Plant-based dining was on the minds of many attendees of FoodService Director’s annual MenuDirections conference in New Orleans, where operators shared their challenges and successes with serving plant-centric meals. Here are four points attendees looking to menu produce-packed options may have jotted down.
1. Employee education comes first
Before plant-based dishes could be offered to employees at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Dining and JPL Store Services Liaison Bonnie Brodsky said she had to take the time to not only instruct employees on how to make the new plant-based items but also educate them on the differences between various plant-based diets such as vegan and flexitarian.
2. Plants don’t have to be boring
Instead of offering a traditional corn dog at its annual fall harvest festival, Yale University in New Haven, Conn., served a smoked carrot on a stick. Senior Director of Yale Dining Adam Millman said the menu item was one of the most popular dishes served and its whimsical appearance played well on social media.
3. USDA regulations can hamstring K-12 operators
Just more than a fifth (21%) of younger consumers follow some type of meat-restrictive diet, according to Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report. However, it can be hard for K-12 operators to offer plant-based dishes that are cost effective and fit within USDA regulations. Bertrand Weber, foodservice director for Minneapolis Public Schools, said he is working with the Culinary Institute of America to come up with plant-based recipes that he hopes to introduce to students next year.
4. Garnering diner trust is important
A challenge Brodsky said she encountered when introducing plant-based items to the menu was getting diners to take the program seriously. One way she gained diner trust was inviting vegan and other plant-based eaters to come see how the dining team prepared its plant-based dishes.