Onsite chefs are using more whole grains like wheatberry, quinoa and farro, and preparing them in increasingly creative applications, a great way to bring some interest to wellness initiatives.
While composed cold grain salads with vinaigrettes and grilled veggies are a still a great way for customers to experience different grains, the latest menus have grains showing up in some unexpected places. Think quesadillas, burgers, tacos, soups and breakfast parfaits.
Those are just a few of the dozen or so new grain-based items on Metz Culinary Management’s new whole grains initiative, being rolled out this fall at all of its college, business, industry and healthcare accounts. Right now, recipes are being aligned with school meal regulations for use in school accounts.
The initiative integrates not just whole grains, but also rice and legumes, into Metz’s Live Well program, an across-the-board wellness initiative. A special aim of the whole grain initiative is to provide great options for vegans and vegetarians.
“Whole grains are a good answer to the nutrition puzzle posed by meatless diets,” says Ryan McNulty, CEC, director of culinary development at Metz.
When the recipes were developed, McNulty says he kept in mind the learning curve often associated with preparing less-familiar grains like wheatberry or white quinoa.
“While whole grains have really taken off in the last five years, we have accounts in regions where quinoa isn’t an everyday ingredient,” McNulty says. “So we made our recipes as foolproof as possible.”
For example, wheatberries should not turn out with a consistency of porridge—the slightly chewy texture is what makes them unique.
“Once chefs get the hang of cooking whole grains, knowing what the texture of the finished product should be, they can use them as a blank canvass for their own ideas,” McNulty says.
At one account, Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, PA, Chef Robert Manfrey has been successful serving the following whole-grain dishes: Baja Fish Tacos with Wheatberry Citrus Salad, Roasted Chicken Quesadilla with Black Beans and Quinoa, Turkey and Teff Burgers with Mediterranean Couscous and Breakfast Yogurt Parfait with White Quinoa and Berry Compote.
The quesadillas are a bit of stealth-health genius, with quinoa blended into the traditional quesadilla components, offering a bit of texture but nothing overpowering.
Grains for breakfast are a good way to help customers feel they’re starting the day off in a healthy way, McNulty says. The parfaits treat the quinoa as more of a bread pudding component, and also means that there is less yogurt used when layering the parfaits.
When paired with familiar entrees and flavors as a side dish, whole grains can gain acceptance with customers who may not go out of their way to order something like quinoa. For example, an entree like salmon, served on a plate with pesto-dressed quinoa, is an entrée many customers are willing to try. Whole-grain stuffed chicken breasts are another way to sneak grains onto the plate.
One very waste-conscious way to get customers to try whole grains is working very well at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA. Part of sustainability campaign to cut down on both pre- and post-consumer waste has students trying small portions of grain salads with tasting spoons to see if they like it before taking an 8 oz. helping and not eating it.
New nutrition initiatives are in play with QR codes for smartphones to help find healthful menu selections, signage within the cafe, and the “Oh So Good” menu item designation for healthier choices at the Bistro on the Hill café, Fauquier Hospital, a 97-bed facility in Warrenton, VA.
Whole grains play a big role in this, with Fauquier Health chefs using barley, bulgur wheat, brown rice, couscous and oats in such varied menu items as a Quinoa-Chickpea Chocolate Tart, "Oh So Good" Quinoa Pudding, and a whole-grain granola bar that "we can't keep in stock," says Natalie Ramos, director of food and nutrition services, Unidine Corp. A quinoa-stuffed Portobella mushroom is a hit on the savory side.
"These items are stealth health, and I wasn't sure if that was going to go over well, but the items have been very well received," Ramos says. "Just making simple changes, like swapping white rice and white pasta for whole grains is a good educational experience for customers."
At Oklahoma State University, the Choose Orange Program is a collaboration between Dining Services and the school's wellness center. The "Choose Orange" logo designates items that qualify by including fruit, veggies, lean proteins, and yes, whole grains. Many of the whole grains come in the form of wraps: whole grain tortillas are part of the Banh Mi Wrap, which is stuffed with sliced pork, cucumber, radish slaw and yogurt dressing. Spiced Raisin Brown Rice is another item in the "Choose Orange" program, an easy swap for traditional white rice. Other items include orzo side dishes and breakfast wraps in whole grain tortillas.
Autumn Grain and Apple Salad
2 lbs. sunrise blend with quinoa flakes
6 local Gala apples, small dice
2 carrots, shaved
1 cup sundried cranberries
½ cup scallions, thinly sliced
½ cup walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup green pepper, small dice
1 tsp. poppy seeds
2 Tbsps. honey
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3 oz. apple cider vinegar
9 oz. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. sugar
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Cook grains according to directions, strain and cool.
2. In a blender add honey, poppy seeds, sugar, vinegar and Dijon. Blend and slowly add oil, creating a poppy seed vinaigrette.
3. Next, add apples, cranberries, walnuts, peppers and scallions to grain mix.
4. Add vinaigrette to the grain mix and season with salt and pepper.
Recipe: Chef Ryan McNulty, Metz Culinary Management