Food Trend Spotlight: Protein-Rich Composed Salads & Side Dishes 

January 2024 

As consumers’ routines and lifestyles open up post-pandemic, the demand for grab-and-go meal options is on the rise. Consumers want functional nutrition options with ingredients that give them energy and staying power throughout the day. With 12 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber per half-cup serving, lentils provide that satiety. Not only do they deliver on nutrition, lentils also add texture and carry exciting flavors in composed salads and side dishes that are easy for staff to prepare and can inspire return purchase intent for busy consumers. 

Culinary Appeal 

Lentils are flavor sponges that soak up the flavors of the herbs, spices, and aromatics that they are prepared with. Lentils work well in composed salads because they hold both hot and cold and carry well, making them an important protein component for both hot and cold prep and service lines. They are a reliable ingredient for recipes that get better with time, like a tangy Lentil Piyaz or a bright Marinated Rainbow Salad. As a good source of protein, lentils can help you punch up even your plant-based salads with extra fuel for consumers on the go. 

You can get creative by mixing lentils with other whole grains to reimagine your side dish offerings. As a protein-rich whole food ingredient, lentils build nutrient density and texture into side dishes without reaching for processed ingredients. When you use lentils in combination with cracked whole wheat (bulgur), the blend completes the amino acid profile and creates a side dish that helps consumers feel fuller longer. In addition, lentils and grains amplify the flavors of the acids and herbs they are mixed with. Flip your standard rice pilaf on its head by leaning into appealing and distinct flavor profiles.

Operational Perks 

From a cooking standpoint, lentils are incredibly easy to become familiar with — check out our Kitchen Cheat Sheet to learn more about how to prepare lentils that stay consistent no matter how you desire to use them. They are an ideal ingredient for meals prepared in a production kitchen because they maintain their integrity in grab-and-go packaging and if marinated ahead of time, they will continue to soak up the flavor of marinades, dressings, and sauces until they are consumed. 

Lentils have endless versatility. They can be pre-marinated and served on their own or mixed with other grains as a side dish, add plant-based protein to a wrap, and carry flavor and bring satiety to a composed salad. With just one low-cost ingredient, you can add nutrient density to several menu categories, which can help add an increased check average. Lentils also allow you to highlight a global flavor profile, as they act as a flavor sponge and amplify spices and seasonings in a dish. 

James Bickmore-Hutt, corporate chef at, says that lentils lend ease to back-of-house operations: “When you work with simple components that can be rapidly executed, you are shortening ticket time. Lentils hold up beautifully on a salad line. If you are running an operation at scale, your staff may not have the capacity to pre-dress everything, but simplifying your salad and side builds with lentils and other reliable ingredients gives the illusion of customization and made-to-order execution. Because lentils boost flavor over time, your staff can marinate them beforehand to increase flavor instead of needing to mix a salad or cook a side to order.” 

Innovation Opportunities 

Consumers in the college and university space say they strongly agree that they would like vending machines on campus that feature fresh, healthy foods. [1] Beyond traditional buffet and café service stations, grab-and-go stations are the perfect place to showcase a lentil salad or a blended grain side with lentils that stay consistent, provide satiety and soak up bold flavors whether held hot or cold.  

In a 2022 survey, about 64% of consumers worldwide said they prefer to eat multiple small meals throughout the day instead of fewer large meals. [2] Full-service restaurants can capitalize on this trend too, by offering premade staples like wraps, salads, and portioned side dishes that can supplement traditional dining and adapt to the changing needs of consumers with brand loyalty.  

 A variety of commercial cross-utilization opportunities can support operator needs for both innovation and operational efficiency by getting more uses from the same pre-prepped dish. For example, a Lentil & Corn Elote Salad can be served as an on-menu main entre topped with chicken or steak while also served as a side. The same could also be prepared in advance for a grab-and-go station due to the excellent hold capabilities lentils offer. Similarly the Herbaceous Brown Rice & Lentils blend can simultaneously be used as a side, a base for power bowls and burrito filling providing the base for three menu applications in one build.  

Menu Inspiration 


Side dishes:

Interested in learning how to launch a composed salad or side dish offering with lentils? Contact our corporate chef for a personal consultation. 

[1] Technomic 2021 College & University Consumer Trend Report via Foodservice Director’s “Grab and go ideas worth stealing” 
[2] Nation’s Restaurant News, Restaurants adapt to a grazing nation”