Healthy Wedding Menus

Your wedding day is a time to share what you love best with the people you love best. If you love good food—and even if you prefer to eat organic, vegetarian, or kosher—today’s the day to express yourself, and to show all your guests just how good good-for-you food can be.

There’s been a noticeable increase in food-aware weddings, says Carolyn Perlow of Boston’s Carolyn Perlow Eventmakers. And that means that plenty of caterers are sensitive to the nuances of preparation and preference. Whether a couple seeks all-organic food, vegetarian, vegan, spa, kosher, or Muslim halal—or some compromise in between—there are caterers and chefs ready to turn out a feast for all tastes.

The best way to start is to decide what you want. That usually means starting with a serious discussion with your spouse-to-be and, sometimes, with family members as well. “I’ll start by talking with the couple, because everybody’s idea of good food varies,” says Perlow. “Some couples are really into the food and wine, and say, ‘We don’t even care if there are flowers on the table.’”

Caterers usually can accommodate several styles of food at one event. Toby Karlyn, one of the owners of Beverly-based Celebrations Gourmet Catering, says such diversity has become a common and welcome option. She often recommends stations, for example, where one group of diners can enjoy vegetarian fare and another meat or fish. “There are a lot more choices than people realize,” she says.

Eat Your Veggies
Still, compromise isn’t always what you want on your Big Day. Cathi DiCoco, who caters vegetarian events all over New England from Cafe DiCocoa in Bethel, Maine, will at times prompt the wedding couple to probe their motivations—and their deepest feelings. She describes a familiar setup in which the bride and groom are committed vegetarians, or even followers of the stricter vegan diet (no eggs or dairy). “But then the bride will say, ‘My dad is paying for this, and he wants to have steak,’” says DiCoco. In this case, the experts agree that ultimately this is your wedding—and one day out of your guests’ lives.

Once couples decide on a menu—or a preferred style of cooking—the choices are immense. For a vegetarian or vegan wedding, for example, DiCoco draws from a world’s worth of cuisines. A Sardinian cauliflower soup mixes saffron and olives in a creamy potato base, while a Thai red curry crowns fresh jasmine rice.

While DiCoco won’t use meat analogs—meaning fake meat, like Tofu Pups instead of hot dogs—she does listen carefully to what the client wants. “If there’s a flavor we’re looking for, like sausage, we’ll use fennel and sage,” says DiCoco. “That gives you the flavor profile of the food without the meat.” She will make a cake by using all-natural ingredients and decorate it with fresh fruit and cut flowers. The berry shortcake buffet offers heart-shaped scones, freshly whipped cream, and fresh blueberries or strawberries.

If a compromise is called for, DiCoco can work with a purveyor of organic poultry. But any chicken dishes are prepared off-site—not in DiCoco’s kitchen, which remains meat-free. While DiCoco’s prices tend to be lower than Boston-area gourmet caterers (she gives a range of $29 to $45 per person), she does charge for mileage and travel time.

For the cake to crown a veggie or vegan feast, consider Amesbury’s Hippie Chick Bakery, which specializes in vegetarian, vegan and even gluten-free baked goods. For vegan cakes, says owner Amy Mastronardi, she not only has to avoid eggs, butter, honey, and refined sugar, but also some flavorings. And while Mastronardi happily substitutes nongluten flours when requested—she lists rice, tapioca, potato, and soy flours as possibilities—she also is aware that some vinegars and vanillas use gluten in their processing and must be avoided. Such care doesn’t mean sacrificing taste. Most guests don’t even realize when they are eating a vegan cake, she says. (Hippie Chick’s cakes run approximately $3.75 per serving.)

Totally Organic
Organic food is another option that appeals to environment- and taste-conscious couples. Increasingly available, such clean, locally sourced foods have long been the specialty of Leslie Cerier, owner of the Organic Gourmet in Amherst. “Food tastes better without all the chemicals,” says Cerier, who has written several cookbooks, including Going Wild in the Kitchen (Square One Publishers, 2005).

In the past, says Cerier, clients often worried that organic food wouldn’t look good—the early organic movement was notable for tiny or blemished fruit. But now, she says, “Appearances have caught up,” pointing out the fresh, edible flowers that make great garnishes. And although she likes to stress the use of produce in season, frozen organic berries can make a special fruit crisp even in February.

For Cerier, organic ideally means local. “It tastes better, it’s fresher and more nutritious, and it’s better for the local economy and environment,” she says. The chef, who caters events all over New England, knows her western Massachusetts sources well, and will use produce from nearby farms for such dishes as blackberry- and vanilla-infused vinaigrette and goat-cheese mushroom strudel.

As these dishes hint, Cerier often focuses on vegetarian and vegan menus, but she also draws on sources for organic meat, fish, and poultry, and can prepare gluten-free menus as well. She can steer clients toward organic wines and beers, too, which are increasingly available in a range of prices. Her catering runs approximately $45 to $100 per person, not including servingware costs.

Big Day at the Spa
When health is an issue, clients may want to focus on the lighter cuisine known as spa food—especially for pre-wedding events, such as bridal showers. Full-service caterers such as Celebrations offer many carb- and calorie-conscious options. “There’s an emphasis on protein and healthier fats, on fish and grains,” says Karlyn. Building a menu around these is easy, she says.

Asian pastas, such as spaghetti-like Japanese udon, are often whole wheat, and mixed grains—such as quinoa or wheat berries—can substitute for mashed potatoes. Lower-glycemic and Atkins-friendly dishes, from appetizers of rum-glazed swordfish cubes to fruit tarts made with the sugar substitute Splenda, can be customized to health and taste issues. (Celebrations’ prices run approximately $80 to $125 per person.)

The Law of Flavor
When culture or religion influences the menu, taste can reign supreme. Catering by Andrew, a kosher caterer based in Brookline, has been proving this idea for 16 years with dishes such as chipotle rib-eye and citrus sea bass with Thai basil or—when asked for a dairy menu—wild mushroom ricotta strudel. “Our passion is for food,” says proprietor Andrew Wiener. “We treat the kosher rules very seriously, but we don’t look at ourselves as a kosher caterer. We look at ourselves as food people.”

That means no “mock” foods, such as fake shrimp molded out of whitefish. This is not your grandmother’s kosher. “Not just kreplach and knishes,” says Wiener, although often people will request a very traditional side, such as a potato-filled knish, “just for a taste of it.”

Such quality does not come cheap. Wiener quotes a price of $65 to $115 per person on average, and couples also may have to hire an on-site supervisor to make sure the kosher laws are maintained which can add another couple hundred dollars. Because of the rules that require the strict separation of meat and dairy, Wiener provides all his own china, silverware, and serving utensils. He also can recommend kosher wines, including an excellent Laurent-Perrier champagne. They run about 10 percent to 20 percent more per bottle than non-kosher wines.

While its laws are strict, kosher catering can actually be a great crossover. “When you hear kosher, you know you’re getting vegetarian,” says Wiener. “Our pots and pans for dairy have never had meat touch them.”

Halal food—with its nonpork meat dishes prepared in compliance with Islamic law—is less in demand locally than kosher, but it too can be prepared in many tasty ways. One World Cuisine, for example, runs several popular Boston-area restaurants, including Kashmir (on Newbury Street) and Mantra (on Temple Place), that specialize in French-Indian cuisine.

Wedding fare can range from Indian dishes such as chicken tikka masala to more American-style racks of lamb ($20 to $55 per person). Clients often like the playful variety of stations where samosas, fried Indian pastries filled with meat and vegetables, or fresh crêpe-like dosas are prepared, says One World catering coordinator Mukta Adhikari. One World also can coordinate with liquor service, although to be strictly halal (which means “lawful”), alcohol should not be served.

Share Your Leftovers
And when it’s over? Today’s couples have become more conscious of sharing, and caterers report that many local food banks appreciate their generosity. Hotels cannot redistribute leftover food because of liability issues, says Carolyn Perlow. Some caterers (including DiCoco) have connections to specific food banks.

Otherwise, Perlow suggests asking a member of the wedding party to investigate charities close to your reception site, and to plan on running your leftover food over after the caterer packs up—to help your celebration go on to cheer another person’s life.