Healthy fats

Published in Wellness Watch

Nuts, fish and avocados add good fat to menus.

Oklahoma’s pecan-crusted salmon.

Once seen as a dietary devil, fat has come a long way. Foods rich in unsaturated fat—like nuts, fatty fish and avocados—are now considered staples of a healthy diet. Here’s how non-commercial operators are giving these nutritious foods more prominence on their menus.

Nuts are getting plenty of play in both salads and hot dishes. At Parker Adventist Hospital in Colorado, pecans add toasty crunch to a green salad made with chicken tenders, berries and a strawberry vinaigrette. Finely ground, they also stand in for breadcrumbs in the pecan-crusted rainbow trout served at Illinois State University, in Normal. In the Sizzling Fiery Thai Steak Salad served by Corporate Image Dining Services in Connecticut, roasted peanuts work with mango, fresh basil and cilantro, diced avocado and sesame noodles to create an Asian-inspired flavor profile. 

Fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids are in demand, too. One popular dish at Illinois State is Crispy Salmon with Spicy Tomato Sauce, topped with cilantro and served with a side of brown rice. “Salmon dishes, especially this one, fly out the door, upwards of 800 portions on some days during a four-hour lunch period,” says Unit Chef Adam Feaman, who adds that customers on the lookout for healthy options often seek fish.

It’s a similar story at the University of Oklahoma, in Norman. There, Alaskan Firecracker Salmon is marinated in a flavorful mix of peanut oil, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, ground ginger and crushed red pepper before being broiled and served with blanched kale, says Frank Henry, director of food services. In another dish, salmon fillets are baked with butter, tarragon, parsley and thinly sliced leeks.

Tuna salad is the seafood dish of choice at Chandler Unified School District, in Arizona, where it’s served with housemade crackers. In an effort to boost the salad’s nutritional content, the foodservice team recently began experimenting with hummus as a replacement for the usual mayonnaise. “The hummus can cut down on your fat, but it’s still soft and spreadable, and kids approve of it,” says Nutrition Supervisor Wesley Delbridge, R.D.

Of course, no discussion of healthy fats is complete without avocado, a ubiquitous customer favorite. “Anytime we put avocado on a sandwich, it sells out so fast,” says Lisa Poggas, R.D., nutrition and environmental services director at Parker Adventist. There, avocado is added to California-style sandwiches with turkey and pepper jack cheese. The hospital also stuffs avocado halves with chicken salad.

At New Jersey’s Newtown Medical Center, Southwestern Black Bean Burgers also are topped with avocado. However, rumored weather-related shortages could drive up prices of the green fruit. “If we need to raise prices slightly, I think our customers would understand, and we’d have a disclaimer explaining why,” says Gregory Merkle, food and nutrition manager.

For now, the threat of higher prices isn’t a concern for Chandler. The district often sources avocados locally for a housemade guacamole that’s served with tacos and pepper jack cheeseburgers. “Avocados in season are relatively inexpensive,” Delbridge says. “Price increases haven’t affected us yet. But if it starts getting ridiculous like [industry reports] say, we’ll have to look at it and come up with other options.”