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An alternative to “Menu 1”

Around a third of food produced ends up as waste, and this is set to change. Photo: Simon Tanner
Around a third of food produced ends up as waste, and this is set to change. Photo: Simon Tanner

Sophie Frei wants to inspire restaurants to serve healthy and sustainable set lunch menus. To this end, the nutritionist has launched the lunchidee pilot project. But breaking through the routine of guests and restaurateurs is not easy.

There are many proverbs about food. And as in many proverbs, there is usually a spark of truth in this one as well: The farmer won’t eat what he’s not familiar with. Or slightly modified: Guests don’t order what they aren’t familiar with. Sophie Frei is sitting in the restaurant “Mein Küchenchef” in Köniz near Bern. She orders a beetroot cake with hummus and says: “Many people choose ‘Menu 1’ at lunchtime, i.e. meat, side dish, sauce, a few vegetables – out of habit. And restaurateurs cook what people want.” The same applies to them: Cooks don’t serve what they aren’t familiar with.


“Everything we eat has an impact on us and our environment.”

Sophie Frei

Frei wants to change that. She wants to encourage both guests and hosts to act, order and cook more consciously. Because cooking and eating does not simply mean satisfying hunger. “Everything we eat,” says Frei, “has an effect on our health and our environment.”

Aiming to bring about change through incentives: lunchidee founder Sophie Frei. Photo: Simon Tanner

For years, the 38-year-old nutritionist has been working at the intersection of theory and practice. She knows the studies and the numbers. For example: 28 per cent of all environmental pollution is caused by food. Around one third of all food produced ends up as waste.

In gastronomy, for example, this waste consists of portions that are not finished. Or food that isn’t even sold or put on plates because it doesn’t conform to the standard: a potato that’s too bulky, a carrot that’s too crooked, eggs that are too small. And precisely because about 70 per cent of the adult population goes out for lunch, there are so many opportunities to create incentives and sensitise people.

“The idea sparked right away.”

Leila Hauri

“It all started two years ago,” says Leila Hauri of the Engagement Migros development fund, which is making lunchidee possible. “By focusing on nutrition and production, we encourage pioneering projects that support a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.” We increasingly get a large part of what we eat outside our homes. This is why there is steadily more leverage dormant in gastronomy that can influence our eating habits. “We wanted to attach a new project to this issue,” says Hauri. “Then I got to know Sophie and the idea sparked immediately.”

There are already eight restaurants participating in the project; more will follow soon. Photo: Simon Tanner

The nutritionist turned a few loose sketches into a tangible project, gave lunchidee its name and significantly developed the project. Last autumn, the pilot was launched with participating restaurants. Today, lunchidee is a platform for information and inspiration, so that more healthy, sustainable and enjoyable set menus can be served in restaurants at lunchtime: more healthy vegetables that pollute the environment less; more variety and more homemade food.

An eye on current eating trends
As part of the pilot phase, Sophie Frei is working with eight restaurants in German and French-speaking Switzerland. These restaurants receive input on topics that change monthly. In March, the focus is on cereals and bread. Frei has just sent documents on the subject to the restaurants, in which she describes the advantages of old grain varieties and whole grains, and what they mean for nutrition. “Einkorn, emmer and spelt are more nutritious than wheat. Why not serve a spelt risotto or wholemeal pasta?” The expert talks about gluten – in an environment where choosing what to eat can be highly emotional, the renunciation of gluten and wheat has almost become a trend. And she explains: “Just one per cent of the population suffers from celiac disease and is forced to do without gluten. Many people think they cannot tolerate gluten so they don’t eat it. Today we know that, for example, many bread complaints are not related to the type of grain, but to how long dough is left to rest.”

lunchidee also serves information at lunch. Photo: Simon Tanner

With industrially produced dough with a short resting period, ingredients that are difficult to digest cannot be broken down. A dough that is given more than four hours to rest is much more digestible and flavourful.

All about cereals and bread
Frei provides this type of information to restaurateurs, along with recipe suggestions for other wholegrain cereals such as barley or millet. She wants to encourage restaurants to actively read the information sheets, to question habits and to pass the information on to their guests. But Frei also wants to address guests directly. The pilot project therefore provides a placemat for the lunchidee restaurants – which currently contains information about cereals and bread. At the project launch, these restaurants pledged to offer a set lunchidee menu at least once a week, which they can develop thanks to Frei’s information sheets.

Sophie Frei gets up and welcomes her guests. As the project’s initiator, today she is the hostess. Six of her pilot restaurants have sent employees to Mein Küchenchef, Mirko Buri's restaurant. They have come for a workshop on food waste. A few years ago, Buri, a former gourmet chef, devoted himself entirely to this topic. His aim is to ensure that as little food as possible ends up in the garbage. In everyday life this means: Buri serves up portions that are finished. And he sources food directly from farms where they would otherwise rot. He cooks broccoli stalks, which are normally scraps. Buri makes soup out of them.  

A healthy conscience can look really tasty. Photo: Simon Tanner

He also gets eggs that do not survive the control process because of irregularities in their shells. He tells us he makes bouillon paste from vegetables he can't get rid of in late summer and sells them in his shop in the restaurant. And he also talks about how he calculates set menus so that there are as few leftovers as possible, and how he has taken small steps towards having as little food waste as possible per guest.

Off to the second pilot phase
The conclusion of the initial project phase after half a year: “All eight restaurants are still participating,” says Frei and laughs. That's not self-evident. Some restaurants have working conditions that are highly stressful and there is never enough time. “The feedback on the input I give the restaurants is mostly positive,” says Frei. However, there are some problems with the placemats. During the stressful lunch rush, the wait staff loses time presenting placemats to guests and explaining their content. For the second pilot phase, which will begin in autumn, Frei wants to consider how she could address guests in a different way. “But first we have to find additional motivated restaurants!” says Sophie Frei, and gets up as the workshop begins.