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Morrison Healthcare’s Corporate Executive Chef Sahina Dizon “plants” this edible garden of puffed wild rice “dirt” with fresh veggies, cucumber yogurt, peppercorn ranch and balsamic dipping sauce.

Chefs bring picnic vibes with outdoor-friendly side dishes

The freshest side dishes, salads, fritters and slaws are perfect for that outdoor event, cookout or casual picnic.

As spring comes into bloom all over the country, customers are emerging from their quarantine cocoons…and they are hungry! Chefs are busy planning the outdoor events, picnics, cookouts and outdoor dining scenarios as the spring sunshine heats things up. 

Whether you think of potato salad or loaded french fries when it comes to outdoor dining bliss, the possibility for both healthy and indulgent side dishes means a bumper crop of options, from a classic Cobb salad to a cob of street corn.

Fresh air and fresh eats


Morrison Healthcare’s Corporate Executive Chef Sahina Dizon is getting geared up for spring in summer with a variety of eye-popping sides.

“To me, summer smells like barbecue smoke and fresh-squeezed lemons,” Dizon says. “It feels like family, warm and full of joy! Food brings back memories of fonder times, of love and comradery. Making a family-favorite recipe can connect us to that moment, and it helps us have hope and look forward to a future spent together."

Dizon’s barbecue-ready side dish repertoire includes lemon loaf with citrus ricotta (“Great on a grill,” she says); honey-Sriracha-roasted sweet potato and squash salad, served warm or cold; nutty mushroom-barley salad, cauliflower tabbouleh, farmhouse pasta salad and toreados (blistered chiles).

She’s also been perfecting a cool idea called the edible garden: puffed wild rice “dirt” planted with fresh veggies plus cucumber yogurt, peppercorn ranch and balsamic dipping sauce.


The Bama Dining team at the University of Alabama welcomes spring with this fun “caviar” of black-eyed peas, roasted corn, diced tomato, red onions and jalapeno.

Beans, veggies and better health

This spring and summer will see customers venturing out more thanks to big rollouts of vaccines, but many—rightfully so—will still be concerned with staying safe and keeping themselves healthy.

That’s where summery side dishes can come in: Bean- and veggie-forward salads naturally provide a refreshing counterpoint to hot dogs or grilled meats, providing many immune-boosting nutrients at the same time.

Bama Dining chefs at the University of Alabama elevate black-eyed peas into “caviar” with roasted corn, diced tomato, red onions and jalapeno. Black-eyed peas, sometimes referred to as “cowpeas,” are known for being a great source of calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.


The Sodexo team at the College of William & Mary plates up housemade pickled red and green okra, cucumbers, fresh carrots, bell peppers, radishes, cauliflower and broccolini with mustard greens and onion dip.

And Bama students are getting their fair share of fermented-food benefits with a slew of housemade pickled veggies that are used in everything from a simple side (pickled green beans in a jar that doubles as picnic table decor) to an ingredient in a more indulgent dish: the loaded baked potato salad with bacon, mayo, hardboiled eggs, mustard and a housemade relish made from pickled veggies.


At the University of Florida, the Sodexo culinary team rolls street corn in butter, smoky spices and a sprinkling of parsley and cotija cheese.

Bama Dining’s spinach rolls follow the time-honored tradition of pairing green veggies with cheese to make them simply irresistible: puff pastry is wrapped around fresh spinach leaves, cream cheese, Parmesan and mozzarella, then gets baked until golden.

In another example of vegetable-plus-delicious cheese, this time in street-food form. At the University of Florida, the Sodexo culinary team rolls street corn in butter, smoky spices and a sprinkling of parsley and cotija cheese. 

Chickpeas, too, have been getting some spotlight as a great roasted snack, but their sturdy nature makes them perfect to hold up in a summery picnic salad, as Sodexo Sous Chef Brittani Ratcliff has found at Morehead University in Kentucky.

“It’s so simple and definitely delicious,” she says of her sassy new spicy chickpea salad that’s made with chickpeas, olive oil, chili powder, lemon juice, oregano, Tabasco, cumin, fresh oregano, diced cucumber, celery, green and red peppers.


Bacon-spinach-Parmesan potato fritters from UConn’s hybrid food truck bring on nostalgic county fair feelings.

Fun trucks on a roll again

There’s no denying the aroma of fried food wafting through the air as a sign of summer fairs and all the fun that comes with it. Folks are feeling nostalgic around this time of year, and to balance out healthy choices, we’ve got fritters!

The fritters found at UConn’s cool hybrid food truck-turned-outdoor serving area are made with dehydrated potatoes and then take on many flavor profiles, from a bacon-spinach-Parmesan potato fritter to a maple syrup-sweet potato combo and a variety of ever-changing dippers.

While it seemed like food trucks had rolled to the outer edges of the food trend universe, “I think the pandemic has pushed them back in the other direction,” says UConn Executive Chef Robert Landolphi.

On the indulgent side but with a sprinkle of fermentation, at the University of Houston, UH Dining/Chartwells has topped potato wedges with chopped brisket, kimchi, purple cabbage, green onions and chipotle-ranch sauce.

Contact Tara at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter @Tara_Fitzie

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