Offering plant-based items on your menu isn’t just about having a veggie burger on your sandwich menu or offering to substitute vegetables for animal protein in your pasta dishes. It’s also about finding ways to use plant-based ingredients to make a vegan or vegetarian dish as rich and satisfying as any other entrée on your menu. Think about how you can harness the properties of plants to make soups heartier and sauces creamier. When done well, your guests won’t miss the meat.
Consumers are thinking more about not only their health but the health of the planet right now. Incorporating more plant-based meals into your menu and promoting their environmental, health and ethical benefits can help you support the changes they are making to their diets. A recent report from Meticulous Research estimates that the plant-based market will grow nearly 12 percent annually in the next seven years. Nestlé also reported that 87 percent of Americans are incorporating plant-based protein into their diets. As consumers look to eat more plant-based dishes, restaurants are in an ideal position to make those plants more craveable. Consider updating traditional dishes with plant-based alternatives and changing up presentations to add interest to your menu.
If you’re looking for a pantry workhorse to complement sweet or savory dishes, try polenta. It’s rare to find an ingredient so versatile – it can work in every section of your menu and stand in for everything from oats to rice to pasta. Try it with a berry compote at breakfast, fry it and serve with marinara, bake it into crisp croutons on salad or include it as a creamy accompaniment to pork and poultry. Or for guests who aren’t gluten-free, offer lemon polenta cake or cookies for a simple, rustic dessert.
Just about every week, there is news about a new animal protein that has a vegetable-based or lab-grown substitute that makes a compelling case for replacing the real thing. New and up-and-coming options ranging from plant-based shrimp to lab-grown pork belly and bacon are on offer – and this comes at a time when animal protein continues to be hit by COVID-19 outbreaks in processing facilities and resulting supply chain delays. Granted, consumers still crave animal protein: A report from CB Insights says 30 percent of the calories people consume globally come from meat products. However, the pandemic may be accelerating the plant-based trend, along with an enhanced desire among consumers to choose foods that are environmentally sustainable. (The report said sales of vegan meat soared 264 percent in the nine weeks ending on May 2.) But how much are your guests willing to adjust their eating habits to help climate change? Will a lab-grown alternative really suit someone craving a bacon cheeseburger? A Nielsen report from last year found that only 12 percent of respondents said they would be willing to eat cultured meat in order to reduce their impact on climate change, while 61 percent said they would be amenable to reducing their meat consumption, 43 percent would eat more plant-based proteins, 22 percent would consider vegetarianism or veganism, and 8 percent would consider insect alternatives. But as more animal protein alternatives appear on grocery store shelves, consumers may become more willing to try new options. As a report from the Rail noted, introducing plant-based alternatives on your menu can be a way of gauging your diners’ interest in more daring alternatives: “A guest eating an Impossible Burger now is likely to at least have an interest in a lab-grown burger in the future.”
Plant-based foods had already been on the rise before COVID-19. Now they may be playing even larger roles on the plate as people look to replace lockdown comfort foods with more health- and environmentally conscious options. At a time when animal proteins have been in shorter supply, first try swapping in plant-based proteins in flavorful recipes where the meat is less likely to be missed
At a time when it has become all too clear how critical it is to look after our health, consumers are looking for new ways to protect it in delicious ways. Show them how kale can help! It is one of the most nutrient-dense foods around and can promote heart health, lower blood pressure, and reduce inflammation and stress, among other benefits. While its tough texture and bitterness can detract from its appeal for some, it’s all about the preparation and surrounding ingredients. The strong, tangy taste of Asian dressings and seasonings are an ideal complement. Add some grilled shrimp for a complete meal that’s not only nutritious but flavor-packed too.
Is there anything cauliflower can’t do? Beyond serving as a substitute for flour in pizza crust and as a nutrient-rich replacement for rice and potatoes, cauliflower also works well as a filling in a range of recipes. Its texture helps with the adherence of marinades and seasonings, while its mild flavor allows other ingredients to shine.
Looking to bring more plant-based dishes onto your menu? If you try reinventing classic comfort foods with flavorful combinations of vegetables in place of meat, you can appeal to vegetarians and flexitarians alike. Consider using eggplant in place of the animal protein for tasty “meatballs.
Nearly one-quarter of Americans say they have eaten less meat in the past year then they did prior to that, according to a new Gallup poll of 2,400 adults. Among the respondents, the shift toward consuming less meat was especially true among women, people of color, people living in cities or suburbs, and people living in areas outside of the Midwest. Most respondents reported making these changes for health reasons as opposed to environmental or ethical ones. What’s more, they largely accomplished it simply by eating smaller amounts of meat or by swapping in vegetables or other ingredients in place of meat – and less so by incorporating plant-based burgers, sausages or the other plant-based proteins making headlines. For chefs, the shift toward plant-forward diets is setting the stage for innovation, as well as the recognition of those who are making a mark with the plant-forward menus they create. To celebrate these chefs and their businesses, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) collaborated with EAT Foundation to assemble its annual Plant-Forward Global 50 list. The list spans kitchens that are professional and commercial, upscale and casual, vegetarian/vegan and non, and in the U.S. and abroad. Looking for ideas to infuse your menu with fresh plant-forward options? The CIA and EAT developed a list of cookbooks to accompany the list as well.
Want to bring some variety to the greens you offer on your menu? Brussels sprouts are a relative of cabbage but can offer a different experience than you get with cabbage, kale or other hardy greens. They’re also versatile: Try them roasted, steamed, sautéed or even deep fried in both sweet and savory combinations. They can round out a meal as an appealing side dish simply dressed in olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper – and can also work well in a salad as a complement to such wide-ranging ingredients cranberries, bacon or your favorite cheeses.