Whether your dining program is at a corporate office, university, or healthcare center, you’ve likely noticed there’s a growing demand for meatless menu items. People are hungry for a greater variety of protein sources beyond meat and dairy. While some consumers are looking for vegetarian and vegan options, 62% of protein users cite the environment, ethics, and sustainability, as an important factor when purchasing a protein product. Many others are eating more plant-based food, including proteins, to support their health and wellness goals.
Another cause in the demand for plant-based menu items is the rise in allergies and food intolerance. Over half of plant protein users report dairy-free as an important nutritional factor in food purchases. Many consumers are also seeking to add simpler and more recognizable ingredients to their diets.
But it’s not all about replacing meat, while the demand for plant proteins grew in 2018 and 2019 by 20%, meat intake also increased in the US. The “flexitarian” lifestyle of eating vegetarian most of the time but still eating meat sometimes has grown in popularity as an easy change to lose weight, improve overall health, and help the environment. Flexitarians will add proteins like beans, peas, and eggs, along with adding more fruits and veggies, whole grains, and dairy to their diets.
To offer great plant-based menu alternatives you have to think beyond veggie burgers. Turns out, plant-based burgers like the popular Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger replicate more than just the juiciness and meaty taste of their beef counterparts, they’re also comparable in saturated fat. Diets higher in saturated fat are often associated with increased rates of heart disease. Stick to ground beef or turkey burgers if you’re just looking to lower salt in your diet though. Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger both have almost 4 times the amount of sodium(mg) as their meaty counterparts.
A Plant-Based Punch for Your Lunch
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add more plant-based foods to your diet or your menu! In fact, most of your meals should already be plant-based anyway! A healthy meal should already be full of veggies, fruits, and plant-based fats like extra virgin olive oil, avocado, or tahini. Whole grains and starchy veggies, like quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and spaghetti squash should be part of a balanced plate as well. Making menu swaps for plant-based alternatives is easy, just swap meat for pulses (the umbrella term for beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas).
Here are a few plant-based protein sources that you can incorporate into meals and menu items for those looking to eliminate or scale back on meaty meals:
Packed with protein and fiber, pulses include chickpeas, dried peas, lentils, and a variety of beans such as kidney, black, Lima, and butter beans. They are a good source of iron, zinc, and folate and are naturally low in saturated fat. Plus, they’re inexpensive and easy to prepare. In lunch menus, they’re great as salad toppings or in tacos and quesadillas. Or use them as the base for homemade veggie burgers.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are one of the easiest foods to incorporate into meals you already enjoy. For breakfast items, try sprinkling a handful of hemp or chia seeds over yogurt, or better yet incorporate them into a delicious smoothie! Pumpkin seeds are a great topping on soups and salads. And nuts like pistachios, walnuts, almonds, and cashews are great to add to stir-frys or as a “flour” base for baked goods. Just be mindful of those with food allergies!
Yes, whole grains like quinoa, wild rice, and even whole wheat pasta can be a good way to incorporated plant-based protein into meals! Pilafs, casseroles, and veggie-grain bowls are great menu items that can incorporate protein from grains. But with 6 grams of protein in a cup of cooked millet or Bulgur, 7 grams in a cup of wild rice, or 8 grams in 1 cup of cooked quinoa you’ll want to add in another source of plant-protein like one of the pulses.
In the plant-based world soy is an oldie but a goody! Tofu, soy milk, and edamame are pretty familiar to those who’ve been doing plant-based eating for a while. Use soft tofu in smoothies and mousses, and opt for firm tofu or tempeh in stir-frys or when swapping out meat like chicken. Tofu can also be a good replacement for eggs.
Meatless menu items are likely here to stay, so if you’re not already offering these options it’s time to get on the bandwagon! Plant-based proteins can be better for your health and the environment, plus they offer a great alternative lunch option for those with dairy allergies or other food sensitivities. If you’re looking for a food service company that can help create plant-based menu items with a real “wow” factor contact us here at Top Nosh. We specialize in custom menus with plenty of protein options to satisfy everyone’s taste buds!