Operators expand plant-based dining options

plant based burger foodservice

From Kellogg’s.

Noncommercial operators are making huge strides with plant-based dining. Ten or 15 years ago, diners looking for meatless options might have eaten a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches or repetitive salads, but diners today have the opportunity not only to eat plant-based foods at every meal, but also to eat ones that are exceeding expectations for these types of menu items.

At Hendrix College, a private liberal arts school in Conway, Arkansas, students have been enjoying plant-based proteins and other vegetarian options for several years now. Hendrix College started participating in the Meatless Monday program about two years ago to increase the types of vegan and vegetarian foods offered, and, on those Mondays, the college showcases those vegetable-based meals at the entrance of dining halls. 

Other than Meatless Monday, Hendrix has updated each of its food stations to include more vegan and vegetarian options. Cindy Mosley, MS, RD, LD, Hendrix’s associate director of dining services and dietician, says there are plant-based options at each foodservice venue at Hendrix, including unique options such as cauliflower hot wings, vegan cheeses on pizzas, salad selections that include grains, quinoa, lentils and homemade dressings, a wok station and more.

“We’ve always had vegan and vegetarian options, and that’s because the students were requesting it years ago,” Mosley says, but she began pushing for more options for students so that every area had something for everyone. “I wanted more variety,” she says.

Plant-based proteins are similarly being offered in many healthcare settings, such as at Ridgewood, New Jersey’s Valley Health System. There, Valley Hospital has launched a campaign goal of helping people reduce their meat consumption by 15% to improve their personal health. One strategy they employ is the popular Meatless Monday movement, and they also feature vegetable-based recipes on their website.

Variety and customization: the keys to success

Mosley says the school’s saute and wok stations are popular among students, but notes there isn’t one specific area that’s necessarily doing better than another. These areas are perhaps doing so well because they offer students customizability.

According to Technomic’s 2017 College & University report, 29% of students say they’d be more likely to purchase meals on campus if there were more customizable food options. The various stations allow students to “get creative and create your own thing,” Mosley says.

Customization is something that diners in all settings seek out as well, so that strategy can be carried over to healthcare dining—build-your-own meals are a great way to offer customization and are easily adapted to include plant-based proteins, such as using plant-based crumbles as a topping for nachos or using quinoa burgers in place of standard meat burgers.

At Valley Health System, cafeterias offer dishes that encourage diners to try new ingredients, such as whole grains like wheat berries, or fruits such as fresh papaya. By offering these unique ingredients, diners can build the exact meal they’re looking for.

Diners are ready for plant-based proteins

For operators who are ready to increase the amount of plant-based proteins and vegetarian options on their menus, the interest is there. “Students are really demanding it now,” Mosley says. Put items on the menu that offer the customization and nutrition they’re after, and students will naturally make the choice to eat on campus more.

By serving what consumers want—in this case, plant-based proteins and vegetarian/vegan options—foodservice directors may see an increase in meal-plan participation. In fact, plant-based proteins and vegetable-forward cuisines offer the benefit of being healthier, something that 32% of students say would encourage them to eat on campus.

In the healthcare segment, offering a variety of options every day of the week—not just on Meatless Monday—can be a great way to encourage plant-based dining. Global-influenced dishes—such as Hackensack University Medical Center’s steamed vegetable dumplings with ginger dipping sauce, or Beaumont Hospital-Dearborn’s mujadara lentils with rice pilaf and caramelized onions—are both unique offerings that pair plant-based foods with an abundance of flavor.

Plant-based options may encourage participation

Ensuring that diners can choose a plant-based protein when they want to, as well as ensuring there’s a variety of delicious foods to choose from, can help increase participation in plant-based dining. Play up the health benefits of vegetable-based foods, and you may see more diners reaching for the black bean burger.

To learn more about plant-based options that are perfect for your dining services, visit Kellogg’s here.

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