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Balancing diners’ desire for health with great taste

California dairy makes a perfect partner for plant-forward dishes.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The U.S. is experiencing a strong trend toward the fresh appeal of produce and noncommercial facility operators are updating their menu options accordingly. Consumers are increasingly focused on health and sustainability, and this is leading diners to look for more plant-forward options.

The younger generations are leading the way when it comes to this dining trend. Plant-forward dining particularly appeals to diners under the age of 40. For noncommercial facility operators, especially those in schools and higher education, this means adjusting menus to appeal to the younger diners they serve.

Diners who want plant-forward options aren’t necessarily following a specialized diet free from animal products. According to Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, 42% of consumers ages 18- to 34-years old say they are likely to try dishes described as plant-based—more than items described as meatless (41% would be likely to try) or meat-free (40%). Plant-forward does not equate to vegan or vegetarian diets, either. Rather, it has broader appeal to those who are searching for healthier options and are eating less meat but have relatively flexible diets. Plant-forward options fit in nicely.

For noncommercial facility operators, this can translate to dishes that offer the veggies diners want without being completely meat- or dairy-free. According to Technomic’s 2018 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, 71% of consumers consider foods high in protein to be healthier. One way to add protein appeal to a plant-forward dish with by adding dairy—cheese is a tasty way to add protein and calcium. For example, vegetable lasagna can offer diners healthy vegetables while the cheese and dairy-based sauces add a protein punch to the dish. Operators can also call out specific ingredients such as mozzarella or Dry Jack to signal diners the mean is made with premium ingredients. It’s a great way to offer broadly appealing, healthier menu options in noncommercial settings.

Diners, of course, want food that tastes good, too. When it comes to plant-forward options other factors include health, diet, social responsibility and sustainability. Plant-forward options can check many, if not all, of these boxes. As a result, operators can adjust their menus to meet these desires by offering delicious, vegetable-forward items, supplemented with delicious, sustainable dairy products.

Universities, healthcare facilities and other foodservice locations can develop unique vegetable dishes that are first-rate and interesting. Veggie burgers have evolved and diners want more options. Unique cheeses or meat-and-vegetable blends are just a couple of ways to push the envelope.

The REAL Makers Campaign from the California Milk Advisory Board highlights chefs who prepare innovative menu items using California dairy in an interesting way. The dishes can be a great inspiration point for operators looking to try something different. Highlighted options include plant-forward dishes like “Stuffed” Mexican Pizza, from chef Brandi Key of Tasting Room in Houston, and Rujak Burrata, from chef Erwin Tjahyadi of Bone Kettle in Pasadena, Calif.

It's hard to go wrong when a recipe starts with quality ingredients. Healthy plant-forward options marrying fresh produce and rich, tasty California cheeses can offer diners interesting dishes along with the healthier, nutrition-rich options they want.

California dairy products can add the flavor appeal diners want, while giving operators the opportunity to build selling power, profitability and value.

This post is sponsored by California Milk Advisory Board

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