Consumers are aiming to make their food purchases pack more of a nutritional punch. And leafy greens, on a calorie-for-calorie basis, are probably some of the most nutrient-dense options on the menu, says Deanne Brandstetter, MBA, RD.
“The deeper the color of leafy greens and vegetables, the more nutrients they have,” she says. “Leafy greens provide a double whammy in that they have all the nutrients plus they are extremely low in calories—rarely more than 25 calories per serving—by contrast to carrots and butternut squash, for example, which pack more calories per serving.” As vice president of nutrition and wellness for Charlotte-based Compass Group, she’s pleased to see an increasing number of people trying to make calories count nutritionally.
“And, especially in this economy, people are going for ‘smaller bite’ containers such as Au Bon Pain’s 200-calorie dishes,” Brandstetter says. “Some people are buying these in place of entrées, so combining escarole with white beans, for example, or mustard or collard greens with black-eyed peas—the greens being sautéed or braised—makes economic and nutritional sense.”
The good news for operators is that adding an array of leafy greens to menu items can be a strong selling point, especially when you provide point-of-sale nutritional information. And thanks to advances in packing, much of the labor involved in serving greens—washing, steaming, and sautéing—can be taken care of on the supplier side.
For example, Mann Packaging, based in Salinas, California, offers Simply Singles, a line of washed and ready-to-eat single leaves of green leaf, red leaf, and romaine or iceberg lettuce. “They can be used whole on burgers, wraps, or sandwiches, or chopped and used in a variety of salads,” says company spokeswoman Kari Volyn. “There’s no waste or disposal costs, plus they enable long-term menu planning because products are available year round and they allow for greater margins by controlling food costs,” she says. “Pricing is a very sensitive issue because you’re not comparing apples to apples. With Simply Singles you’ll have no waste, so price might be more but it will be more cost efficient in the end due to no waste or labor costs.”
According to one of Mann’s distributors, using the average commodity price with freight and then the average price for Simply Singles with freight, the adjusted case cost was $20.10 for Simply Singles (value added) versus $24.11 for Green Leaf 24 Commodity, while adjusted net cost per pound for Simply Singles was $2.01 versus $4.38 for Green Leaf. The distributor recommends “that individual restaurants base their information on their own employees’ labor experience and equipment.”
At Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Executive Chef Eric Eisenberg and his staff serve more than 7,000 customers daily in three facilities.
“About two years ago,” Eisenberg says, “we introduced a new menu concept; instead of three or four composed entrées, such as lasagna, we now offer protein, starch, grain, vegetables separately—about 14 items in all, including four or five fresh vegetables of which two must be leafy greens each day.”
Thanks to the new plan, diners at Eisenberg’s facilities have experienced chard, collards, and Asian cabbages such as Tat soi, baby bok choy, and Kale. “Most popular are Swiss chard, spinach, and even good old white cabbage—steamed, braised, or sautéed,” he says.
Preparing greens is as easy as cooking any other vegetable, Eisenberg says, although a bit more cleaning may be involved. “You can purchase a braising mix—like a pre-washed spring mix or a baby greens mix with kale—from a local farm or supplier. Just throw it in a pot with a bit of stock and quickly sauté. Recently, I was at a demonstration, and the chef sautéed turnip greens to use in a roulade with chicken breast, using turnips as the vegetable accompaniment. It’s a good way of being conscious with the product by utilizing the entire thing.”