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Healthy & Tasty

Good nutrition in any foodservice operation is not just a matter of selecting the right foods to offer your campers. It is also important to prepare those foods in ways that maintain their nutritive benefits.

Simply altering cooking techniques or ingredients can have a profound effect on the nutrient content of the foods we prepare. We will discuss cooking strategies and some fantastic secret ingredients chefs have used for years to add rich flavors while lowering salt and fats in your recipes.

Nutrition can be exciting if you adapt your recipes to maximize the flavors that are already there with the help of some great enhancement products.

Foodservice operators are blessed with a wide range of products that can make meal times exciting as well as healthy. Campers gathering for the evening meal after a full day of activities look forward to rich, flavorful menu offerings.

Although healthy and nutritious are not the first things on the diners' minds, by adopting a few easy methods and techniques you can serve flavorful selections that also happen to be healthy.

Ingredients for Success

Without getting into the science of each ingredient, here are some easy alternatives that can make a big difference in the nutrition of your recipes.

• When sautéing, cooking or griddling your foods, substitute olive or canola oil for butter, margarine or liquid flavored butters. Liquid butters, especially, have a very high sodium content. Oils such as olive or canola are leaner and you get an additional benefit -- the flavors of the food actually come through more because heavier fats such as butter or margarine mask or cover up your taste buds and foods seem less flavorful. Just this change heightens the flavor of the ingredients in your recipes.

• Remove the skin and trim all visible fat from meats. White meat contains less fat than dark meat. Turkey can be substituted for chicken breast. Turkey ham can be substituted for real ham. It really does taste like ham and works well in salads, sandwiches and breakfast dishes.

• Experiment with fresh herbs and spices to add bold flavor without any additional salt or fat.

• Lower that dreaded salt with professional chefs' Secret Ingredients. Great chefs have long known how to add a rich boost of flavor to any recipe and reduce the sodium at the same time by using top quality food bases and flavor concentrates. Everyone remembers Bouillon Cubes, which are poor substitutes for scratch cooking. They are 80 percent salt with some dry flavors pressed into a cube or sold as an inexpensive food base for about $2 per pound. Today's finest quality food bases are fresh pastes that are prepared using the actual meat and have only about 1/3 salt. These are the products you should use. Chefs in the finest foodservice operations use these in place of salt to richen every recipe. They know that you only use a base at about 3 percent of the total recipe weight, but it contributes a significant added flavor. This secret ingredient assures fantastic flavor every time. Most fine quality meat-first paste bases sell for about $5 per pound, but being the key flavors in a recipe, they only add a fraction of a penny per portion.

• Flavor concentrates are a new generation of products available just in the last few years. They are freshly made pastes with a very low amount of sodium (8-10 percent) that allow a chef to add great bold flavor on demand. Products I have used include Roasted Garlic, Roasted Red Pepper, Chipotle, Ancho, Sun Dried Tomato Pesto and Cilantro Lime and many great fruit purees.

• For low-fat baking success replace half of the butter or margarine in a recipe with applesauce, mashed ripe bananas or drained crushed pineapples. Substitute at a ratio of 3/4 cup of applesauce for every 1 cup of butter. I have learned that substituting only half the amount of fat still lowers the overall fat but does not make the item too lean and dry.

Methods that Make it Work

Healthy, great-flavored ingredients are a good start, but remember to consider the method you prepare your recipes to lower the overall fat or maintain the nutritional value of the ingredients you use…

• Use non-stick pans and cooking spray to reduce the need for oil and butter.

• Grill or roast meat on a rack so the fat drips away.

• Add flavor to lean meats by marinating them in low fat vinaigrette dressings enhanced with food bases or flavor concentrates.

• Steaming, baking or roasting your meats is the best way to assure you do not add fat to the recipe in the cooking process.

• Consider char-grilling your softer or blanched vegetables lightly to add flavor. For example, use Grilled Vegetable Ratatouille as a side dish or pasta topping.

• Stir-fry and soy sauce need not be synonymous. Rice, noodle and broth bowls are the trend, and a healthy and very cost effective menu offering. By using Mediterranean, Southwest or Caribbean seasonings or ingredients, for example, you can offer a variety of menu items with fantastic flavor. Toss bite-size pieces of boneless chicken, chopped red and green peppers, onions, garlic with black beans and corn and finish with an Ancho or Chipotle flavored chicken broth thickened with cornstarch, rather than a thick prepared sweet sauce. Portion over pasta or Spanish rice and garnish with a fresh salsa for a great Southwestern Noodle or Rice Bowl that has very low added fat and sodium.

Incorporating a selection of these products and techniques give all foodservice operators the ability to lower overall fat and sodium, but -- better yet -- bring a level of great flavor your campers will appreciate.

Some easy ideas:

• Add Ancho, Chipotle or sun dried tomato pesto to your creamy salad dressings or Alfredo sauce.

• Add roasted garlic to your mashed potatoes or rice.

• Season your ground beef and meatloaf with beef base at about 2 tsp. per pound.

• Before baking, roasting or sautéing, lightly rub chicken base on chicken instead of salt for added flavor.

Additional resources:

• If you are interested in learning more about the Food Guide Pyramid there is a great website that will answer all your questions at www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/Fpyr/pyramid.html

• Nutrition Analysis Software: There are many products out there, and the National Restaurant Association Web site offers a Windows package that allows you to enter your recipes, scale them up or down, create shopping lists and recipe cards, as well as nutritional values. This Web site also includes additional information tabs, including Food Safety, Government and Legal, Running Your Business and Industry Research. Go to www.restaurant.org/store/ and select the health and safety section.

Knowing the secrets and methods of great chefs will help you create healthy recipes with rich, bold flavor for your campers. I hope you will try some of these ideas in your operation. You'll find how easy it can be to get great results.

Scott Gilbert is a corporate chef for Nestle Food Services Inc., and lives in Medina, Ohio.

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