Veggies take center stage

Cutting back on meat is a cost-saving, healthful tactic for many operators.

Published in FSD Update

Kettering’s pappardelle with fall vegetables.

Vegetables are having their moment: In recent years, trendy restaurants have capitalized on the farm-fresh trend by filling their menus with leafy kale salads, creamy cauliflower steaks and gratins, sweet braised carrots, bacon-infused Brussels sprouts and more. Now, non-commercial operators are starting to bring vegetable-based dishes into the spotlight, too.

The movement is driven by a combination of healthcare changes, response to the aforementioned restaurant trends and the general desire by many to eat better, says Matthew Cervay, executive chef at Kettering Health Network, in Dayton, Ohio. “All these things are driving plant foods to take center stage instead of 18-ounce T-bones. Not to mention [with] the growing price increase for chicken and beef, operators are going to have to look for other alternatives to cut costs and remain viable,” he says. 

Cervay is creating a new menu that includes pappardelle with a medley of fall vegetables like pumpkin, butternut squash, red and golden beets and Swiss chard. The sweetness of the vegetables is tempered with tangy goat cheese, apple cider vinegar and a splash of white wine, and fresh scarlet runner beans and toasted pumpkin seeds add protein and crunch. And despite an impressive presentation, the dish is cost-effective. “Pasta equals pennies in cost, and root vegetables and legumes cost considerably less than traditional meat proteins,” Cervay adds.

Though pasta is certainly a popular way to add bulk to vegetable-centric dishes, it’s not the only option. Newton Medical Center, in New Jersey, serves a hearty cauliflower and green pea curry that packs a flavor punch with plenty of garlic, onion, parsley, turmeric, fresh ginger, cardamom and cumin. Taken from the book “The Fat Resistant Diet” by Leo Galland, M.D., the recipe has been a surprising hit. “The crowd here is very meat and potatoes, and really exotic, fancy stuff doesn’t usually go well,” says Food and Nutrition Manager Gregory Merkle. “But I was surprised to see that a lot of people who I didn’t think would even look at something vegetarian ended up liking it. About 30% of our population jumps on it.” 

Prized for their savory flavor and meaty texture, portobello mushrooms are the star vegetable of choice at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, in Illinois. There, Executive Chef Jim Roth gives them the gourmet treatment, first brushing the mushrooms with olive oil and roasting until tender. After setting the mushrooms upside down to drain (which keeps them from becoming waterlogged), Roth fills them with a rich, cheesy polenta. Then, he tops the whole thing with a sun-dried tomato cornbread panzanella and a fresh herb gremolata packed with fresh basil, oregano, thyme and lemon juice. 

Schools, too, are starting to get in on the vegetable action, though operators have the added challenge of dealing with children’s picky palates. But at Saint Paul Public Schools, in Minnesota, students clamor for the corn and black bean salad with red and green peppers. Served at the taco bar, students love using the corn and beans as the centerpiece in a taco salad or spooned straight into a tortilla, says Nutrition Specialist Angie Gaszak. “Kids are used to seeing things like this at Chipotle or Qdoba, so they really like it,” she says.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
lettuce dirt

Savor at McCormick Place developed the Green Thumb brand for menu items and products featuring its rooftop bounty; the latest is a pale ale made with the first crop of hops grown on the roof. Promoting that branding and the convention center’s green certification has brought in business from groups with a sustainability focus.

Ideas and Innovation
business pamphlet fair show

As we struggle to recruit and retain millennials, we had our current millennial employees invite friends who don’t work for our organization to a Q&A session where we find out why our organization is or isn’t appealing to them, and what they are looking for in an employer. I recommend doing this off-site in a casual environment so you can get honest and open feedback that could be useful for better marketing.

Menu Development
pho bowl

Achieving authenticity can be tricky. Late last year, Oberlin College landed in the news when students protested the way dining services at the Ohio school was botching ethnic food, serving up inauthentic versions of Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. It’s a challenge other operators are confronting, too, often tapping staff and patrons for inspiration.

At 260-bed Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Scottish Rite, Executive Chef Bradley Czajka, himself of Polish-Ukrainian descent, started Global Stations as a way to recognize the diversity of cultures at the hospital. “We have such an...

Menu Development
sweet pea ravioli

On any given night at the Wake Robin senior living facility in Shelburne, Vt., residents may find spring sweet pea and mascarpone ravioli with white wine cream sauce or acorn squash stuffed with quinoa and cranberries on the menu. These dishes, along with a new sweet-potato burger topped with cilantro aioli, aren’t just delicious, says Director of Dining Services Kathy King. They’re also completely vegetarian.

The popularity of Meatless Mondays and the growing number of people who call themselves “flexitarians” have impacted menu development in every noncommercial sector. Although...

FSD Resources