Taking back the shaker

Operators find solutions to lower sodium.

Published in FSD Update


Robert Wood Johnson’s mango salmon uses fresh ingredients to bring out the flavor without adding salt. 

Whether by requirement or voluntarily, more non-commercial operators than ever are taking measures to lower sodium levels on their menus. Here’s how they’re trying to slash salt without sacrificing flavor.

To cope with the first tier of stricter government regulations on sodium levels in K-12 meals, some schools are seeking lower salt versions of processed foods from vendors. Chesapeake Public Schools, in Virginia, has largely eliminated salty breaded proteins (such as chicken strips) in favor of lower sodium flavorings like barbecue sauce. Hamburgers made with small amounts of ground mushroom also are on the menu, since mushrooms provide savory flavor without the need for as much salt. The district has also found a sodium-friendly cheese pizza but with a serving size that’s smaller than what students are used to, says Joanne Kinsey, director of school nutrition services.

While meeting the first set of sodium requirements has gone smoothly, some operators feel that the second and third set of target guidelines (to be implemented in 2017-2018 and 2022-2023) are extreme and may be difficult to meet, especially with processed products. “It seems like vendors are working on making products that meet the requirements, but we might have to make more [housemade],” says Kate Gillihan, dietitian at Spring Independent School District, in Texas.

Saint Paul Public Schools, in Minnesota, is already taking the housemade route, and it’s been a success. There, kitchen staff make chow mein, Thai sweet and sour, sesame, Szechuan and teriyaki sauces with low-sodium soy sauce. They also use low-sodium chicken or vegetable base in sauces for sloppy Joes, pizza, gravy and stew. The housemade versions are critical to keeping salt levels in check and give staff the control to adjust recipes as sodium regulations continue to tighten. “We can do a slow, incremental decrease of sodium,” says Nutrition Specialist Angie Gaszak.

The district is also cutting salt with housemade French bread, focaccia, pizza crusts and muffins, but these are still in the experimental phase. “Our game plan is to drop [sodium] by about 25%. It’ll be about balancing and doing quality control tests to see how much salt we can remove before quality suffers,” Gaszak says.

Public schools could take a few sodium-reducing cues from other institutions. At Miami University, in Ohio, relying on other flavor-rich ingredients is key. Dried and fresh herbs are used to create in-house seasoning blends, as well as add depth to soups and broths. Adding acid to recipes can also trick the tongue into thinking a recipe has more salt. “Our chimichurri sauce really pops, thanks to the vinegar, parsley and spices. It means our diners don’t miss the salt, because there are so many other flavorings happening in the dish,” says Executive Chef Eric Young. Sharp and sour, the herb- and lime-based chimichurri is served alongside spice-dusted yucca fries, eliminating the need for sodium-heavy condiments such as ketchup.

Fresh flavors also are emphasized at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, in New Brunswick, N.J. The hospital’s newly revamped menu relies heavily on fresh herbs, salsas and dry rubs that include dehydrated fruit, fresh garlic and ginger. And customers don’t seem to miss the salt. “Our new mango-dusted salmon with mango salsa sells better than the old salmon dish that used a prepared sauce,” says Timothy Gee, executive chef.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
nutrition facts label

Despite operators’ attempts to communicate nutrition information to guests via cards and labels on the food line, many guests still feel they have no clue what’s in their food. University of Illinois food economist Brenna Ellison shares a few guesses as to why consumers ignore these signs following a recent study on their placement in dining halls.

Q: Who is most likely to read the cards?

A: Students who were already exhibiting more healthy behaviors. So those were the students who track their intake using an app or a food diary. After the first week, we found the rates of people...

Managing Your Business
studient orientation

When an alma mater and an employer are one in the same, it can be a win-win for both the employee and the school. Here’s how two students’ experiences with campus dining—one positive and the other negative—led them on a path to their current jobs.

A Feast to Remember

NC State University’s main campus in Raleigh, N.C. was built on farmland given to the state by Richard Stanhope Pullen; every spring, students gather to celebrate those agricultural roots through Farm Feast, an outdoor celebration with food and music. Design major Christin King remembers her first Farm Feast vividly: “...

People in Foodservice
lucretia chancler

Lucretia Chancler’s roots lie in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish. She grew up in the parish, and her mother taught in the school district for 33 years—even occasionally teaching young Lucretia. Advanced degrees and a post-grad job took her to Colorado, Georgia and other places, but St. Landry soon called Chancler back home.

In October 2009, Chancler returned to Louisiana to become St. Landry’s supervisor of child nutrition. The parish’s economic makeup is a big driver behind Chancler’s local mission: More than 85% of the 14,000 students at the parish’s 32 schools are eligible for...

Menu Development
chefs council spread

Last October, we published the results of FoodService Director’s first annual Chefs’ Council Menu Trends survey, revealing predictions for menu shake-ups in 2016 . Many of the predictions panned out, including an increase in snacking, ever-spicier flavor profiles, veg-centric plates, fresh-pressed juices and build-your-own options. Now we’re back with next year’s forecast, culled from our panel of 50 Chefs’ Council members—culinarians representing the core segments of noncommercial foodservice. Some of the flavors, ingredients and cuisines expand on current trends, while others go off in...

FSD Resources