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Prepared ingredients can help reduce food waste by eliminating opportunities for mistakes.

Minimize Food Waste Through Creative Menu Solutions

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Using prepared ingredients in innovative dishes can reduce waste and improve restaurant efficiency
By Jeremy Lycan June 2017 Expert Insights

When it comes to developing a creative menu, operators have to be mindful of the all the costs associated with the selected ingredients. Some recipes require significant ingredient prep and cooking time that are time-consuming and prone to waste. This may deter some operators from adding new and unique items to their menu, because they prefer to stick to what they know and can control. But there are ways to get around that hurdle. A great way to introduce new recipes to the kitchen is using prepared ingredients.

Prepared ingredients come fully-cooked and ready-to-use, so operators can spend less time training staff, prepping, and cooking and spend more time adding the creative touch that will make the menu standout. Besides saving time, operators can also reduce food waste resulting from prepping and cooking mistakes. Since most prepared meats come with neutral flavoring, it’s up to the chef to add the spices and seasonings that will deliver an excellent dish. With the right approach, prepared meats give operators an opportunity to expand their offering without taking on additional costs and risks.

Zero Waste

Food waste is a big concern for operators. Any part of the ingredients that can’t be cooked and consumed is not generating a profit, so it is essentially a waste of money. Operators do what they can to curb food waste, but losing some of the product in the prepping and cooking process is a reality most foodservice operators have come to accept.

Yield percentage is very important in the foodservice industry. It tells chefs how much usable product they will have after processing. When dealing with raw ingredients, like whole chickens, for example, kitchen staff has to be make sure all the meat is removed from the carcass. This requires knowledge and experience of the proper technique for doing so. If a chef loses one or two ounces per bird and is preparing 50 or more, food waste starts to add up.

Consistency is difficult to achieve with different staff members having different skill sets or experience. Perhaps the staff member who usually removes the meat from the bird carcass is unavailable and someone else has to do it, reducing the yield per chicken on that occasion. Operators need reliable data for budgeting and forecasting, so inconsistent product yield will pose a challenge. By using prepared meats, operators eliminate the variables making calculations inaccurate. Prepared meats will deliver nearly 100 percent yields without any of the prep work involved in dealing with raw ingredients.

Savings That Matter

Besides reducing food waste, prepared ingredients can also save time, labor, space, and therefore, money. The biggest time saver will come from not having to train staff on how to properly handle and prep raw ingredients. Not only is there a food safety element that must be addressed in the training, but as the menu changes, staff has to be taught how to prep for that recipe. This will make operators think twice about introducing new items to the menu.

With prepared ingredients, operators don’t have to spend time training staff, and staff doesn’t have to spend time prepping ingredients. That time can be used for culinary innovation that will improve the bottom line.

Another important consideration is the space gained from using prepared ingredients. If you don’t have to prep an ingredient, then you don’t have to take up space in the kitchen. This makes a huge difference for operators usually cramped for space. By utilizing prepared ingredients, they will have more time, man-power, and space to develop fantastic recipes to attract more customers and delight regulars.

Keep in mind even though prepared ingredients will save workspace, it will take up more storage room. Most prepared ingredients will come frozen and have to be thawed before using, so they will use more freezer and refrigerator space. That, however, is a small sacrifice for the time, labor, space, and waste savings prepared ingredients deliver.

What the Chef Recommends

So you introduced prepared ingredients to your operation and are enjoying more accurate budgeting and forecasting, along with more time and space with less waste. But, now what? To truly take advantage of prepared ingredients, you must seize the opportunity to innovate.

Prepared ingredients are very versatile. Most come with neutral flavoring, so the ingredient can be transformed with seasonings and spices. Since they are fully cooked, prepared ingredients can sometimes be served cold or hot. Shredded chicken, for example, can be served in a salad or a soup. This versatility allow operators to experiment without radically changing the menu. Prepared ingredients also allow operators to develop a menu with a wider range of options and for many more occasions. The menu could have a couple of chicken dishes, a few beef offerings, and even a pork dish, without the costs traditionally associated with handling so many raw ingredients. With prepared ingredient meats cooked in multiple formats, such as battered, breaded, grilled, pulled, and diced, it is easy to develop an appetizer, a seasonal entrée, or a chef special without disrupting day-to-day operations.

The most important aspect of prepared ingredients is operators don’t have to compromise on quality or taste. The product will always be fresh and ready for a chef’s signature touches. With the right approach, creativity doesn’t have to be risky business. 

As part of the Tyson Foodservice culinary team, Chef Lycan supports the marketing and sales departments with industry expertise and providing relevant culinary training. Chef Lycan was hired as executive chef of Hillshire Farm in 2012. He previously led Niche Restaurant and 302 West in Geneva, Illinois, as executive chef, and served as executive farmstead chef of Heritage Prairie Farms in Elburn, Illinois, a certified organic farm that features outdoor weddings, farm dinners, and community supported agriculture. Chef Lycan began his career as a chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, California.