Career Woman

Food to help a meeting find focus


When thinking about the elements of a successful meeting, you may not consider the role food and drink can play. But energy levels, ability to focus, and mood are all impacted by the kinds of food and drink served. There’s no question about it: the menu of the day will affect the productivity of your meeting.

Different foods tap into different parts of our brain, impacting one neurotransmitter over another. After you have a meal, certain neurotransmitters will zip across the neurons in your brain, igniting the parts that make you focused and interested, or sleepy and bored.

Whether you’re planning an hour-long debrief or a multi-day seminar, we’ve researched the foods you should put on the plate.


We’re told from a young age that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This adage rings true with meetings in adulthood, too.

DO: Eat Eggs and Whole Grains

Eggs are one of the most affordable and accessible breakfast foods. They also happen to be some of the best for you. Eggs are an all-natural source of high protein and will give people at your meeting more energy. The protein content of eggs will also help with sugar absorption so people can avoid the sugar crash of continental breakfast pastries and sweetened coffee. Experts at Cuppabean say Black coffee is far better than sweetened coffee to keep energy levels high and avoid sugar crashes.

According to an associate nutritionist, whole grain foods at meetings will help people concentrate, due to their slow release of glucose into the bloodstream. Glucose is the sugar that helps supply your brain with a steady flow of energy – essential for longer periods of mental alertness.

With these recommendations in mind, organize a balanced breakfast for your meeting guests. Examples include breakfast meats, salmon, egg dishes, and granola that will help your meeting attendees get off to the right start.

DON’T: Indulge In a Sugary Breakfast

Avoid the sticky pastries and white breads that can be served with continental breakfasts. Starting your morning with empty calories that are not filling will likely lead to a sugar crash midway through the morning meetings.


Lunch and Dinner

DO: Stock Up On Vegetable Dishes

It’s another cardinal rule of childhood: eat your vegetables and you’ll feel better. Vegetables are often a catering option, but they’re not always prepared in the healthiest of ways. Ensure your vegetables are steamed and not sitting in a buffet tray of cream sauce or butter.

Leafy greens are especially good. Spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are chalked full of antioxidants and carotenoids. On top of that, they contain vitamin B and folic acid, which is said to improve your mental clarity. Other bright colored vegetables like broccoli and sweet potato will do the trick. Broccoli is beneficial for its high vitamin C content and sweet potatoes are one of the best foods to get your potassium intake. The latter can be a delicious and healthy substitute for starchy roasted or baked potatoes.

When it comes to salads, favor a bowl of greens that has low-fat dressing on the side, for both preference and health.

DO: Keep Serving “Normal” Meeting Fare

Utter the words “catered lunch” and there’s a good chance your mind may flash to trays of triangular sandwiches and wraps. These are good staple dishes, especially when you want people to not overeat and balance their protein and carbohydrate intake.

But you need to make sure you’re serving the right style sandwich. Opt out of cucumber sandwiches on white bread in favor of lean meat and vegetable sandwiches made on whole wheat bread or wraps. Fillings such as seafood and chicken will all help create an amino acid called tyrosine which research says reduces fatigue and stress on cognitive ability.

The same goes with pasta salads – whole wheat noodles or alternative bases such as quinoa or couscous will provide a focus filled alternative to your normal meeting fare. Dishes with quinoa or soba (buckwheat) noodles also cater to gluten free diets, something you should consider when planning meals for a meeting.



DON’T: Serve Conventional Junk Food

We have all had the urge to grab a chocolate bar or a handful of candy during a meeting break. While this may give our brains the instant sugar rush it craves, it will soon cause a mental crash that will impact the rest of the afternoon. Fresh fruit will do a better job than junk food in ensuring blood sugar levels are kept in check.

DO: Serve Nuts and Healthy Finger Foods

Now that we’ve set aside the bowl of candy, turn to healthy easy-to-grab snacks like mini quiches, cheese, and whole wheat crackers and bread. Nuts will also help with focus and full stomachs. Walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts are regarded as the best choice, as they each contain Omega-3 fatty acid and vitamin E.  



DO: Pick Your Drinks Wisely

Hydration is key to staying focused, so beverages will play an important role in your menu. Most importantly, ensure water is easily accessible throughout your meeting space. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and headaches, and it’s better to encourage meeting attendees to drink water before these symptoms set in.

A guideline document for healthy foods and beverages at meetings recommends choosing sugar-free sparkling water over conventional sodas and skim or 1% milk over its higher-in-fat companions. Low sugar juices are preferable. And what is a meeting without coffee? Coffee is a meetings fixture and will help people be more focused and alert for that next PowerPoint.

The Next Steps

Picking a menu that takes into account these best practices is easier than you think. Work with the catering team or chef at your meeting venue to discuss available options. Then present those options to your executive team. The line you can give them is one suggested by Executive Chef Craig Mason: “We’re set up for success at this meeting – by having the right space, the right technology, and the right food.” Remember that this doesn’t have to happen all at once. Many people won’t notice a gradual transition in the food offerings. What they will notice is that they feel better about sitting through the day.

In the end, foods that are good for your focus are good for your body, too. With some thoughtful planning, your next meeting menu can help sustain both the mental and physical well-being of your attendees.

About Teri Mcillwain

Teri Mcillwain is the culinary director at Cape Rey Carlsbad, a Hilton Resort. Teri has a deep creativity and passion for food and delivers truly flavorful and eclectic California cuisine. Located along the sunny San Diego coast directly across from Carlsbad State Beach, the 215-room Cape Rey boasts a modern, California Craftsman-style design with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

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