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

Industry News & Opinion

K-12 foodservice participating in federal nutrition programs soon could fall into some extra cheese. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to buy 11 million pounds of cheese to raise plummeting prices, the result of a dairy glut. The acquired product will be distributed to federal nutrition programs, which might include WIC, SNAP and Child Nutrition Programs, and food banks.

The purchase falls short of a call from Congress, unions, special interest groups and commodity organizations for a $150 million buyout of dairy assets to mitigate the 35% drop in dairy revenues—a 30-year...

Ideas and Innovation
cardboard takeout box

The death knell keeps ringing for polystyrene containers. A story Monday in the Chicago Tribune reports that a man who provided free recycling for the foam products in 10 area communities is shutting down his services, citing expense and logistical difficulties, and leaving few options for diverting the material from landfills.

“From a business perspective, there is no market for [recycled polystyrene foam]. It's difficult to sell,” Beth Lang, facilities and general services manager at the Recycling Drop-Off Center in Naperville, Ill., told the Tribune. “The second reason, and more...

Industry News & Opinion

Students at Martin Luther College will be able to cook their own food in the cafeteria this year, thanks to the addition of a new self-cook station installed during the cafeteria’s renovation, The Journal reports.

In addition to the self-cook station, which contains induction cookers, the revamped cafeteria at the New Ulm, Minn., school will include new pizza equipment, a panini grill, tiled floors, poured countertops and new arrangements to make the cafeteria appear more open.

"We wanted to make it look more like a restaurant and not like a cafeteria," Director of Dining...

Industry News & Opinion

Two chefs at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., are trying to help solve the Mars food dilemma, myfoxspokane.com reports .

Just outside the school’s cafeteria, Executive Chef Timothy Grayson and his partner, Christine Logan-Travis, are trying their hand at growing tomatoes, oregano, basil and other plants in Martian Regolith Soil, the closest soil on Earth to that found on the fourth planet from the sun.

All of the plants in the Mars-inspired garden are intended for human consumption.

“It is a reality that at some point, if man goes to Mars, they will need to...

FSD Resources