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C&U menus get creative with plant-based and ethnic options

Photograph: Shutterstock

College and university students are a diverse and nutritionally-savvy lot, and they’re craving healthier options such as plant-based protein and more unique global fare.

As more students turn to meatless menus, foodservice operators are having to think beyond the veggie stir-fry to keep students happy. Technomic’s 2019 College and University Consumer Trend Report finds that 44% of students want their school to change the menu more often to offer new foods, and 24% of students that are sophomores or older say they are eating more vegetarian or vegan foods on campus now versus one year ago.

That’s why plant-forward cuisines such as Israeli or Levantine are all finding a place at university and college dining tables. Vegetables that are packed with flavor, color and protein are also finding their way to the center of the plate.

Getting inspiration

Many campus chefs are working to shake things up with choices that range from vegetable pakoras and seitan tacos, to setting up pho (a Vietnamese soup) and plant-based food stations.  Variety is truly the spice of life.

When it comes to figuring out what to focus on in the way of college and university menu trends, Chris Studtmann, campus executive chef at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, Wash., says he looks to multiple resources for inspiration. Those resources include reading trade periodicals, scanning relevant websites, keeping up with social media channels such as Pinterest and seeing how food plays an impact on people's love of photos and experiences.

“Students are looking for experiential dining with local favorites, and authentic ethnic cuisine on campus,” he says. “I tend to use pop-up events to bring excitement to the campus.”

He adds that there’s excitement about spices from around the world with sriracha, peri peri and harissa being more common and used in traditional recipes. However, he’s also seeing interest in regional African cuisines because of the spices used, as well as naturally plant-based options such as a vegetable peanut curry.

Putting ingredients to work

There are many ways to incorporate new flavors, spices and also popular ancient grains. For example, at Seattle Pacific, some top menu items include chickpea and farro stew with spinach; red quinoa pancakes with fresh strawberries and maple syrup; spaghetti squash and pinto beans with tomato sofrito; Turkish-style Zeytinyagli barbunya (a type of stew) with pinto beans; and sweet potato and black bean tamales. Some student favorites include are the Korean BBQ Pork Bao Buns, pho and pretty much anything in a taco.

At Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, two of its dining hall menus offer 100% vegan and vegetarian food, including pizzas, sandwiches salads, wraps and Moroccan-style tagines. The University of Colorado is also proud of its varied vegan and vegetarian options—it boasts 50 different vegan meals offered daily. Some options include three-bean chili, hummus wraps, vegetable pakoras and seitan tacos.

Plant-based dining is a major driver in what we’re working on lately and how it supports a healthy/balanced diet, whether a guest is choosing to go vegan or blending their diet with a foundation in plants,” Studtmann says. 

And, because food suppliers are taking note of these trends, it’s getting easier for chefs to find ingredients. For example, companies such as Furmano’s, which produces delicious, wholesome tomatoes, beans and vegetables in several varieties, has many products that appeal to the growth of these food service trends.

To grow foodservice sales, colleges and universities need to work with purveyors to ensure they’re getting the ingredients they need to stay on top of these evolving lifestyles. From ethnic foods to plant-based options, keeping on trend is key for maximizing sales.

This post is sponsored by Furmano’s

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