'Plant Centric' engages diners with inventive menus and interactive tastings

CulinArt’s plant-forward wellness promotion, which launched last month in schools and other operations, is gaining fans.
A Plant Centric sampling table
Registered Dietitian Jessica Levinson serves up Turkey Cauliflower Meatballs at Rumsey Hall School. / Photo courtesy of CulinArt

Customers are literally eating up CulinArt’s new “Plant Centric” wellness promotion, launched last month across the foodservice management company’s portfolio of accounts.

Operations including K-12 schools, colleges and corporate cafes are introducing plant-forward menu items and holding interactive tastings, and finding them a success.

At Achieve at The Golf Performance Center, a school focused on sports conditioning located in Ridgefield, Conn., protein is core to the menu, as it promotes muscle recovery from workouts. Through Plant Centric, Chef Manager Leslie DiNapoli introduced Protein Bowls featuring marinated tofu as well as plant-based chicken patties and burgers in place of animal products.

“The students were a little skeptical at first, but … they love protein bowls in general, so this was right up their alley. The recipe allowed us to introduce plant-based proteins a bit more easily,” says DiNapoli, noting that the girls were more adventurous than the boys when it came to trying the veggie proteins.

CulinArt Dietitian Jessica Levinson set up a tasting table with samples of Turkey Cauliflower Meatballs at Trinity-Pawling School in Pawling, N.Y., to an enthusiastic response.

“Who can turn down a [free] meatball?” says Jason Swartz, chef-manager at the all-boys school. Students left little in the way of leftovers, he adds.

Levinson also offered the meatball samples at Rumsey Hall School in Washington Depot, Conn. “The students really liked them a lot and came up several times for seconds,” says Foodservice Director Maryann Pierzga.

Blending meat with veggies has proven to be a gentler way to encourage plant-forward eating among younger consumers. At the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles, Director of Dining Services Meghan Lambert-Jackson served a Plant Centric recipe for Turkey Mushroom Meatloaf at lunch. The next day, Beef Mushroom Kofta was on the menu.

“You could barely tell that half the amount of meat was substituted with ground mushrooms,” she says.

On the advice of CulinArt Regional Chef David Aylmer, Lambert-Jackson also displayed nutritional information comparing traditional kofta with the Plant Centric version. While students were probably more interested in filling their plates, “there were a couple of teachers who noticed the difference [in the nutrition figures],” she says. “They seemed surprised at what a difference substituting part of the meat for vegetables makes.”

Plant-forward eating can also be a tough sell for some college students. “Not everyone likes their veggies, but it is easy to hide them and not even know they are there,” says Dietitian Lindsey Schmidt, who served up the Turkey-Cauliflower Meatballs to students at Point Park University in Pittsburgh.

The Plant Centric promotion is just in its beginning stages, but will be rolling out to more operations throughout the year.



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