A Healthy Side

Vegetables, beans and legumes take center stage in better-for-you side dishes.

Published in Wellness Watch

Union schools’ braised kale with garlic.

Vegetables, beans and legumes take center stage in better-for-you side dishes.  

Want a side of fries with that? Not so much. Nowadays, more non-commercial operators are offering fresh, creative side dishes that aren’t just delicious—they’re nutritious, too.

Getting diners interested initially isn’t always so easy. “It can be a little tricky when you try to take someone’s french fries or tater tots away from them,” says Patrick Browne, executive chef of UM Dining at the University of Montana, in Missoula. To strike that delicate balance between health and great taste, UM Dining “tries to provide [healthier side dishes] that are full flavored and can stand on their own,” Browne says. Chickpeas cooked in a vegetarian broth with North African spices and olive oil are often served with chicken strips, while mushy peas (simmered and mashed peas seasoned with salt and pepper) play a traditional accompaniment to British-inspired fish and chips. “Maybe it’s our attempt at cutting back overall on fried foods, but we really try to avoid having a fried side item next to a fried entrée,” Browne says.

Beans and legumes are also popular sides at Kettering Health Network, in Ohio, where they’re frequently offered as part of a variety of healthful grab-and-go items. “We serve homemade hummus—plain, red pepper and edamame; Mediterranean- and Mexican-style quinoa salads; soy and almond milk; and fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Cheryl Shimmin, network director of nutrition services. The Hot Deck station highlights fiber-rich, vegetarian sides such as barley and brown rice pilaf. “A legume selection is offered daily as well, including Southwestern red beans, savory lentils and garbanzos and traditional black beans,” Shimmin says.

For other non-commercial operators, the focus is on vegetables. At Union Public Schools, in Tulsa, Okla., fresh produce—often sourced from local farms—plays a starring role in a wide selection of sides. Broccoli slaw is studded with dried cranberries and turkey bacon and tossed with a honey mustard dressing; roasted carrots are made sweet, smoky and spicy with the addition of honey and chipotle; and the cherry tomato salad is tossed in a housemade pesto using basil from Peachcrest Farms in nearby Stratford, Okla. The standout recipe, though, might be the kale braised with garlic and chili peppers. “It’s been a surprise favorite at Union High School,” says Executive Chef Eli Huff.

Vegetables dominate the side dish offerings at Chesapeake Public Schools, in Virginia, too. “We’ve been working to incorporate more orange and red vegetables and more beans into our side dishes,” says Joanne Kinsey, director of school nutrition services. Baked sweet potatoes and apples, flavored with brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, fit the bill and serve up a sweet flavor that’s appealing to kids.

A bean salad makes a satisfying, economical side, too. Chesapeake’s version—tossed in an oil and vinegar dressing—uses green beans, kidney beans and garbanzo beans and gets extra crunch and flavor from chopped green pepper and sliced onions. When all else fails, don’t forget pasta salad: When made fresh with vegetables like broccoli, carrots, onions, green peppers and grape tomatoes, as Chesapeake prepares it, the dish is a classic, crowd-pleasing side that packs a healthy punch.  

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
packaged meals

While the multiple-choice questions on FoodService Director’s annual census surveys are a great way of gathering data on trends, I’ve always been rather partial to the open-ended queries. We can’t possibly think up every answer operators might have to a particular question, and it gives respondents a chance to show some personality as well. (A special nod to one cheeky operator’s not-quite-safe-for-work response to how they’re tackling shortened lunch periods—you made my day.)

So this year, for the first time since I’ve been at FoodService Director, I chose to include a very open-...

Ideas and Innovation
kale quinoa salad

With all the hype around probiotics, we decided to create a daily dish that incorporates probiotics in addition to prebiotics. You rarely hear about prebiotics, and this was a great way to highlight how the two work synergistically to maintain a healthy gut. Our chefs have developed menu items such as roasted salmon with yogurt and mint vinaigrette; kale and quinoa salad with warm maple dressing; and leek soup with pickled cucumbers, to name a few.

Menu Development
ramen bowl spoon chopsticks

Asian noodle soups are a popular lunch option at YouTube’s San Bruno, Calif., campus, says Trent Page, the GM at Bon Appetit Management who runs the company’s three corporate dining venues. But Page noticed an increasing preference for customizable dishes and vegan preparations among the 1,000 customers he feeds daily. Inspired by a recent visit to Japan, he introduced tsukemen to the menu—a dish that features most of the traditional ramen ingredients (noodles, eggs and vegetable garnishes) served separately so diners can mix and match. “Separating the components makes it more customizable...

Ideas and Innovation
chicken dinner

For the last three years, we’ve hosted an event called Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner. We sponsor the local chapter of Future Farmers of America to raise the chickens, and we have to arrange all the transporting from farms to the distributor, which keeps the birds in a freezer until we’re ready. We build hype by having students vote on the proprietary spice blend they would like on the chicken. It helps the nutrition team get involved in the educational process and showcase local food purchasing.

FSD Resources