Vegan and vegetarian at every age

From preschool to senior living, meatless options are finding a permanent spot on menus.

Pamela Parseghian, Contributing Food Writer

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 35% of heavy vegetarian diners are millennials—the largest segment—full- and part-time vegetarians permeate every demographic, according to Technomic’s 2015 Center of the Plate: Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report. Technomic notes that 32% of all consumers say they eat vegetarian options at least once every 90 days.

While none the 300 residents Wake Robin caters to are strict vegans, many are flexitarians and want the option of going meatless from time to time.

The first vegan resident recently moved into the 32-year-old Chaparral House, an eldercare nursing facility in Berkeley, Calif. Dietary Manager Adrienne White Brown adapts vegetarian dishes for vegan diets with tweaks such as leaving cheese off her lentil roulade with walnut stuffing. Currently, Brown is experimenting with quinoa dishes, and has found success with a salad comprised of the red and white varieties, carrots, celery, black beans, corn and multicolored peppers.

Of her 43 residents, Brown reports about 12 take the vegetarian dish available at each lunch and dinner meal period. During the past three months, she has seen an increase in vegetarian requests and expects interest in nonmeat dishes to grow.

At The Scandinavian School of Jersey City, N.J., several vegan families and a number of children with allergies prompted the transition to a strictly vegan menu. The preschool’s curriculum always has focused on sustainability and community responsibility, so the move aligns with that mission, says Maria Germerud-Sharp, founder and director. “We lay the foundation for this every day, not only by the way we eat, which minimizes our carbon footprint, but also by the way the children are encouraged to participate in making the food, growing and harvesting veggies from the garden and feeding the worms in our compost bin,” she says. “In addition, a strictly vegan menu allows all our children and teachers to enjoy the same meals family-style.”

The children are involved in everything from peeling carrots or baking bread in the morning to soaking chickpeas in the afternoon and making nut milks for smoothies served at afternoon snack. “Of course, there are some very picky eaters, and some children who have never had a whole rainbow of colors on their plates before, but little by little they grow to love the food,” says Germerud-Sharp. 

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