Salads Pick Up the Protein

Operators offer whole grains and beans in salads to help reduce fat and calories.

Chilled salmon salad with citrus orange onions from the
National Onion Association.

Adding protein to salads allows foodservice operators to beef up the nutrition factor of entrées already perceived as healthy. Today’s proteins go beyond the mainstream beef, chicken and seafood as operators add less traditional protein options such as fava beans, bulgur, quinoa, kidney or garbanzo beans, cottage cheese and hard-boiled eggs to entrée salads.

In Chicago, Bob Bloomer, regional vice president for Chartwells with the Chicago Public School system, says the schools do a lot with these items such as in a turkey, ham and cheese salad, turkey antipasto, a tuna chef’s salad, a popcorn chef’s salad with shrimp, and a fiesta salad with beans, cheese, whole-grain corn chips and lettuce. Another popular protein salad is a barbecue chicken salad.

“We run a protein salad every day, and it’s important that kids see them and have more salad choices,” says Bloomer. “Some [sell] really well. We find that the third-graders are adventurous and we try to do something new every year to introduce them to new menu items.”

At John Muir Health’s three locations in California, Alison Negrin, foodservice director, says there is an increasing interest in non-meat protein sources. To meet that need, Negrin serves a quinoa salad with spring vegetables, as well as a grilled chicken breast salad with a ginger dressing and a tuna salad with green beans, corn and potatoes.

“I put these salads on the menu to give our customers and clients variety and a break from the traditional entrée plate,” Negrin says. “Entrée salads tend to be lighter, more colorful and textural, and they provide an opportunity to feature seasonal fruits and vegetables. With the advice we’re getting [from nutritionists] about increasing fruit and vegetable intake and lowering meat consumption, entrée salads such as these are becoming more popular.”

Sharon Searles, director of nutrition at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, Maine, also is increasing fruit offerings, along with protein, with such items as a strawberry chicken salad served over spinach. The department also serves a grilled chicken salad that includes walnuts and Craisins, while another grilled chicken salad comes with field greens, feta cheese, walnuts and mandarin oranges, dressed with a fat-free raspberry dressing. Searles also adds steak to the Caesar salad and has a Rodeo Ranch chicken salad with barbecue sauce and ranch dressing mixed equally over iceberg lettuce and romaine, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. Another popular option is a salad made with salsa, pineapple and chicken marinated in teriyaki sauce, served with mixed greens, tortilla chips and a Dijon mustard and lime juice dressing.

Build your own: A chef’s salad that features a variety of proteins is a hit at Cincinnati Public Schools, according to Jessica Shelly, foodservice director, who uses turkey, ham or grilled chicken in the salad. Students build their own salads at 33 salad bars in the system.

“We just got 22 more [salad bars],” Shelly notes. “Sometimes the students like to take the entrée and eat it over salad greens. They’re very creative. They’ll take a soft taco and put it on a garden salad or put Buffalo chicken wings over greens. The protein servings are usually two ounces.”

At Xavier University in Cincinnati, Executive Chef Tom Turnbull’s customers like to pick their choices and have them prepared to order.

“We do a sizzling Caesar salad with blackened flank steak, Parmesan cheese and romaine, as well as our Black and Blue salad with grilled flank steak or chicken, portobello mushrooms, red onions and blue cheese,” Turnbull says. “The students like to see what they’re getting. They also like our fried chicken cobb salad with deep-fried chicken tenders and our taco salad with housemade taco shells and ground turkey or beef.”

At Lehigh Valley Health Network, based in Allentown, Pa., Todd Saylor, general manager of retail and culinary, is pushing wellness initiatives. One such program is a Wellness Bar, which offers protein salads that focus on Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and other international fare. The department’s Mjadra Salad consists of lentils, cracked wheat and onions. Olive oil offers a flavorful base for anything the chefs put with the salad, such as grilled shrimp, garlic, hummus and roasted veggies, Saylor says.

Ethnic flavors: At Southern Maine Medical Center, in Biddeford, Maine, Mike Sabo, director of hospitality services, sees his goal as “leading the charge in offering healthy items for our employees, patients and their guests. We are places of healing.”

Sabo says his department offers such items as a Mediterranean chicken plate, which features grilled, spiced chicken breast, tabbouleh and hummus on a bed of baby spinach, garnished with Kalamata olives and ripe tomatoes dressed lightly with a toasted spice yogurt. Most recently, he’s been testing a new protein salad with a grilled falafel patty served over greens.

Harvard University Dining Services’ Martin Breslin, director of culinary operations, runs a couple of make-your-own stations in the undergraduate board plan, which he says the students love. The Panzanella salad bar offers grilled chicken, baby arugula, feta, tomato wedges, fresh basil, pickled red onion, organic extra virgin olive oil, Kalamata olives, fresh ground black pepper and rosemary focaccia.

Nutritious Choice Alliance

Aramark teams with salad chain for on-campus units.

The opening of locations of Salad Creations, a 50-unit restaurant chain, at Florida State University, in Tallahassee, and the University of Florida, in Gainesville, is broadening Aramark’s salad portfolio at the accounts.

With a variety of protein salads that range from albacore tuna to sustainable wild Alaskan salmon and all-natural grilled chicken, the concept, which offers tossed or chopped salads in bowls or wraps, prepared individually for the customer, is getting positive feedback from students at Florida State, says Randy Clark, foodservice manager for Aramark at the university.

“Sixty percent of the students choose their salads in bowls while 40% prefer them in a wrap,” Clark says. “Most popular is the Buffalo chicken Caesar, which has a spiciness.”

Other popular items are the wild Alaskan salmon salad, which features ginger-glazed salmon served on a bed of spinach with feta cheese, sunflower seeds, mixed greens, edamame, wonton strips, cilantro and red onions; Sophie’s Strawberry Chicken Salad, which features fresh cranberries, strawberries and a housemade raspberry vinaigrette dressing tossed with a crisp summer mix of greens with candied pecans, Gorgonzola cheese and all-natural grilled chicken; the Derby Chicken Cobb Salad with grilled chicken, avocado, blue cheese, bacon bits, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and fried onions, with a honey Dijon dressing; and the Baja Shrimp Cobb with a smoky jalapeño ranch dressing, of which Clark says “the flavors just explode in your mouth."


Takeout Thai Shrimp Salad a Hit

Chris Linaman, executive chef at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue, Wash., enjoys the flexibility and freedom to create dishes, such as the Thai Shrimp Salad he developed for patient menus in late 2009 and recently added to his retail menus. The Thai flavors work well with the hospital’s diverse clientele.

“Our customer base here is Russian, East Indian, East Asian and a little bit Hispanic. We decided we wanted to cater to those ethnicities. Our goal initially was to branch out of traditional hospital food and offer something more ethnic to patients, who are here an average of 2.6 days. It’s something different and we saw a demand for that, and it’s a touch of home.

In this recipe all the vegetables are organic and the shrimp are big ones—16/20 count prawns—and it’s definitely a hit. There’s also napa cabbage. The big shrimp offer a lot of flavor and help us kick things up a notch.

It’s an easy recipe to prepare. We buy the lemongrass vinaigrette from a local Seattle vendor, and the chili sauce is a bottled sauce that we also buy. It was fun for me because my culinary background is more continental and Mediterranean. I like to experiment, and we do focus groups on all our

menu items. We’ve had lots of accolades on the Thai Shrimp Salad locally on radio and TV. It’s a very simple technique; the hardest thing is grilling the shrimp. The whole idea was to give patients and guests something they would not have expected in a hospital.

We present the salad in a Chinese takeout box, and the patients and retail customers love it. When our team was brainstorming it, we decided to just try it and it worked. We serve it with the box on its side under a plastic dome on the room service menus. For retail, catered functions or meetings the box is vertical.”

Thai Shrimp Salad

One salad

1 oz. Black Swan lemongrass dressing
1 oz. sweet chili sauce
2 oz. rice noodles, cooked
1 oz. cabbage, shredded
1/2 oz. red onion
1/2 oz. carrot, shredded
1/8 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1 oz. bok choy
1/2 oz. cashews
3 oz. shrimp, grilled

  1. 1Mix dressing and chili sauce together, then toss with cabbage, onion, carrot, cilantro and rice noodles.
  2. Arrange on plate. Garnish with cashews and shrimp.

Note: This recipe could also be made with chicken or tofu.