Eating Healthy at SAS



We are so lucky here on SAS’s World Headquarters campus to have many wonderful food options!  Many of us take advantage of the cafés and food-to-go stations on a daily basis too.  As you can imagine, we get questions about what the healthiest options are in the cafes and food-to-go stations on a regular basis.  Luckily there are plenty of great options!!

Check out all the healthy options available for #SAS employees! #greatplacetowork #saslife Click To Tweet

It is a little hard to state specifically what to get at each café, since the menus change all the time. So, here are a few things to keep in mind when you are trying to decide if an entrée is healthy or not.
Meal plate template

The goal is to:

  1. Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, preferably a few different colorful ones.
  2. Fill a quarter of your plate with lean protein.
  3. Fill the other quarter of your plate with nutrient dense carbohydrates like whole intact grains or a nutrient dense starchy vegetable like sweet potatoes.

Then of course you want to avoid fried foods, heavy sauces, excessive cheese, too much added sugar, and processed carbohydrates (white rice, white pasta, white bread, etc.) most of the time.

Guide to Soups

When it comes to soups, the broth based (instead of cream based) will likely be the healthier option. Choose one that is loaded with vegetables, and not noodles. Have a side salad along with it, with added protein if the soup doesn’t have much.

Guide to Sandwiches

Sandwiches are hard. Most of the time when we get a sandwich, the portions are just too big. Most bread slices are twice the size they used to be.  This might be fine if you are really active, but if you are trying to lose weight, be careful with sandwiches. Choose 100% whole grain and go with lean proteins and load it up with veggies. Then, instead of pairing it with chips, have a side salad.

For more details, check out the How To Build A Meal handout.

Over the last few weeks, I visited each of our on-campus cafes to check out exactly what they have to offer.  Keep reading to see what I found PLUS the Nutritionist’s Picks from each café (which is one of the healthiest meal options that was available on that particular day).

SAS Managed Cafés

Julie Stewart, manager of the SAS cafés, tells me that they strive to provide healthy options on a daily basis.  They will have at least 2 low carb veggies per day (prepared in a low fat manner), “heart healthy” fish options 3 out of 4 times, and one “heart healthy” menu item per day among other healthy options.

Skylight Café- Building F

Skylight Café has entrees, sides, soups, salads, a salad bar, sandwiches, desserts and a yogurt bar.  The salad bar is filled with plenty of nutrient dense, colorful non-starchy vegetables and several protein options to create a meal-worthy salad.  The yogurt bar (complete with plain Greek yogurt for those watching their sugar intake) is a great option for breakfast or a snack for later!  The entrees, sides, and soups change daily.

Nutritionist’s Pick:
Lentil Soup with a Salad from the Salad Bar

  • Lentil SoupLentils are a great protein
    source, they also contain some slow burning carbohydrates and are loaded with fiber and phytochemicals.
  • With the salad, you can up the nutrient density of the meal by making sure you put lots of colorful non-starchy veggies in it, like orange shredded carrots, red bell peppers, dark green broccoli, and red cherry tomatoes! Remember, ½ the meal should be non-starchy vegetables.


OR Salad Bar with ½ Sweet Potato (if you need more carbs)

  • When making your salad, load up on colorful non-starchy vegetables, but limit or avoid the toppings that can end up making your salad not so healthy like croutons, too much cheese, or sugary dried fruit.
  • Try to base the salad on dark leafy greens like kale or baby spinach instead of just romaine.
  • DO add some protein, like chicken and/or some beans!
  • Choose olive oil and vinegar for your dressing to avoid added sugar and unhealthy fats.


Overlook Café- Building T

Cafe T salad bar olive oilOverlook Café has many options as well, including entrées, a grill and deli, a salad bar, and sushi.  The salad bar has plenty of colorful non-starchy vegetables and several protein options to build a great meal-worthy salad.  They also offer olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice for a salad dressing made with healthy fats and no added sugar.

The Grab-N-Go section has choices that are similar to the Food-To-Go Stations (see below).

Nutritionist’s Pick:
Boneless Marinated Grilled Chicken Breast with Roasted or Steamed Vegetables and California Black Beans


Food-To-Go Stations- Buildings S and U, RFC

Food to Go S
The Food-to-Go Stations all have similar options, but some vary day to day or location to location.

  • Food to Go Vegan Spinach saladSnack options like fruit, veggies, hard boiled eggs, and low fat cheese sticks are the best options.
  • Lunch options include salads, various sandwiches, and soup. If you are getting the salads on a regular basis, choose one that is based on spinach or mixed greens instead of iceberg lettuce.  Be mindful of the amount of croutons and cheese (these can turn a healthy salad into a NOT healthy salad), and choose one that contains some protein, or add your own (hard boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, etc.). You may also want to bring your own olive oil based salad dressing that isn’t loaded with sugar- unfortunately all the salad dressing options either contained high fructose corn syrup or sugar and unhealthy oils.

Bon Appétit Managed Cafés

The Bon Appétit cafes make all the food from scratch with sustainable and locally sourced products when possible (minimum of 20% is local).  They even get some produce right here on campus, either from the SAS Farm or the small garden at Building C.  If you are wondering how a food was prepared or what the ingredients are, know that the person that serves your dish also prepared it, so they will have the answers- just ask!

By the end of the year, all the regular menu items in the Bon Appétit cafes will have nutrition facts on them.  This will be very helpful so that you can really make an informed decision!

Marketplace Café- Building C

Marketplace Café has a wide variety of food options, from soups, sandwiches, global food, classic entrees, sushi, a salad bar, and more.

Nutritionist’s Pick:
Thyme Roasted Chicken with Spinach Pesto Cauliflower and Roasted Button Mushrooms OR Quinoa and Wheat Berries with Pecans
(pick either 2 vegetable sides or one veggie side and one whole grain side)


Atrium Café- Building R

Cafe R salad bar
Atrium Café has similar stations to Marketplace Café including, classics, ovens, global, grill, etc.  Like Marketplace, all the food is made from scratch.  The salad bar is loaded with colorful non-starchy vegetables, protein options and healthy fats. They also have a whole grain on the salad bar daily so there is plenty to build a healthy meal from!

Nutritionist’s Pick:
Citrus Soy Roasted Turkey Breast with Green Beans and Roasted Bok Choy OR Lemon Pepper Brown Rice
(pick either 2 vegetable sides or one veggie side and one whole grain side)


Café Q

Café Q is a little different. All the food is still prepared fresh from scratch, but it is packaged and ready to go. They have salads, sandwiches, hot entrees, and soups. They also have a selection of snacks like fruit, veggies, hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks, cottage cheese, and hummus.  They have 2-3 salads with meat and 2-3 veggie only salads per day, and when I was there all the salad dressings were sugar free.

Nutritionist’s Pick:
Garden Salad with Chicken and Balsamic Vinaigrette and a Side of Fruit


Grab-N-Go Stations- Buildings C and R

The Grab-N-Go in both Buildings C and R have plenty of healthy snack options and “to-go” lunch options.  You could choose a salad or pair fruit or veggies with hard boiled eggs, string cheese, or hummus.


Enjoy the Healthy Options at SAS

As you can see, you have plenty of healthy options available daily at every café on campus!

Remember, if I didn’t mention a specific food you always get, just refer to the notes at the beginning to decide if it’s healthy or not.

You can also use the cafés to help out with dinner!  Grab an extra container at lunch time and either purchase a whole other meal or just some already chopped veggies off the salad bar to help make a quick dinner when you get home.

Here are the recipes from the Marketplace Café Nutritionist’s Pick mentioned above (they are slightly adapted to make them even healthier!).

Thyme Roasted Chicken Thighs with Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette
Slightly adapted
Makes 8 servings


1 quart of water
½ cup of salt
2 Tbsp minced garlic
½ Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
½ Tbsp black mustard seeds
½ Tbsp black pepper corns
¾ cup chopped thyme
1 quart of ice cubes
8pc chicken thighs

1 tsp black pepper
1 ½ Tbsp chopped thyme
2 tsp olive oil


  1. To make the brine: place water, salt, garlic, mustard seeds, pepper corn, and thyme into a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Once your brine has started to boil, turn heat down and allow to cool.  Place your brine in a clean container and add ice cubes.  Once brine is cold, add chicken thighs. Keep in brine overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 350⁰F.
  3. Take chicken out of brine and pat dry. Season with black pepper, thyme and olive oil. Set on a roasting pan.
  4. Place in oven and cook until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165⁰F, about 25-30 minutes depending on the size of the thighs.
  5. To serve, drizzle with Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette (see recipe below).

Nutrition Facts per Serving: 210 calories, 15g fat, 4g saturated, 360mg sodium, 0g carbohydrates, 16g protein

Quinoa and Wheat Berry Pecan Salad with Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette
Slightly adapted
Makes 8 servings


1 cup wheat berries
¼ cup dried apricots, julienned
¼ cup chopped dried cranberries
3 ½ cups water, divided
¾ cup quinoa
Salt, to taste
⅓ cup pecans


  1. In a medium sauce pan on high heat, add wheat berries, apricots, cranberries and 2 cups of water, plus salt to taste.
  2. Bring to a boil, partially cover pot, lower heat and simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until wheat berries are tender.
  3. In another medium sauce pan, add ¾ cup of quinoa and 1½ cups of water.
  4. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer 15-20 minutes or until quinoa is tender.
  5. Once wheat berries and quinoa are cooked, drain off any excess water in a colander and allow to cool.
  6. Preheat oven to 400⁰F and place pecans onto a sheet pan.
  7. Roast for 6 minutes or until toasted and fragrant.
  8. Mix toasted pecans together with whole grains.
  9. Drizzle with Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette (see recipe below).

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:  180 calories, 4.5 g fat, 0g saturated, 0mg cholesterol, 5mg sodium, 31g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 6g protein

Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette

3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp whole grain mustard
¼ cup honey
3 Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp orange juice
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 cup olive oil
Sea salt and pepper, to taste


  1. In a small mixing bowl, add mustards, honey, lemon and orange juice, and parsley. Stir to combine.
  2. Slowly whisk in olive oil to form the perfect emulsion.
  3. To serve, drizzle vinaigrette over whole grain salad and roasted chicken thighs.

Note: This makes much more than you will need for these recipes.  You can keep the rest in the fridge for salads or to liven up steamed vegetables.

Nutrition Facts per Tablespoon: 70 calories, 7g fat, 1g saturated, 0mg cholesterol, 45mg sodium, 3g carbohydrates, 2g sugar, 0g protein

Spinach Pesto Cauliflower
Slightly adapted
Makes 8 servings


2 cups fresh spinach
1 cup fresh basil
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 Tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup parmesan cheese
⅓ cup olive oil
½ tsp sea salt
2 heads of cauliflower (or 8 cups of florets)


  1. Preheat oven to 400⁰F.
  2. Combine spinach, basil, garlic, lemon juice, cheese, and olive oil into a food processor and blend until smooth.
  3. Cut cauliflower into bite size florets.
  4. In a big bowl, or right onto a sheet pan, toss the florets with the pesto.
  5. Spread cauliflower evenly onto a sheet pan. Sprinkle with sea salt and roast for 10-15 minutes or until tender and beginning to brown.

Nutrition Facts per Serving: 130 calories, 11g fat, 2 g saturated, 5mg cholesterol, 240mg sodium, 6g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 4g protein

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About Author

Kelly LeSage, MS, RDN, LDN, IFNCP


Kelly is a Nutritionist at the HCC at SAS Institute Inc. in Cary NC. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Science from Arizona State University and her Master of Science degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and an Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner. Her areas of expertise include functional nutrition, health and wellness education, prenatal nutrition, food allergies and intolerances and culinary nutrition. Follow @klesageRD on Twitter.


  1. Nascif Abousalh-Neto on

    The to-go fridges and breakfast bars are still packed with fat-free yogurt. These are loaded with sugar to make up for the removed fat!
    I would love to see whole milk, no sugar added yogurt options for an afternoon snack.

    • Kelly LeSage, MS, RDN, LDN, IFNCP
      Kelly LeSage, MS, RDN, LDN on

      From my understanding, most of the changes that happen with the food selections are based on demand from their customers (you, the SAS employee), so let them know what you would like to be able to purchase. They do encourage feed back.

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