As more diners seek out plant-based menu choices, many college and university dining services have pushed the creative boundaries. They’re venturing well beyond salad bars and veggie burgers to offer compelling produce-centric dishes that don’t simply pack a nutritional punch—they stand on their own when it comes to craveability.
The goal, in many cases, is to tempt nonvegetarians to cross over and incorporate more veggies and whole grains into their diets. On college campuses, that may be less of a challenge than in the real world: According to Technomic’s 2019College & University Consumer Trend Report, a full quarter of college students follow a diet that limits their consumption of animal products in some way. Reaching them, as well as their carnivore-leaning fellow students, can take several routes.
Popular grain and poke bowls can be built around brown rice, farro, quinoa and other grains, embellished and enlivened with pickled or grilled vegetables, smoked tofu, grilled meats and bold dressings. True Food Kitchen’s Ancient Grains Bowl may sound simple, but it’s a riot of flavors and textures, including miso sesame-glazed sweet potato, turmeric, charred onion, snow peas, grilled portobello, sliced avocado and hemp seeds; it can be customized with proteins ranging from grilled tofu to salmon. And at the University of Oregon, the colorful Mighty Green Grain Bowl combines a locally sourced blend of brown rice, quinoa, lentils, red rice and wild rice with kale, black beans and avocado slices, a zesty salsa and creamy avocado cilantro-lime dressing.
Housemade meatless “meats” and dairy-free cheeses are also on the rise. With the satisfying consistency and flavor of the real thing, they appeal to students who might not typically embrace a plant-centric diet. Rice University seems to be on the cutting edge of this trend. There, senior executive chef Roger Elkhouri has been passionately perfecting substitutes for turkey, roast beef, cheddar, other cheeses and even barbecued brisket—and offers a vegan charcuterie station. He uses liquid smoke, coconut milk, wheat gluten and other ingredients to mimic the consistency and taste of the real thing.
Street-inspired fare is an opportunity to incorporate more plant ingredients without sacrificing flavor and appeal. Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, serves a Moroccan-style vegetable tagine, beer-battered tofu and seitan pepper steak as specials; the college has two dining co-ops that serve only vegetarian and vegan meals. The University of Colorado-Boulder offers 50 vegan options a day, ranging from traditional chili, hummus wraps and apple pie to more adventurous choices like vegetable pakoras, sushi rolls, tofu rancheros, seitan tacos and chia coconut pudding.
When it comes to desserts, fresh fruit is arguably the ultimate plant-forward option. But it doesn’t have the “wow” factor of a fresh-baked fruit pie or crisp, especially when the fruit’s in season. Desserts are perfect candidates for “stealth health” recipes: chia puddings made with nondairy milks; dessert hummus, a mousse-like treat, acquires added fiber and protein (and a better nutritional profile) from chickpeas and can be made to taste like chocolate, peanut butter cookie dough and banana bread; brownies can be fortified with pureed black beans in place of eggs, yielding a moist, lower-fat, yet still indulgent dessert. Today Show nutrition expert Joy Bauer even offers a recipe for blender cupcakes that whirl pureed cannellini beans and water with angel food cake mix.
Across the menu, the opportunities to enhance plant-based recipes are limitless, as is the impact they can have on healthier eating.
This post is sponsored by Furmano’s