For many of us, college is a time when we become aware of our own health, especially as eating ice cream at every meal in the dining hall, overloading ourselves with classes, and pulling all-nighters all impact our health in noticeable ways. While horror stories of ramen-only diets certainly still happen, for many this is a time of actively seeking out healthier options for our mental and physical health. 

Many of these opportunities arise when it comes time to eat. Food is meant to be a powerful source of energy and nourishment for our bodies, but we all know that dining hall pizza often seems far from nourishing. Finding healthy options outside of dorms, apartments, or houses is often no easier: healthy options are far and few in between, and the price for high-quality healthy food that can be carried out as easily as a pizza is often steep. 

As a chapter, the members of Spoon here at the University of Minnesota are no different when it comes to searching for healthy food. So, when Sprout Salad Company, a Minnesota based chain that has three total locations around the Twin Cities, invited our members to sample some of their new warm bowls, we were instantly intrigued. 

Morgan Pence

Best known for their salads, Sprout Salad Company has recently unveiled 6 new "warm bowls" which all feature a warm grain base topped with protein such as chicken or black beans, seasoned vegetables, and delicious house-made sauces. For those on the University of Minnesota campus, Sprout has a location on campus over in Stadium Village. 

Nina Raemont

In addition to making healthy food, Sprout prides itself in making eco-friendly choices in its packaging, something the employees say Sprout has done since the very beginning of its existence. All bowls, cups, and silverware are compostable, and anything that can not be composted is recyclable. As students who are living in an era of increased concern for sustainability, this was a feature of Sprout's business model that we all greatly appreciated.

Nina Raemont

For many of our chapter members, the warm bowls and salads that Sprout offered were a welcome break from dorm food, especially since each bowl featured freshly prepared produce including seasoned cauliflower and roasted sweet potato that are hard to find elsewhere on campus. 

Morgan Pence

In addition to the warm bowls, we also sampled three of Sprout's classic salads including the Hanoi Spring Roll Salad, the All-American BBQ Chicken, and the Ensalada Mexicana. Like the warm bowls, these salads were packed with tons of produce and mixed with delicious homemade dressings that left us satisfied and full. 

Morgan Pence

Initial Impressions

Upon arriving at Sprout, we noticed some key things right away. For one, there was lots of seating with a comfortable environment that several of our members mentioned they would personally use for studying or catching up with friends. Additionally, we noticed that Sprout serves well-sized portions for what you pay for and that all bowls are easily modifiable to add your own flavors or make the bowls vegan or vegetarian.

Morgan Pence

The Bowls

With each bowl, we have included a brief description of what it contains, as well as the thoughts from our chapter members on their favorite elements of each bowl.

1. Caribbean Sunshine

Morgan Pence

What it is: The Caribbean Sunshine Bowl is brown rice bowl topped with chicken, spicy jerk sauce, braised kale, roasted sweet potato, mango salsa, sliced avocado, mango crema, and finished off with fresh cilantro.

Spoon UMN: Starting off strong, the braised garlic kale that is featured in many of the bowls was an instant crowd favorite. As several members noted, good tasting kale can be hard to find on campus. Overall, we thought the jerk chicken added a pleasant spicy kick to the bowl and was well complemented by the creaminess of the avocado and the brightness of the mango salsa.

2. The Gaucho

Morgan Pence

What it is: The Gaucho is a jasmine rice bowl topped with steak that is grilled-to-order, black beans, roasted sweet potatoes, marinated peppers and onions, braised kale, and chimichurri sauce.

Spoon UMN: Among the bowls we tried, this was one of the crowd favorites. The steak on top is seared for 45 seconds once it is ordered, and it served hot on top of delicious veggies. As with all of the sauces we tried, the chimichurri sauce paired well with the steak (Several members agreed that the sauce was so good they would have it by itself). Another popular element of this bowl was the roasted sweet potato, which was soft and added a sweet element to the dish.

3. Happy Bowl

Morgan Pence

What it is: The Happy Bowl is a brown rice bowl made with black beans, braised kale, edamame, marinated peppers and onions, sliced avocado, pickled red cabbage, and savory citrus jackfruit. It is topped with a mango crema**.

**can be made vegan without the mango crema

Spoon UMN: The component that shocked our group the most was the savory citrus jackfruit, which was cooked and seasoned to mimic chicken. As we know, healthy food can be hard enough to find, and finding good vegan food can be even more difficult, so we think the use of jackfruit instead of meat provided a yummy vegan option. Although the mango crema itself was not vegan, we also enjoyed the hint of sweetness that it added to the bowl. 

4. Harissa Chicken

Nina Raemont

What it is: The Harissa Chicken bowl is a jasmine rice bowl topped with chicken covered in a spicy harissa sauce, roasted sweet potato, chickpeas, spiced cauliflower, roasted Brussels sprouts, red pickled cabbage, and a green chili tahini sauce. 

Spoon UMN: Another crowd favorite, this bowl features a mixture of hot and cold elements, including roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts that have been chilled, that added an interesting flavor element to the bowl. Several group members agreed that the harissa sauce on the chicken was reminiscent of chicken tikka masala. This sauce was only mildly spicy, so people should not be intimidated by the "spicy" label on the menu. 

5. Sweet Georgia

Nina Raemont

What it is: The Sweet Georgia bowl is a jasmine rice bowl filled with oven roasted pork shoulder, braised kale, spicy pickled onion, pickled red cabbage, and a golden peach barbecue sauce.

Spoon UMN: Reminiscent of the Southern cooking, the pork, pickled veggies, and peach barbecue sauce of the Sweet Georgia bowl created a unique flavor profile that was distinct from the other bowls we tried. The peach flavor paired well with the inherent sweetness of barbecue sauce, but it was not overwhelmingly sweet. The pickled cabbage and onion also provided a crunchy element which offset the softness of the pork shoulder.

6. Ancient Grains

Morgan Pence

What it is: The Ancient Grains bowl is a grain mix piled high with roasted sweet potato, chickpeas, spiced cauliflower, roasted Brussels sprouts, ginger carrot edamame salad, and a green chili tahini sauce.

Spoon UMN: Another vegetarian option, the Ancient Grains bowl combined many of the favorite elements of Spoon members- the sweet potato, braised kale, and tahini sauce all received many praises. The green chili tahini, a fresh take on the traditional nutty sauce made from sesame, was another group favorite when it came to sauces. 

Overall thoughts

Truthfully, we enjoyed each of the bowls and salads we tried. We found that each had unique elements that added to the appeal of the bowls, though some of our recurring favorites were the sweet potato, braised kale, chimichurri vinaigrette, and green chili tahini.  

As a company, we were impressed with how environmentally conscious Sprout was with their dishes and silverware, opting out of single-use plastics that would end up in a landfill. Additionally, the inclusion of vegan and vegetarian options shows a commitment to alternative diets as well as the environment.

Nina Raemont

Finally, we appreciated the individualized approach that Sprout is able to take regarding their sauces, recipes, and more: everything felt as if it had been carefully crafted with many food preferences and diets in mind, and there was something for everyone on the menu. In particular, the sauces were unique because they had creative elements like mango and green chili that added freshness to classic recipes and showed the importance of restaurants creating their own style. 

Sprout Salad Company acts as an example of what healthy eating on a college campus can be- fast, easy, and filled with lots of protein, produce, and dedication. Pairing environmentally conscious practices with delicious food, Sprout may act as a pioneer for healthy restaurants on and around campus. At the very least, they make a dang good chimichurri sauce.