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Northwestern students embrace 21 days of plants

Innovative menu items and activities spurred participation in a soon-to-be-annual plant-forward challenge.
northwestern menu
Photograph courtesy of Northwestern

Last fall, Northwestern University and its foodservice provider, Compass, sponsored the 21-Day Plant Forward Challenge in step with National Vegan Month in November. Support at the Evanston, Ill., school was strong—more than 300 students participated, a 58% increase over the first plant-based challenge the school had held just 10 months earlier.

“Students here are very interested in trying more plant-based dishes, and they have asked us to offer more of these options in the dining commons,” said Lisa Carlson, registered dietitian nutritionist for Northwestern Dining, in a statement.

vegan meatballs sweet & sour sauce

Photograph courtesy of Northwestern

Vegan items introduced during the three-week challenge included grain meatballs with sweet-and-sour sauce, coconut bacon, hominy and squash soup, and hoppin’ John rice salad. Among students’ favorites were chayote Caribbean curry, portobello and cannellini bean ragu with polenta or grits, and three vegan desserts: red velvet cupcakes, chocolate oat cookies and blueberry crumble. In addition to the new menu options, Northwestern Dining held a teaching kitchen and Grand Finale event featuring a number of new dishes.

Students were encouraged to make pledges to enjoy one, two or three plant-forward meals a day, and participants reduced their carbon footprint by 5,770 pounds of carbon dioxide during the three weeks, according to Compass.

vegan red velvet cupcakes

Photograph courtesy of Northwestern

Plant-forward dining options have increased 33% in Northwestern’s dining commons since Compass launched its first menu on campus in September 2018. This initiative was key to the company’s new global platform that focuses on wellness, as noted in its 2019 Corporate Social Responsibility Report. Overall, the company’s plant-based meat alternative purchases have totaled more than 2.3 million pounds, the report stated.

Compass plans to make the Plant-Forward Challenge an annual event at Northwestern during National Vegan Month.

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