Taking back the shaker

Operators find solutions to lower sodium.

Published in FSD Update

robert-wood-johnson-mango-salmon

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

Sponsored Content
WinCup foam food containers

From WinCup.

Cost control.

Two little words that are essential to every foodservice director’s day-to-day activities.

Keeping costs in check is paramount in running a functioning food operation, of course. But the ripples of cost control can extend beyond your bottom line. And savvy directors must balance customer satisfaction on the P&L sheet.

Fiscal Responsibility

The foundation of cost control is accepting fiscal responsibility, which requires a solid understanding of foodservice accounting. Prime cost, the combined cost of food and labor, is an...

Industry News & Opinion

Orange County Community College in upstate New York is replacing its dining staff with vending machines , The Times Herald-Record reports.

The staff members, who will be let go in June, include nine full-time and three part-time workers. Students say they will miss the employees and the access to fresh food.

The Orange County Community College Association, which oversees the school’s cafeterias, says the layoffs were partly due to a $150,000 deficit accumulated by foodservice operations last year.

Read the full story via The Times Herald-Record .

Industry News & Opinion

Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, is eliminating paper cups in its Commons dining hall and has given each student a reusable stainless steel mug as a replacement, bates.edu reports.

The mugs were distributed via a promotion earlier this week where students could fill their new mugs with a free smoothie. Stickers and other trinkets were set out for students to use to “bling” their mugs.

Dining services turned to students to determine which type of mug would be offered. The college also installed a mug-washing sink in the dining Commons earlier this year.

Read the...

Industry News & Opinion

Compass has partnered with Jose Andres ’ ThinkFoodGroup, allowing the chef and foodservice vendor to collaborate at such venues as stadiums and college campuses.

“With this partnership, we have the opportunity to tell stories and connect with people through food on an entirely new level,” Andres said in a release.

The three-year team-up comes shortly after Andres opened a ThinkFoodLab pop-up in Washington, D.C., which will serve as a recipe R&D space for his restaurant group.

ThinkFoodGroup was this year named a Power 20 multiconcept operator by Restaurant...

FSD Resources