Fresh flavor—without the labor cost

pasta salad fresh ingredients speed scratch

From Reser’s Foodservice.

Scheduling the labor necessary for producing tasty and nutritious food for patients, staff and the public is a daily challenge in the healthcare segment.

To help accomplish more without exceeding labor budgets, some operators have found success with prepared foods that save time and prep work. Salads and side dishes that are easily customized with fresh ingredients can be especially useful across all menu parts.

At Park Ridge Health, a 103-bed hospital in Hendersonville, N.C., and a part of the Adventist Health System, Executive Chef Robin Pharris supplements scratch cooking with high-quality prepared salads. The latter are building blocks of menus with high culinary standards and local produce.

“We don’t serve your typical cafeteria-type fare here,” says Pharris. “We try to buy as much fresh, local product as we can get. And we take a lot of pride in the presentation of our food. We have a hot line, not a food court like other hospitals have.”

Park Ridge purchases peppers, tomatoes and other seasonal vegetables from a local company that follows a HACCP food-safety plan, something that’s vitally important for the well-being of patients with compromised immune systems, according to Pharris. In addition to using this produce in from-scratch menu items, she also regularly uses it to give a fresh twist to speed-scratch dishes based on prepared salads, such as Reser’s Foodservice pasta salad.

“We add diced fresh peppers, chives and scallions, feta cheese and black olives to that to make it into something new,” says Pharris. “This saves on labor, but it is important that it is a good product to begin with.”

Pharris also puts a personal stamp on Reser’s Foodservice coleslaw. She tweaks it into barbecue-flavored slaw—sans pork, of course, in keeping with Adventist dietary practices. “We don’t serve any pork or shellfish here, so I have to be really creative and inventive to keep food fresh and different all the time,” says Pharris.

She also customizes Reser’s Foodservice macaroni salad and red-skin potato salad. “Everybody likes our salads, and they can’t believe we don’t make them all the way from scratch,” says Pharris. “For me, the main thing is that I am still able to be creative and offer fresh, quality items while working with partially pre-made products. Cooking the pasta and all that is time consuming; what I get to do is just the fun part.”

Using prepared foods such as these has also helped Pharris optimize the efforts of a 33-person kitchen team that she calls a well-oiled machine. “We used to chop everything, prep everything, make everything from scratch here,” says Pharris. “My budget was just out of control. We’ve reduced it probably by about $400,000 by using more convenience items.”

High food quality and convenience are also top-of-mind for London Health Sciences Centre in London, Ontario, Canada, a 1,049-bed hospital serving about 850 patient meals three times per day. The hospital relies on Reser’s Foodservice mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes.

“We were using a competitor’s potatoes previously,” says Frances Best, nutrition assistant at London. “It was the taste that got us to switch. They are just like homemade. The mashed potatoes have little lumps like the way you mash them at home. That’s how people know they’re not instant.”

Best explains that London, like many hospitals in the province, has replaced full-scale kitchens and cooks with a labor-saving, cold-plating system. For example, Reser’s Foodservice refrigerated potatoes are transferred to pans on the tray line and scooped cold onto the plates. The trays are heated in the oven for 38 minutes prior to delivery to patients.

The fact that Reser’s Foodservice products are refrigerated, not frozen, saves additional time and labor on the tray line.

“We were previously using a frozen product that we had to thaw,” says Best. “It’s so much nicer to have them ready to use and not to need to pull them out of the freezer and temper them.”

For more tips on how to use convenient prepared salads on your menu, visit Reser’s Foodservice here.

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