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Meal in boxes

Serving meals in boxes: best practices, trends, and top tricks

Individual meals in boxes are all the rage in the post pandemic world. Customers feel extra safe, knowing that their food cannot be exposed like in a buffet. It’s not surprising that a shift has been noted, with boxed meals rapidly becoming the most popular way to serve food in live events. Apart from the mentioned health and safety benefits, this serving technique presents a wide range of other great advantages from increased creativity, to improved efficiency, and much more. What are these added benefits? How can you stand out from the crowd? Are boxed meals here to stay? How can profit margins be increased without compromising on product quality?

Boxed meals should incorporate sustainable elements to keep up with the times

There are two important parts to the sustainability aspect of a boxed meal. The first is the content of the box, the ingredients, the recipes for example, and the second is the box itself, the packaging, with the use of recycled or compostable materials.

There is a clear shift towards sustainability being observed from both catering companies and their customers. To stand out from the crowd, offering a carbon neutral, locally, and ethically sourced product can really help. How can you do this without costs skyrocketing?

A great way to achieve this is to reduce meat-based recipes. The whole range does not to need to be vegan, but offering a few options is a great way to innovate. Vegan and vegetarian diets have grown in popularity over the past 10 years in an exponential manner, these customers should be taken into account. Label the meals clearly to make sure your efforts do not go unnoticed, explaining where the ingredients are sourced, and all other sustainable initiatives undertaken by the company.  

When it comes to the box itself, avoid overusing single use plastic, this will displease customers. When possible, incorporate recycled materials. There are plenty of options out there that can be affordable as well as sustainable. Recycled cardboard, compostable boxes, even mushroom-based packaging are all fantastic ways to promote a Zero Waste initiative. Again, make sure you clearly advertise this incentive, as this will add great value to the product.

Healthy recipes with no compromise on taste – the new meal box trend

Meal boxes should offer healthy options for those who are trying to keep to a balanced diet, but without compromising on taste. The pandemic has created a general awareness for balanced diets and lifestyles. Flavour can be added without having to use too much salt or fat. Spices are a great way to add some oomph in a low calorie, healthy matter. Adding fresh fruit as a desert option is both practical and in line with this trend. It’s also worth noting that there is a preference for fresh meals, with a reduced use of preservatives or added artificial ingredients.

Eating healthily doesn’t necessarily mean the meals will cost more. Plenty of grains, pulses and vegetables are a great way to reduce costs, as they will bulk out the meal without having to add expensive ingredients such as meat or fish. They have lots of health benefits as well as making the meal filling and satisfying.

Make sure you get the correct proportions and label the calorie intake of each recipe. This will make customers feel more comfortable and in control of their diet. As well as calorie intake, other health benefits can be labelled on the packaging, promoting the box. If the recipe has fresh fish in, list the benefits of Omega 3 for example. If plenty of fruit and vegetables are incorporated, list the vitamins!

Creativity is key when it comes to designing your meal box

Boring meal boxes are a thing of the past. Customers want exciting new presentation ideas and recipes. Instead of a ham and cheese sandwich, why not go for a spicy three-bean enchilada? Instead of a brown cardboard box, why not print a colourful design? An innovative tech side can even be incorporated by putting a QR code on the box, linking to the recipe or to more information about the health benefits of the dish.

Focus on exotic tastes, recipes, and ideas. People want to be transported to a holiday destination, even through the food they eat. There is a clear tendency for bold aromas with a bit of an oomph to them. Favourites seem to be Mexican, sushi, Asian influenced dishes, and Turkish mezze.

By doing this, the box will stand out from the competition, be memorable and will increase repeat orders, overall contributing positively to the business.

Meal boxes must be convenient

A key point to boxed meals is convenience, during live events, meals must be served on time and eaten relatively quickly. Timetables will oblige diners to eat within a 30-minute timeframe or less. To make sure this is feasible, the recipes must be adapted to the circumstances. It’s necessary to consider where the meals will be eaten, if guests have access to tables, chairs etc.

Greasy food can possibly soak through the packaging, affecting the box stability and even staining through to the customer’s clothes. Try to stay clear of recipes with too much fat or grease to avoid this issue.

Sandwiches are usually a great favourite, as they can be eaten without cutlery, quickly and are both filling and satisfying. Always remember to keep the recipes exciting as mentioned in the previous point, however.

Soups and stews tend to be a little trickier, if diners do not have access to a table and chairs, eating can be difficult. Try to avoid this option when possible.

Make sure you guarantee food preservation – top tricks for your meal boxes

When designing your boxes, think about how the food will stay fresh. Many packed lunches will be assembled in advance, and cannot be affected by excess liquids, temperature loss etc.

Avoid putting fresh tomatoes on bread if the sandwich is served later in the day, the liquid will make the bread go soggy. Instead, use an alternative such as mayonnaise, this will add flavour without damaging the texture of the meal. If you’re trying to design a healthy option, low calorie mayonnaise can be a great substitute too.

If using a dressing for salads, make sure you serve it separately in a small container, this will allow the diner to use it if they want, but also protect the stability of the box.

Finally, try to pick recipes that are served at room temperature, as trying to maintain food heat can create issues if preparing the meal in advance. Sushi, sandwiches, poke bowls are all great possibilities.

Keep in mind that customers will have specific requirements for their boxed meal

Customers are requesting recipes that fit specific dietary requirements, this is here to stay. Be it vegan, gluten free, lactose free, flexitarian, pescatarian, keto etc, finding recipes that are accessible to the wide range of customers is necessary. This movement has been gaining popularity for a while now and adapting to it is a relatively easy way to stand out. Labelling each meal correctly is vital, with allergens, ingredients etc. Again, doing this in a creative way will add something special to the box. Bland meals are no longer an option, even with strict restrictions so make sure you also focus on flavour too.

Fast assembly and delivery, two key points for boxed meals

The essence of a boxed meal is convenience and fast delivery. To be able to offer this in a dependable manner. pick meals that can be assembled easily to ensure delivery time. Society is moving to a faster model of ordering, eating, and living. Online meal deliveries are becoming extremely popular as a result and come with a guaranteed delivery time. Meals must first and foremost be delivered at a specific time; this is probably the most important point. The rest of the elements mentioned above are all vital but become insignificant if the foodarrives late. Keep this in mind and plan accordingly.

To sum up, boxed meals are here to stay, they’re in constant reinvention, incorporating new flavours, new packaging, and adapting to modern day requirements. Innovation is key to keep them exciting and engaging for customers in order to achieve repeat orders, that being said, the key fundamentals of delivery time, food preservation and quality must be upheld, whilst incorporating new techniques and creations.