Menuing Meatless

Retirement community adds meat-free options in attempt to get residents to eat healthier.

Buffalo mozzarella in a grilled pita with tomato and basil,
served with roasted vegetable Israeli couscous.

BALTIMORE—This summer, the Windows Restaurant at Oak Crest retirement community began menuing meatless offerings in order to give residents healthier options. The trick, according to Paul O’Callaghan, Windows Restaurant manager, is getting residents to eat the healthier options.

“We didn’t want the focus to be on healthy foods,” O’Callaghan says. “There is a stigma behind healthy foods, and people veer away from them. We wanted to go after things that have complex layers of flavors. The items have to have a great visual appeal so that when you come into the restaurant you opt for it over whatever else. The back end of it is that it’s healthier and meatless.”

Dining at Windows is buffet style. The meatless options are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and residents can select from a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches and hot meatless options. Non-vegetarian items are available on meatless days as well.

Two of the meatless offerings are a grilled gazpacho sandwich and an Italian vegetable wrap featuring sliced eggplant with a caper mayonnaise.

O’Callaghan says that while some of the community’s 2,100 residents were asking for healthier options, many are resistant to “health food.” “We certainly see a lot of interest in healthier cuisine,” he says. “We’ve had several residents move in who are either vegetarian or vegan. A lot of the residents are health conscious, especially toward fat and sodium intake. When you tell them that it is a meatless
option, however, they are very
resistant to it.”

To combat that resistance, O’Callaghan ensured that the meatless options have complex layers of flavors. He looked to ethnic cuisines such as Asian and Mediterranean for inspiration and noted that vegetables and grains were heavily used in those flavor profiles.

“We wanted to attract people because the food was good, not necessarily because it was meatless or healthy,” O’Callaghan says. “The type of food that we are doing really has pushed the creativity of the chefs. Even though we call it a meatless menu, we try and recreate things. For example, we have a grandmother’s style meatloaf, but it is made out of a lot of grains, sauerkraut and cauliflower. The flavor texture is really complex. When you take the stigma of it being healthier away, they are more willing to get involved.”

O’Callaghan says another selling point for the meatless options is that they are more upscale than other menu offerings. “Instead of a rice you have healthier grains and we are putting more emphasis on the freshness of the product,” he adds.

The meatless menu has been so popular that O’Callaghan says he might make it an everyday option.