As Americans take a growing interest in pursuing more healthful lifestyles, contract management companies are striving to accommodate this trend by catering to wellness in the workplace.

Where once onsite feeding companies played culinary catch-up with their colleagues in the commercial sector, they now are offering cutting-edge programs that allow customers in the business and industry sector to shape their dining experiences to meet individual dietary needs.

"We're seeing a great push towards 'better-for-me' healthier options in B&I accounts," says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president-foodservice strategies for WD Partners in Columbus, Ohio. "We're also seeing a growing desire [among employers] to help manage the health of their employees. There has been an awareness that wellness of employees is good business as well as being the right thing to do."

Although experts generally agree that much of the American public has some way to go before we see a dramatic shift in health-centric eating habits, there nevertheless has been slow but steady progress on that front over the past several years. According to a study conducted by the NPD Group/Crest, 9.0 percent of respondents say they had visited a restaurant specifically for a healthful or "light" meal in the year ended in March 2014. That figure is up slightly from 8.1 percent in 2009.

The study also found that 76 percent of those individuals polled say they ate healthfully at least occasionally when dining out.

Undoubtedly, this evolving interest in eating more nutritiously in restaurants has begun to carry over into the workplace as Americans become more educated about the importance of their diets — and onsite companies implement more programs to address it. "The food offerings we've begun to see on [B&I] menus are part and parcel of that," Lombardi says. "There's an interest in calories, fat and freshness."

Like their counterparts in the commercial sector, onsite feeding companies are menuing more healthful alternatives, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and versatile, lean proteins like turkey and salmon. "We've seen a real narrowing of the gap between what's being offered in the commercial arena and what's offered in contract [venues]," Lombardi says. "And if there is a gap now, it's pretty small."

Compass Group North America has implemented a sophisticated program for its numerous B&I clients called Balance, which addresses wellness and sustainability. Balance offers a portfolio of options that address those criteria, says Jennifer Ignacio, nutrition communications manager for Compass Group North America, based in Charlotte, N.C. "We present clients with a variety of alternatives ... we work with them on their priorities, those that are most crucial to their populations," she explains. "And then we work with them to figure out what will be best for their target customer. It can be very broad or very specific, like [addressing] heart health or blood pressure."

Compass's Balance program contains three core categories — Better Food Choices, Education & Information, and Incentives. As a subset of the Better Food Choice's category, Compass's whole+sum station concept enables customers to customize their own balanced meals. Whole+sum features a wide variety of multicultural culinary selections that can be combined to create meals containing 600 calories or less, 20 grams of total fat or less, 5 grams of saturated fat or less, and 600 milligrams of sodium or less.

Ignacio says recipes incorporating lean proteins work well in such a format. "When you're working with lean proteins like turkey, you have more flexibility ... because they don't exceed the nutrient criteria," she notes. The National Turkey Federation calculates a 3-ounce serving of boneless, skinless turkey breast contains 26 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat and 0 grams of saturated fat.

She adds that Compass worked successfully with a vendor partner to reduce the level of sodium in turkey meat, which is used extensively in sandwiches. Many operators, in fact, cite turkey's versatility and its ability to marry well with a wide range of other ingredients.

The second Balance component, Education & Information, utilizes such tools as newsletters that provde nutrition information, monthly wellness promotions and icon identifiers that allow customers to make more informed dietary choices.

Incentives, the third leg of the Balance program, encompass such elements as architectural pricing strategies, loyalty programs, bundled meals and discounting.

Compass serves some six million meals in North America every day, Ignacio says.

Sodexo Inc., the Gaithersburg, Md.-based North American division of the international contract management company, also features a wellness program called Mindful by Sodexo. The program, which also comprises three key elements — Food, Consumer Education, and Activities and Tools — is being implemented in cafes across Sodexo's foodservice accounts, including B&I as well as government offices, colleges and universities, and healthcare facilities.

The Mindful program features a range of selections, including full meals, entrées, side dishes, soups, desserts and snacks. Not surprisingly, turkey is well represented on Mindful's menu of healthful dishes. Selections include Turkey Meatloaf and Parsnip Potatoes, 340 calories; Turkey Flatbread with Cranberry Mayo, 220 calories; Turkey Bolognese and Whole Wheat Spaghetti, 200 calories; Bistro Turkey Burger with a Whole Wheat Hamburger Bun, 280 calories; Turkey Chili, 130 calories; Cajun Turkey with Parsnip Potatoes and Green Beans, 240 calories; and a Greek Turkey Burger with Tzatziki Sauce and a Whole Wheat Bun, 260 calories.

Patina Restaurant Group, based in New York, also has devised a wellness program for its Market Cafe concept, which caters to the tenant population at Park Place, a leading corporate headquarters in California's Orange County. Patina's Live Well program was designed to address wellness and those with food restrictions among its client population, a Patina spokesperson says. It offers freshly made selections for breakfast, lunch and snacks from five individual concepts, including three live-action chef kiosks that feature burgers from Nick + Stef's Express Grill, pizzas and pastas from Cucina & Co., and healthy soups and stir-fry entrées from Ginger Trail.

According to Patina, all dishes contain 500 calories or less; all products are locally sourced; all food products are made from scratch; all proteins are all-natural, hormone free and purchased responsibly for sustainability; and all recipes are transparent.

Executive chef Jessica Spear also developed a Live Well catering menu that includes such dishes as Egg White and Soyrizo or Turkey Sausage Burrito, House Smoked Salmon Cobb Salad, Vegetable and Quinoa Salad, Turkey Bacon and Egg with Smoked Cheddar Sandwich, Grilled Stone Fruit and Goat Cheese Salad, Thai Chicken Salad, Rice and Curry with a grilled vegetable platter, and Grilled Chicken Paillard.

In addition, to help add more transparency to the ordering process, the company created seven different icons identifying which selections are soy-free, sugar-free, raw, gluten-free, vegan, dairy free and vegetarian.

"The move toward healthier options is clearly prevalent and growing," Lombardi says. "And some of what is going on in B&I is really interesting. In the last 20 years, contract foodservice leadership has caught up with trends in the commercial sector and can be seen as a trendsetter itself at this point."