A new program at Yale University is changing the way 14,000 students and faculty members eat salad every day.

With the consultation of chef, cookbook author and culinary consultant Joyce Goldstein, the New Haven, Conn.-based university revamped salad bars across the campus, slashing diners’ choices, and ultimately increasing consumption.

Rafi Taherian, executive director of Yale Dining, said the new program began when the university called on Goldstein for menu adjustments to increase students’ produce consumption.

“We were eating in one of our dining halls one day and both visited the salad bar,” Taherian said. “When she came to the table, on her plate she had a very nicely composed Greek salad. I had a pile of stuff.”

Yale slashes salad bar choices and consumption rises

Courtesy Yale University

From left, Sally Notarino, lead pantry chef at Silliman College, and Debbie Ruocco, lead pantry chef at Berkeley College, work with Joyce Goldstein, cookbook author and foodservice consultant, on a new salad bar program implemented at Yale colleges.

Taherian said he realized most consumers use salad bars as an excuse to overeat, piling sometimes incompatible ingredients on a plate and covering them with dressing.

He and Goldstein recreated Yale’s salad bars, changing the prepared salads on the bar from pasta and creamy dressing-based to roasted vegetables, legumes or whole grains and giving specific options for build-your-own salads.

Goldstein credited Greg Drescher, executive director of strategic initiatives for the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, Calif., with the idea. She said they had experimented with a Mediterranean-themed salad bar at a conference at the institute.

“What Joyce Goldstein is doing at Yale is important because it’s the next generation of thought about salad bars,” Drescher said. “Americans love salad bars, but it’s an area that needs some rethinking.”

The new salad bar was introduced at one of the university’s dining facilities, and had four components: three composed salads — one vegetable-based, one grain-based and one legume-based — and one deconstructed salad.

“It’s a leafy salad, Caesar or Greek, etc., and we’ve deconstructed the ingredients for that salad so still, if you go get all these ingredients, you will end up with that salad,” Taherian said.

The department tested the program four times, each with great response, so it decided to launch the new salad bars in September.

“We originally intended to launch in just one dining facility, but our staff persuaded us to do it everywhere,” Taherian said.

The program went off well, but not without a hitch.

Some students wanted the old salad bar back either because of certain dietary restrictions or because they wanted the freedom to choose from the larger array of ingredients.

So, Taherian said they compromised, adding tomatoes, celery and carrots, and paring prepared salad options to two, along with ingredients for the deconstructed salad.

Despite the nixing of the full array of salad bar ingredients, Taherian said salad consumption is up, and so are his food costs.

“Before, if we put some raw zucchini on a salad bar, we would use maybe 10 pounds a day,” Taherian said. “Now, I need 60 pounds per day, and I need to roast them.”

Taherian said more students are using the salad bar as an entire meal now. Before the changes, diners would eat about 4 ounces of salad bar items, he said.

“That number is completely through the roof,” Taherian said.

Taherian said when the university’s dining department has three months of consistent performance on the salad bar to accurately evaluate the program, he hopes to see that produce consumption has gone up and animal protein consumption has gone down.

“If that’s the case, that’s exactly what we’d like to do,” he said.

Goldstein is also working with the university on its overall menu, and has had to get out of the California mindset when she develops dishes that focus on regionally available products.

“I had to go through recipes and take off my California hat,” Goldstein said. “In the winter, that means maybe doing more roasted root vegetables and going to legumes and grains.”