Serving the strict vegan

Meeting the needs of those who shun all animal-based foods, while challenging, is necessary—and not as hard as you think.

Vegetarians typically make up a single-digit percentage of a non-commercial operation’s customers. Vegans represent a fraction of that. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to gauge how much vegetarian and/or vegan food options to provide. In June 2005, Aramark released research showing that nearly a quarter of more than 100,000 college students surveyed said finding vegan meals on campus was important to them.

Many of the contractor’s clients have responded in kind. For example, the University of Pennsylvania now offers many vegan entrees and side dishes, including the popular Vegan Carrot Cake with Tofutti Cream Cheese Icing. At the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Rams Head Center, one finds a station dubbed Lean & Green, hosting a full salad and fruit bar, soups, and made-to-order vegan selections.

And, Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, is home to the First Harvest Vegan Cafe, a “green” food bar that provides a wide selection of vegan offerings and incorporates local sustainable foods.

Vegan variations: Vegans refrain from eating meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, honey or refined sugar—in other words, no animals or animal byproducts. There are many variations of vegan living. Some vegans will eat honey and sugar, others won’t. Some avoid fermented products, such as vinegar or wines. All vegans generally include nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, grains, soy, beans and legumes, spices and herbs, and other plant-based foods in their diets.

Talk with your vegan customers to establish their preferences and needs. Vegan menu planning and preparation fits easily with many different types of cuisines, including Mediterranean and Asian. Vegan meals can be prepared from scratch or from dry, canned or frozen convenience foods.

If you have the time, “creamy” sauces can be prepared from soy products, such as silken tofu or soy milk, or from ground nuts, such as cashews or almonds. Grains, rice and soy foods can stand in for animal proteins, in the form of seitan (also known as gluten), tofu or tempeh.

The vegan patient: At MeritCare Health System in Fargo, ND, vegan fare is readily available on the room service menu, according to Lisa Zolondek, foodservice manager and department head. The facility, which serves more than 22,000 meals per month via room service and more than 1,500 daily in retail operations, offers a branded Hearty Vegetable and Triple-Bean Chili; orders of the chili tally 35 per week, she adds.

There’s also a Southwestern Salad that uses the chili as a topper and generates 30 orders weekly. Staff strain the chili slightly when using it to top salads.

Both items are identified on the menu as vegetarian selections, as is a “lacto-vegetarian” pasta dish topped with creamy tomato basil bisque from the same manufacturer.

More vegan ideas: Here are some methods for offering vegan menu items with lots of flavor and texture.

  • Tempeh—Marinate in Italian dressing or barbecue sauce and grill or dice and mix into soups or chilies; slice and grill and serve as a “tempeh” dip sandwich.
  • Soy milk—Use in place of regular milk in puddings, custards and sauces; make hot chocolate or coffee beverages; use in soups.
  • Soy crumbles—Sauté, bake or grill with fresh or dry herbs and use as pizza toppings, in chili, in “beef” and mac casseroles or “meat” sauces, in tacos, or with tofu as a “morning scramble.”
  • Soft tofu—Use instead of ricotta cheese in stuffed shells and lasagna, or to make fruit smoothies; use in salad dressings; scramble in place of eggs (remember to season with pepper, hot sauce sautéed veggies, etc.).
  • Silken tofu—Use instead of mayo or sour cream in recipes; use to make pudding, pie fillings or custard, or smooth out sauces (tofu Alfredo or primavera) or soups; make a frosting by blending a small amount of tofu with instant pudding mix.

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