As Americans try to eat more healthfully, salads take a more prominent role in cafeterias.
Whether premade in bowls or selected from items on a bar, salads have evolved dramatically from the days when iceberg ruled. The ubiquitous head has been supplanted by a much wider variety of greens—mesclun, Romaine, Bibb and leaf, to name a few. In addition, today’s chefs employ an array of exotic ingredients, from seaweed to dried cherries to seeds and nuts atop this broader spectrum of greens, reflecting their customers’ love affair with ethnic cuisines as well as the quest for organic, locally produced and sustainable fare and an emphasis on healthier foods.
“We’re getting away from traditional salads,” says Heather Walker-Pardo, assistant manager of retail services at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey University Hospital in Newark, N.J. Dressings also have changed, she points out, becoming lighter.
“People are generally eating healthier and looking for healthier foods that taste good. Our chef is doing different, lighter dressings like a citrus or mango vinaigrette.”
Between retail and patient customers, the hospital serves 4,000 to 4,500 meals a day. “We’ve had a salad bar since our inception, but it’s now more creative,” she adds. “We always have a line for it.”
“They like the mango vinaigrette over mixed greens with grilled chicken,” says Gregory Dukes, executive chef at UMDNJ. “That’s real popular, and I’ll do one with grilled salmon, tomato, cucumbers and a strawberry vinaigrette on mixed greens, too.”
An option for vegetarians, Walker-Pardo notes, is a Milanese-style salad on toasted seasoned flatbread, but without the veal or chicken.
An “Off the Eaten Path” station with chef selections “does very well with salads,” she adds. “We do a lot of promotions to keep our customers interested. We did one with a ginger chicken over salad greens with an orange ginger dressing, and another with fresh grilled salmon grilled with cucumber yogurt dressing on greens. We also do Chicken Tikka on skewers over salad.”
The facility recently raised its prices for “the first time in a long time,” she says, to keep pace with rising costs. “We’re working with the chef on small, scaled-back salads. Smaller portions are healthier and we’re obligated as a healthcare facility to present food that’s as healthy as possible.”
More produce, please: At Prince William County Schools, Manassas, Va., School Food and Nutrition Services Director Serena Suthers has placed a greater emphasis on fruits and vegetables this year, which translates to more salad offerings, as well as snacks. “We do a daily chef’s salad or entrée choice with things the kids want,” says Suthers. “Our most popular are taco or chicken fajita salads or the chicken bacon salad, and they come with bread and milk for a complete meal. Students are eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, and we see a lot of interest in fruit combos like apple wedges with yogurt.”
What’s your order? At Hess Corp. in Houston, Foodservice Director Randy Fournier serves about 600 lunches a day, with around 30% of sales coming from salads.
“We do tossed salads to order,” Fournier notes. “Once you add protein to it, it becomes a meal.” A regularly changing variety of salads such as Caesar, Greek and Oriental are available, and Southwest Caesar with poblano dressing and grilled shrimp is very popular, he says.
Fruit salads are favorites with students in Shawnee (Okla.) Public Schools, according to Foodservice Director Deborah Taylor. “We do an ambrosia fruit salad with coconut or orange slices in orange Jell-O, and we use orange juice for half of the liquid,” Taylor says, adding that she likes “straightforward” salads. “We don’t try to hide foods in other foods to disguise them. There’s a trust factor we like to consider.”
In the elementary schools, Taylor does chef and taco salads as a part of the cycle. “We do Caesar with added greens, too. I like to use spinach. We also use broccoli and dried cranberries or cherries and sunflower seeds. We try to show our students things they can eat at home as snacks, too, and that’s what’s fun—things like little green onions or broccoli with dip.”
At the headquarters of Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Mo., Foodservice Director Christine Rankin offers specialty salads and several grab-and-go packaged salads in one café and seven different salads in others.
“We have a basic salad bar in our main dining room that we beefed up about a year and a half ago,” Rankin says. “It has four varieties of salad greens. We offer whole-grain options, walnuts, dried raisins, bulgur, and proteins like chicken, roast beef and salmon.” The bar also offers berries, nuts, cottage cheese, and goat and feta cheeses.
“It’s incredibly popular,” says Rankin. “We had to double (the size) last year. They buy it by weight and they very quickly become architects.”
At a station in the cafeteria that features exhibition cooking, salads called “Hot Toppings, Cool Greens” feature stir-fried steak, chicken or vegetables with various toppings.
Eat & learn: At Pocono Medical Center, East Stroudsburg, Pa., salads were part of a new Eat & Learn nutrition education program for hospital staffers, according to Heidi Franssen, foodservice director. In the program, dietitians converted recipes to be low fat, such as a grilled chicken salad served on top of greens. “We also do a (more traditional) chicken salad with fat-free mayonnaise,” says Franssen.
In the cafeteria, which is managed by Metz & Associates, display cooking stations are used to prepare special salads, and in warmer weather, salad proteins are grilled in the courtyard on barbecues. “We’ll do grilled flank steak or salmon kebabs and they add toppings and have them over greens or rice,” Franssen says.
Just the Basics
Operators are returning to simpler salads, bringing value to the health equation.
Customer demand can be a key driver of what turns up on a salad bar. At Sodexo Corporate Services, Development Chef Chuck Hatfield recently introduced a new line of value-priced items called “Salad Basics”—smaller, low-cost salad cups for value-conscious customers.
These smaller, portable versions of favorite entrée salads are designed to go and include a tabbouleh salad cup with lemon vinaigrette, grilled chicken Caesar salad cup, classic chef salad Cup and Chinese chicken salad cup.
Basic Caesar salad is “the all-time favorite,” Hatfield explains. “In the corporate world, with cutbacks going on, we are trying to offer more value-priced recipes, designed for those without a lot of time to linger over lunch and who just want a little.”
Chicken is the most popular protein in salads, although Hatfield sees a growing focus on shrimp, seafood and tofu. “Entrée salads continue to grow in popularity,” he notes. “We’re seeing more emphasis on health.”
He uses “green mixes—Asian, Mediterranean, baby lettuces and micro greens” and sometimes develops his own blends. “Greens with herb mixes are becoming more popular. We are also seeing interest in specialty cheeses beyond blue cheese and cheddar such as Asiago and goat cheese.”
Hatfield developed a spring herb salad with mint, dill, radishes, sugar snap peas and a light cucumber vinaigrette that’s been well received, and a mango chicken salad that combines jicama, mango, barbeque sauce, chicken and an orange dressing. Other favorites are Thai shrimp salad and a grilled chicken Caesar with a feta cheese vinaigrette and pita bread croutons.
Another variation on the classic Caesar salad combines grilled chicken, marinated artichokes, roasted red pepper, olives and tomato.
Today’s customers demand more variety, he notes. “People have a sense of comfort with salads, although today they expect a bit of a twist.”
At Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Nello Allegrucci, general manager and executive chef at the Metz account, likes to put his own twist on entrée salads, finding success with a fresh fruit chef’s salad that combines cantaloupe, honeydew melon and pineapple that’s garnished with strawberries, blueberries and granola, tossed with honey poppyseed vinaigrette over iceberg lettuce. “It’s a nice, light summer menu item.”
Salads run around 50% of sales. “Ninety percent of our customers are women. We have 800 people in the building and we serve at least 500.”
“I’m seeing a lot of light dressings and healthier accompaniments like dried fruits and nuts, blueberries, Craisins and wheat croutons. They add a different complexity. The next big thing will be roasted red and gold peppers, and mixed grains like lentils, orzo, barley tossed with spinach.” —S.H.
CSU director meets the challenge of getting fresh produce in winter.
Deon Lategan, director of residential dining facilities at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., says he sometimes feels like he’s feeding “5,000 environmentalists every day.” Student demand for healthy, organic and local produce continues to increase each year. But, he points out, it is not always easy to find fresh produce in Colorado in the winter. He manages, however, while operating nine dining centers throughout the school year serving three meals a day, seven days a week and providing the same services during the summer.
“We buy local when we can find it and get it. In the summer we do a lot of conference business here. Salads are hugely popular with females attending conferences, and 90% of our conferees are women.
Our new hot salad station, Sizzlin’ Salads, in the dining commons in both Corbett Dining Center and at Ram’s Horn in the new Academic Village complex, is hugely successful with our customers. There’s a constant line there. We created the new station because of the popularity and success of the first venue.
It was created as a result of our desire to offer restaurant-quality entrée salads, tossed to order and topped with a freshly sautéed protein such as beef, chicken, tofu, tempeh or shrimp. We serve them in large black bowls with the ingredients specified by the customer. We add the dressing and toss to distribute it evenly and then add the sautéed ingredients on top.
We have two induction cookers and offer two different kinds of protein—one meat and one vegetarian. We might do teriyaki beef or flank steak and tofu. To have the salad tossed for you really makes all the difference in the world. It’s hard to do it at the table with your knife and fork and really get it tossed.
Details like choosing creative dressings, cutting the ingredients properly in bite-sized pieces, adding just the right amount of dressing and tossing each salad in front of the customer helps ensure its continued success. Right now we have 16 different recipes, the most popular being the Chinese orange beef noodle, barbeque chicken, cranberry feta and fajita salads. The Chinese orange beef noodle came about after I saw the success of a spicy orange beef and vegetable stir-fry we serve and thought it would taste great as a salad option.
We have salad bars in all of our dining facilities and offer one or two specialty salads a day. On our standard menu, we offer three lettuces, dressings and toppings and rotate in items like water-packed tuna, cubed and shredded cheese and sunflower seeds. We’ll also do pasta salads. By rotating, it gives you greater variety.
We try to use as many different grains as possible to make them appealing for vegetarians but with the hope that all will find them interesting. We have a strong nutrition education program in our dining centers and take every opportunity to educate our customers on the virtues of items they may not be familiar with such as quinoa and edamame. We also offer fresh cut fruits, served plain and often as ingredients in salads.
We get a lot of compliments on our salads. One that is very popular is a broccoli and grape composed side salad. Nineteen year olds are not usually known for liking broccoli. But when we introduced this, both students and faculty bombarded me for recipes.”