A lighter take on ranch dressing

ranch dressing chicken fingers

While salad bars are often the first place K-12 operators look to incorporate more fresh produce, few go as far as making their own salad dressings. But last fall, in a continuing effort to transition from prepackaged meals to an all-scratch menu, Mark Augustine, executive chef of culinary and nutrition services for Minneapolis Public Schools, switched to concocting four varieties in-house—ranch, Caesar, Italian and Asian vinaigrette. The move, designed to eliminate artificial ingredients and lower fat and sodium, presented the biggest challenge when it came to ranch dressing, the school-wide favorite. “Ranch dressing is the new ketchup. I’m amazed at how much students use,” he says, adding that it serves as a veggie and chicken dip as well as a dressing. Augustine’s team took six months to develop, rework and kid-test the recipe before rolling it out, but the results are already boosting salad consumption. 

  1. Augustine’s goal was to retain the creamy characteristics and flavor profile of prepared ranch dressing using all-natural ingredients. He swapped regular mayonnaise for the light variety, and added yogurt from a regional dairy in Iowa. Its rich and creamy texture made up for the lack of emulsifiers used in processed yogurts, says Augustine.
  2. Tartness was another challenge. “We tried several different vinegars—white, apple cider and champagne vinegar—to get the right balance of tart and sweet,” says Augustine. Through trial and error, the winning result was a mix of white vinegar, lemon juice and plain yogurt. Doubling the amount of dried tarragon and adding dill weed pumps up the flavor, he says.
  3. The dressing is made in quantities that can be used within a week; otherwise it separates when stored. Since the dressing doesn’t sit as long, the dried herbs don’t lose flavor, says Augustine. The recipes prompted the school district to invest in new equipment so that all four dressings can be packaged on-site in single-serve cups.

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