Creating vegetarian options with mass appeal

The vegetarian facility shares how it develops dishes with meat-eater appeal.

Published in Healthcare Spotlight

By 
Katie Fanuko, Associate Editor

vegetarian quiche

At Loma Linda University Medical Center, you won’t find caffeinated beverages, beef  hamburgers or even a ham sandwich on the cafeteria menu. That’s because the Loma Linda, Calif.-based facility serves only vegetarian meals in adherence with the values of the local Seventh Day Adventist community.

Instead of imposing limitations on the menu, the plant-centric focus pushes chefs to get creative in developing vegetarian dishes that resonate with all guests. Executive Director of Nutritional Services, Jean Sellars, describes the methods used in her kitchen to develop hot sellers. 

Offer a variety of proteins

Eggs are a staple on the breakfast menu and this year’s egg shortage meant culinary staff had to hustle for a viable alternative, ultimately deciding on a tofu-based quiche. This past spring, Sellars and her staff gathered feedback to ensure everyone felt comfortable working with tofu.

Early iterations would over liquefy, but chefs found that draining the tofu longer and adding chia produced an end product that was “visually appealing and had the ability to stay on the steam table for an hour,” Sellars says.

In late May, staff introduced the quiche as an alternative protein option and offered samples to guests. Within a few days they sold out of three pans of product within 90 minutes. Word spread among hospital employees and those on the night shift requested that it be included as an evening option. “We put it on two nights per week as part of our diner menu feature and it sells out every time,” Sellars says.

Let guests customize

To make room for recipes with strong selling potential, Sellars’ staff regularly reviews menu items and nix items that don’t sell well. “It could be a great recipe, but just doesn’t appeal to the customers, so it gets scratched,” she says. Yet, sometimes just revamping a menu item’s presentation can boost its popularity. The cafeteria has long served an ancho chili lentil taco and recently decided to reintroduce it as a build-your-own option with toppings. The small change increased customer interest. “That has taken off very well, to the point where we are selling out,” Sellars says. “People like to control what they are having.”

Develop vegan substitutes that taste “real” 

Currently, as part of an effort to increase vegan options, Sellars’ staff routinely tests potential additions to ensure that dairy and meat substitutes mimic the texture and flavor of the real thing. While developing the menu’s vegan macaroni and cheese, staff had challenges in creating a cheese substitute with the right flavor profile. During initial testing the product melted well “but tasted pretty blah,” she says. “[Customers] are not going to buy that.” Staff found that adding nutritional yeast did the trick.

Sellars was adamant about making sure that the product tasted like it was made with real cheese before introducing it on the menu, to appeal to all customers. She believes that this approach ensures vegan items’ popularity. “You wanted it to be a wonderful, palatable product… that [non-vegans] will buy again,” she says.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Howard County Public School System in Ellicott City, Md., will be offering free lunch to students for two days during winter break, The Baltimore Sun reports.

This is the first time the district will be providing meals over winter break. The lunch will be served on Dec. 27 and 28 at two sites in the community.

About 22.2% of the district’s students are enrolled for free or reduced-price meals. The district served 66,276 meals last summer during its summer meal program .

Read the full story via baltimoresun.com .

Industry News & Opinion

Cranston School District in Cranston, R.I., has hired a collection agency to help reduce its lunch debt , NBC 10 reports.

The district’s chief operating officer sent a letter to parents saying that the district would be using a collection agency next year to collect outstanding lunch balances after other collection methods have failed. Parents who owe $20 or more and haven’t paid in the last 60 days will receive a letter from the agency starting Jan. 2, 2019.

Cranston accumulated $95,508 in unpaid lunch balances between Sept. 1, 2016 and June 30, 2018. The district’s meal...

Ideas and Innovation
hot school lunch

As lunch shaming remains in the national spotlight, many school districts have turned away from providing alternate meals, such as a cheese sandwich, to students who can’t pay for lunch. While this ensures that students are provided a full meal and aren’t stigmatized, it has caused some districts to quickly accumulate lunch debt . In order to keep funds under control, school districts throughout the country are now relying on assistance from their communities to defray the cost of some meals.

1. School lunch fairies

Students at Apollo-Ridge School District in Spring Church, Pa.,...

Industry News & Opinion

When looking for a way to get more use out of its Canyon Cafe, open during the weekends only, California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., tried something new: free cooking classes.

Classes are open to students, as well as faculty and staff, and are taught by Campus Dining Executive Chef Michael Albright, according to Mustang News .

The weekday classes, which are capped at 14 participants, have taught attendees how to make items such as probiotic overnight oats and “the perfect turkey.” Interested parties can sign up online via the school’s dining...

FSD Resources