SINGAPORE - For caterers, a healthier menu may consist of no more than one deep-fried item, said Mr Daniel Ang, president of the Association of Catering Professionals.
Most of the items will be steamed, braised, baked or stir-fried instead.
Also, the coconut milk in curries would be substituted with low-fat milk, he said.
Less sugar, salt and oil will be used, although the exact amount cannot always be ascertained, as most chefs estimate the amounts they put in, he said.
And even if buffet caterers do not offer a healthier menu, consumers can request less sugar, salt and oil to be added, said Mr Ang.
The managing director of caterer Food Fest F&B, Mr David Tan, said the company would, at times, customise a healthy menu according to customer requirements.
But if customers are looking for something truly healthy, they would have to look to companies such as Esymeals, which consulted a dietitian in the planning of its meals.
Ms Jaclyn Reutens, a clinical dietitian at Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants and co-founder of Esymeals, worked on YeYeah Delights' weight-loss meals.
She said the salt content of each meal is less than 600mg - less than one third of the daily recommended allowance of 2,000mg.
Carbohydrates make up about 50 to 60 per cent of a meal with whole grains included. Proteins take up 20 to 30 per cent, while fat constitutes 10 to 20 per cent, with saturated fat comprising less than 10 per cent. These are the suggested amounts by the Health Promotion Board, said Ms Reutens.
Fresh ingredients are used so as to impart the natural taste of foods, she added. "We make our sauces and soups from scratch to limit the use of preservatives and added salt."
The weight-loss menu, which may consist of plain wholemeal pasta with boiled beef meatballs in a low-salt homemade marinara sauce and blanched vegetables, is also suitable for diabetics and people with hypertension, she said.
Under the HPB's Healthier Catering Programme, there are guidelines for healthier menus, such as including dishes prepared with more fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices; and less oil, salt and sugar.
Dishes should also be prepared using healthier cooking methods, such as steaming, braising, boiling and stir-frying.
In addition, caterers have to limit deep-fried food to one out of five dishes; keep high-fat desserts, such as chendol and pastries, to one out of five dishes; choose low-fat milk instead of full-cream milk and include more vegetables. There should also be fresh fruit for dessert.
"There is a misconception that something nutritious and healthy cannot be tasty and enjoyable," said Mr Tan.
"Artery-clogging alfredo or cheese sauces aren't the only tasty sauces. Lighter sauces do the trick, too.
"A reduced-sodium soya sauce can transform a stir-fry, while a yogurt, cucumber or mint sauce can moisten a skinless chicken breast."
However, if you are hoping healthy food will be as tasty as, say, a hawker dish of char kway teow, you will be disappointed.
Singapore Heart Foundation's dietitian and nutritionist, Ms Lauren Ho, said people "have to be mentally prepared and be willing to embrace lighter flavours".
This means eating dishes which are less salty, oily and sweet, as well as those with more fibre, such as whole grains.
While some people would not even try to eat healthy, there is a bright side. Said Ms Ho: "Generally, I find that once people understand the benefits of such diets and the importance of making these changes, they are more willing to accept healthier foods."
This article was published on May 8 in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times.Get a copy of Mind Your Body, The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.