College students crave high-protein, plant-based foods

Why plant-based foods are increasingly becoming center-of-the-plate entrees
Photograph courtesy of Barilla

Today’s food trends continue to move in the direction of fresh, healthy, local and sustainable eating. In particular, the desire for high-protein, plant-based foods is driving foodservice industry supply chains to evolve and expand their categories. According to Technomic’s 2018 Healthy Eating report, 84% of consumers say they think foods that have a full serving of vegetables are slightly or much healthier, and 67% of consumers say that plant-based foods are slightly or much healthier. Additionally, 79% of consumers say they are more likely to buy foods that have a full serving of vegetables. To put it lightly, interest in veggies is on the rise.

Gen Z college students in particular have embraced plant-based foods. Twenty percent of college students follow some form of special diet, ranging from semi-vegetarian to vegan, according to Technomic’s 2017 College & University report. Students want food that supports a healthy diet and environment, and plant-based foods put vegetables that are packed with flavor, color and, most importantly, protein in the center of the plate.

That same “Good for You, Good for the Planet” purpose inspired global pasta leader Barilla to develop a line of legume dry pastas. Made with just chickpeas or red lentils, these pastas offer a deliciously unique taste and al dente texture, along with the nutritional benefits of legumes—providing a good source of plant-based protein and an excellent source of fiber. The new pasta options include Red Lentil Rotini, Red Lentil Penne, Chickpea Rotini and Chickpea Casarecce. All are certified gluten-free and non-GMO project verified. The plant-based protein and clean label attributes of Barilla legume offer a big win for foodservice facilities, particularly at colleges and universities.

Legume pastas score big

Cornell Dining at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., tested Barilla’s Red Lentil Penne and Chickpea Casarecce against a semolina-based farfalle at an à la minute action station where students chose one pasta, garnishes and a sauce. The penne and the casarecce collectively outsold the farfalle two weeks in a row.

Feedback questionnaires revealed the No. 1 reason why students preferred the legume pastas was they were higher in protein compared to the semolina farfalle. “Students are intrigued by a plant-based food that has protein, so these pastas check both boxes and meet student expectations,” said Michele Lefebvre, RDN, CDN, Director of Nutrition Management, Cornell Dining.

From the culinary side, chefs need to be creative on how to utilize plant-based foods. Paul Zullo, Quality Assurance and Development Chef of Cornell Dining, said, “Plant-based pastas have a range of applications and can be paired with different sauces and ingredients, and these pastas can be substituted for all types of semolina pastas with little to no difference in taste and texture when used wisely.”

Looking for inspiration? Try making these recipes with plant-based legume pastas from Barilla:

As more consumers turn to plant-based options, foods such as legume pasta will surely become more common. Stay ahead of the trends with these recipes and more featuring chickpea and red lentil pastas.

This post is sponsored by Barilla

Want breaking news at your fingertips?

Click here or text FSD to 888-111 to receive text alerts from FoodService Director and get the news and insights that matter to your operation.