Used to be, if you wanted to guarantee a dish’s popularity, just fry it. But as both diners and public policy makers have continued to push for healthier meal options, non-commercial operators are leaving fried foods by the wayside in favor of those that are baked or roasted. And in many cases, the results are just as delicious.
Recently updated nutrition standards for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs have prompted public schools to trim the fat. It’s not always easy: Roasted potatoes are periodically swapped in for hash browns during breakfast and lunch at Epping School District, in New Hampshire, but they aren’t as popular with students. “This is an ongoing learning experience, so trial and error is our focus these days,” says Veronica Bush, foodservices supervisor.
Other schools, like Chandler Unified School District, in Arizona, don’t consider frying to be an acceptable option. “The fact is, we just haven’t fried in years,” says Nutrition Supervisor Wesley Delbridge, R.D. “All of the poultry and beef we bring in house is either baked or roasted, and nothing in our in-house bakery is ever fried.” The chicken corn dog that’s purchased from an outside vendor is also ovenable, and Delbridge is even looking into buying lower fat french fries that are not par-fried at the manufacturer level.
Hancock Regional Hospital, in Greenfield, Ind., has found success offering baked or grilled versions of formerly fried favorites, like baked french fries, baked chicken fingers and grilled fish sandwiches. The most popular dish, though, might be oven-fried chicken breasts, seasoned with paprika and onion powder and breaded with crispy crushed corn flakes. “We started serving the oven-fried chicken to our patients about a year and a half ago, and it was so popular that we added it to our cafeteria menu,” says Sandi Bernhard, coordinator for nutritional services. “Most of the patients say they like it because it isn’t greasy and it has a really good flavor. And we’re also able to serve it to our patients who are on modified diets.”
It’s a similar story at West Virginia University, in Morgantown, where frying was eliminated six years ago. There, the residential dining facility nixed most breaded items that would typically be prepared in a fryer. Breaded chicken strips were replaced with grilled chicken breast strips, and french fries were dropped in favor of roasted red skin potatoes or brown rice. Donald Fike, residential dining manager, says at first students found the no-fry concept tough to take. He says what softened the blow was that the change came at the beginning of the school year as opposed to the middle of a semester. “We underwent a major renovation during the summer,” Fike says. “When the students returned, we started the year not offering deep-fried foods. They did not miss it as bad as they might have if we were to try [to make] the change in the middle of the school year.”
Meanwhile, the few items on the menu that are still breaded, like breaded chicken breasts, are baked in combi ovens. Best of all, the university has been able to use money that was previously spent on fryers and frying oil to increase fresh items served at the salad bar. “The student response has been great over the years, as the students find there are healthier options that are good tasting as well as good for you,” Fike says.