4 menu ideas to beat the winter blahs

soup bar

Menu innovation can fall into a rut in winter, what with the limited fresh produce selection and dearth of local ingredients. But resourceful chefs and foodservice directors are not letting slim pickings hamper their culinary inspiration. These operators are enticing diners with customizable comfort foods, healthy spins on all-time favorites and regional specialties with local roots. Read on for a few. 

1. Do the mashed potatoes

mashed potatoes

Although potatoes are in good supply throughout the winter, serving them for school lunch day after day can get boring. To keep students excited about spuds, Joe Urban, director of food and nutrition services at Greenville County Schools in South Carolina, sets up a mashed potato bar with a choice of protein-rich toppings to create a nutritionally balanced meal. Although several options are available, turkey pot roast and meatballs are the most popular so far, says Urban. The mashed potato bar was launched in December and will continue through the winter. Urban reports that it has been an enormous success with students, adding that his research shows kids tend to eat other vegetables when paired with potatoes.

2. Customization simmers at the soup bar

soup bar

At Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Ore., a branded soup bar has increased overall sales of soup without taking customers away from other options, according to Food Service Director Kristen Trout. The soups use frozen, vegetarian bases—a move that saves labor and provides a universally acceptable starting point. From there, customers can add meat, poultry and seafood if they wish, along with black beans, broccoli, kale, peppers, scallions, cilantro, cheese, rice, noodles and other ingredients. Signage offers suggestions on soup combinations, such as Thai Coconut Soup and Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup—the two favorites, says Trout. The self-service soup program has spurred an increase in participation and now operates in two additonal retail locations. A small size sells for $4.95, while the large goes for $5.95.

3. Wings get grounded

bbq chicken

With the Super Bowl and March Madness around the corner, foodservice operators are digging into the recipe files for chicken wing variations and setting up DIY saucing stations. But Chris Studtmann, district executive chef for Sodexo at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., is offering an alternative. “I want to do less frying of food for athletes and other health-minded students,” he says. So instead of fried wings drenched in a spicy butter sauce, Studtmann developed a Buffalo roast chicken. A whole chicken is marinated in a housemade wing sauce consisting of tomato juice and spices, then cooked until it gets a nice, crispy skin, he says. It’s a comforting, more versatile choice that can be served as a dinner entree as well as a game-day option.

4. A little local flavor

chicken and waffles

While local ingredients may be hard to come by in winter, it’s possible to add local flavor to the menu. On Jan. 31, Residential Dining at Pennsylvania State University in University Park will offer a Pennsylvania Dutch meal during two dayparts. Chicken and waffles star at lunch, while dinner features ham pot pie and German redskin potato salad. Two other regional specialties—pickled eggs and shoofly cake—are available at both meals.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion
Richard cousins

Compass Group confirmed this morning that CEO Richard Cousins was killed on New Year’s Eve in a small-plane crash off the coast of Australia. He was 58.

Cousins was scheduled to step down as CEO in March, after leading the world’s largest foodservice management company for 11 years. His planned successor, Compass COO Dominic Blakemore, has agreed to assume Cousins’ duties immediately.

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news,” Compass Chairman Paul Walsh said in a statement. “It has been a great privilege to know Richard personally and to work with him for...

Menu Development
to-go meals

Drew Allen didn’t hesitate when asked what he expects of noncommercial dining in the future. “Change,” he says. “We have to change with the times and what our guests are looking for.”

Allen, the director of culinary services at Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices in Lebanon, Ohio, says the more the residents and guests at Otterbein change, the more diverse eating habits his team has the chance to explore. One of those changing habits, he says, is diners’ growing desire for portable, made-to-order items . That’s a theme borne out by data, too—and is true across dayparts. Roughly 67%...

Ideas and Innovation
trail mix

We’ve added fueling stations in our units for our workers who didn’t have time to eat or just need a snack. We have areas set up with trail mix, crackers, cookies and water. It helps us avoid people feeling or getting ill, especially when we get closer to exam periods and student workers are studying and not taking the time to eat.

Ideas and Innovation
email

Communication is key, and [managers] are busy too. One tip I picked up from another director was to label my subject line with the header “action,” “information” or “response” followed by a brief description of the email contents. That way they can filter through their inboxes during their busy days to know which emails need their attention immediately and which they can save to read later.

FSD Resources