Meatless Monday sparks creative bean cuisine

From Bush Brothers.

The Meatless Monday campaign and the growing interest in healthier eating are spurring foodservice directors to greater creativity in vegetarian cookery. Many of them rely on the versatility, nutrition and flavor of beans to craft appealing meatless dishes.

For example, K-12 students at Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School in Kingston, Pa., enjoy a repertoire of more than 20 variations of hummus, according to Paul McMillan, general manager for Metz Culinary Management at the 738-student school. The hummus flavors range from Six Pepper and White Truffle to Buffalo-Blue Cheese to variations featuring spinach, pesto, avocado and grilled eggplant. All are made in house.

“We rinse off our garbanzo beans and blend them with tahini, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fresh lemon juice and the other ingredients,” says McMillan.

Metz, a foodservice management company based in Dallas, Pa., joined the Meatless Monday initiative this year. The initial Meatless Monday menu at Wyoming Seminary included herbed hummus with grilled pitas, vegetable chili made with black beans, kidney beans and Great Northern beans and grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup.

“We kept the menu kid friendly and fun,” says McMillan. “They really do eat their beans here.”

Meatless Monday is a non-profit international campaign that began in 2003 in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It encourages people to give up eating meat one day a week. Proponents say that is a step toward better health and a more livable planet, because plant-based diets are lower in saturated fat and more sustainable than animal-based ones.

Customers are generally receptive to the message, operators say, not only the vegetarians and vegans one might expect, but also habitual carnivores who are open to an occasional meat-free meal.

“There is a very clear and compelling story about it,” says Dave Willard, senior director, culinary services for Sodexo, a Gaithersburg, Md.-based food management company that launched Meatless Monday programs in its healthcare, government and corporate accounts in January 2011. “It is very easy to make this behavioral change in your life.”

On Meatless Monday, Sodexo customers enjoy anything from a healthier take on eggplant parmigiana to African-inspired vegetable curry with whole-wheat couscous to varied lentil dishes and cannellini bean salad.

“Beans can play a role in creating a protein alternative,” says Willard. “They also certainly add fiber and value and are a low-cost, good-tasting ingredient.”

When Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vt., held its first Meatless Monday, spaghetti with “meatless balls” of tofu and several bean specialties were among the hits, reports Richie Brown, Metz general manager at the 350-student liberal arts college.

Beans are “huge,” Brown says. “You can do so many things with them, like serve them in chili or make them into dips like white bean pate. And we do Mexican dishes a lot, substituting refried beans for ground meat. They all go over well.”

At Memphis City Schools in Memphis, Tenn., executive director of nutrition services Tony Geraci decided that Meatless Monday was too good an idea to run only once a week. So he expanded the vegetarian options on the daily menus in the 110,000-student district.

“We do a lot with black beans, red beans and pinto beans along with quinoa and other grains,” says Geraci. “And we do a three-bean vegetarian chili that is just killer.”

In fact, the chili stars as a topping on Real Deal Nachos, which are made with fresh baked tortilla chips, shredded cheese, diced onions and cilantro. He also riffs on hummus with black beans and kidney beans.

“These are really great choices,” Geraci says. “They are full of fiber, full of protein and easy to handle and transport.”

The Novato Unified School District in Novato, Calif., will start its third year of Meatless Monday in the fall. The favorites include green salads, vegetarian pizza, veggie burgers and vegetarian lasagna, all made in house. In addition, red beans, kidney beans and garbanzo beans appear as salad toppings and as fillings for bean and rice burritos.

“The program allows me to continue educating our students, teachers and community about the benefits of eating more plant-based foods and less meat,” says Miguel Villarreal, director of food and nutritional services of the 7,500-student district. “I hope to make this an entire community effort, not just a school effort.”

For meatless recipes featuring the flavor and nutrition of beans, visit www.bushbeansfoodservice.com.