the most basic break is turned up a notch and there is always something for everyone.”

If your group has a passion for chocolate, check out Denver-based Chocolate Lab. Owner Phil Simonson turned his husband’s truffle recipe into a restaurant, where nearly everything—savory or sweet—has chocolate as a key ingredient. Stuffed medjool dates with gruyere, milk chocolate, applewood smoked bacon and chocolate balsamic are an addictive morsel perfect for an afternoon treat. Vegetarians will adore the cauliflower with dark chocolate and picada sauce and Brussels sprouts with Thai chili glaze and cocoa ribs. Don’t forget desserts like truffle brownie cheesecake and make-your-own s’mores with panna cotta, whiskey fruit compote and house-made grahams with a flaming bowl of whisky to toast the marshmallows. Pick up party trays and hot dishes on site or make arrangements for a buyout. The restaurant is perfectly sized for 24 to 30 people.

Ethnic Tastes

Don’t forget ethnic foods like Mexican or Indian to wake up people’s taste buds. Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, with multiple Front Range locations, has small plate noshes, such as guacamole, salsa, con queso and chips; peel-and-eat shrimp diablo with a warm dipping sauce; and, of course, street tacos. The Rio can provide staff, delivery or you can pick up.

Biju’s Little Curry Shop in Denver is ideal for meeting attendees who want to add a bit of spice to their day. Popular hand-held items include fried pastry samosas with warm lentils, chopped greens, crunchy bits and chutneys; chili lime tots with vindaloo ketchup; or eggplant tacos. The restaurant can cater and deliver, or you can pick up for groups of 20 or more.

Americans especially love to snack, both in-between meals and in place of meals, which means choosing inventive, healthy and satisfying snacks may be as important as meal planning for your next meeting.