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

Managing Your Business
wurster west may 2016

At a nearly 150-year-old university, every stone column and classroom has treasured stories to tell. But with that history come the logistical challenges of operating in outdated spaces—especially for foodservice. Such is the case at University of California at Berkeley, where longtime cafe Ramona’s in Wurster Hall closed in March to make way for an updated, as-yet unnamed concept.

With little more than a steam table and coolers, Ramona’s was limited by its lack of ventilation. And, as a former classroom space, it never was intended to function for foodservice, says Jennifer Wolch...

Ideas and Innovation
chicken herbs

We make and broadcast short YouTube videos on TV monitors to educate our customers about cooking techniques, like how to cut up a chicken or what herbs and spices go well together. The monitors also are used to display daily menus, nutritional and allergen information, upcoming foodservice events and local weather forecasts.

Ideas and Innovation
leftovers containers

We use our Menu Forward idea to empower staff to develop menu items and keep leftovers in check. Product left at the end of service may be claimed by any station to become part of a new item within six weeks. I’m happy to see my star team fighting for their ideas and products; the benefit to food cost is spot-on, and my freezer has no mystery items lurking in the corner.

Menu Development
muse school produce

Kayla Webb, executive chef at Muse School, has transitioned the private K-12 day school in Calabasas, Calif., to an entirely vegan menu over a three-year period. Webb talks about her menuing, and how the school’s kitchen earned the title of “greenest restaurant in the world” from the Green Restaurant Association.

Q: How did you help parents get used to the idea of an all plant-based diet?

A: The first year, we didn’t announce it. We were just serving one plant-based meal a week, so it wasn’t that drastic. We do monthly Muse Talks where we invite different speakers to our school to...

FSD Resources