For a sneak preview of what the next generation of diners will be eating, just head to the dining hall of your nearest college campus. There, you’ll see vegans, flexitarians, vegetarians…as well as some kids who are so happy to be away from parental dietary control that they’re on their third helping of chicken nuggets (for breakfast).
Global cuisines feature plant proteins
“Just like many adults, young people today are concerned about sustainability, water and soil usage, animal welfare and the carbon footprint created by the foods they’re eating,” says Beth Winthrop, National Registered Dietician for Sodexo’s university sector. “They think deeply about food, and that’s why many of them are increasing their consumption of plant proteins.” Even those who still eat some meat, known as flexitarians, have often made a “protein flip,” using red meat as a condiment while moving plant proteins to the center of the plate.
That increased attention on factors beyond price, flavor and convenience has already had an impact on the types of food Sodexo’s campus diners are selecting. “There is also a growing interest in trying new global cuisines, which often feature plant proteins paired with grains,” Winthrop says. “Our Resident Life menu for fall includes many plant-based protein dishes from Indian, Asian, Pilipino and Turkish cuisines.”
One big hit in the dining hall, Winthrop says, is a hummus bar using different types of beans, a variety of dippers and flavorings such as roasted red peppers, spices and caramelized onions. “It allows for a high degree of customization, which is very desirable for young people,” she says. Another option is to introduce ancient grains. Winthrop is a fan of teff, a type of high-protein grass similar to millet: “It’s delicious, has no bitterness and, let’s face it, teff is cute-looking. Our diners love it.”
Good news for profit margins
In an era of rising meat prices, plant proteins offer healthier margins. An added bonus is the part they play in reducing waste, since most are shelf stable. “Beans and grains will keep a long time, and you can make just a small amount at a time,” Winthrop says. “It’s a lot different than bringing in a whole lamb and having to break it down and use it quickly. With plant proteins, you have the flexibility to prepare something new and then gauge response.”
Costs of plant proteins can be managed with smart planning and leftover utilization, Winthrop says. For example, if you’re using farro as a hot grain entrée, use the leftovers the next day in a composed salad. “Walk around the cooler and find vegetables that might be a little tired, then chop them finely, add the farro and top with a vinaigrette dressing,” she says. Leftover whole grains also hold up well in soups. “They don’t melt like orzo or white pasta might.”
Find out about “Menus of Change: The Business of Healthy, Sustainable, Delicious Food Choices,” a collaboration between the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.