Five Questions for: Nadeem Siddiqui

FoodService Director - Five Questions for Nadeem SiddiquiAs healthy menu options become more and more prolific, operators are
looking for seamless ways to incorporate these options into their
menus. FSD talked to Nadeem Siddiqui, resident district manager for Bon
Appetit at 13,600-student Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., to
get some advice on how to menu healthy effectively. 

What does “healthy” options mean to your operation?

We have a dietitian on our team and we work very closely with her trying to determine what the regulations of the government are, what we hear from our students and what we hear from professionals to come up with a guideline so we can promote it. We mostly follow the ADA nutritional guidelines. We have also looked at the portion sizes and made sure our staff is trained to portion meals correctly. Sometimes we do get a comment that the portion sizes are small, but we know they are balanced portions. We also offer a lot of local food here and we define that as within a 150-mile range.

What do you feel is the best way to integrate healthy options into menus?

Something we’ve really taken to heart is that the information we put out on the nutrition side has to be accurate. Whatever you put out, you have to be honest about it. Also, make sure your chefs and production staff are straight with you, so when they substitute items, we’re straight about it. So if there is a certain kind of cheese that we’re saying has a certain number of calories and that cheese switches to something that has higher calories, we need to make sure that we’re telling the customers. I think the biggest part is training. You’ve got to train the production staff and your chefs about what constitutes “healthy.” Just putting the guidelines out there doesn’t cut it.

How do you handle the costs of healthy menu items?

We budget for the healthier items. Our commitment to higher quality and local food has always been there. In these economic times, it’s difficult, but again we work closely with our local vendors, farmers and people we have long-term partnerships with to keep the prices at a certain level. What we don’t want to do is charge the customer more to eat healthier. We’re trying to stay away from that as a deterrent. We manage the price by negotiating with the vendors, portion control and by reducing waste. We have a tremendous amount of work going into reducing waste in the kitchen and in the front of the house.

What are some of your most popular original recipes for healthy options?

We do a lot of portabella mushroom sandwiches. We do tofu—tofu stew, tofu stir-fry and tofu with beans and rice. Again, we buy a lot of local vegetables so we grill those. Healthy food has this bad connotation of not tasting good and that is one thing I’ve asked our chefs to work really hard to make sure the healthy food as tasty if not better than the other food. For proteins, we do a lot of grilled fishes with a light sauce. We do grilled chicken and sometimes shish kabobs, which are fairly simple but healthy. We just stayed on that focus of grilling and baking. We also have a fresh sushi program that we make in house and that is very popular.

What advice would you give to other operators about incorporating healthy menu options into your operation?

Make sure your staff is trained as to what healthy options means since it means different things to different people. Make sure they know what it means generally speaking and that they also understand the customer’s lingo. Once that connection is made, then I think we can do a much better job. I think education and training is a big part of making sure you’re connecting with customers to make sure we are meeting their needs. I think it’s a constant partnership with employees, chefs and our dietitian. We’re lucky to have a really active and resourceful dietitian on campus.