Choosing to eat a more plant-based diet has been one of the biggest trends among consumers in recent decades, as it’s been proven to have health benefits and be better for the planet, offsetting the carbon emissions generated by the meat and dairy industry.
As event professionals grapple with catering to the various dietary needs and restrictions of attendees, one of the best perspectives to take is a plant-forward yet balanced view that is nutritious and inclusive to all attendees while also being sustainable and leaving the planet in a healthier place.
It’s not possible to be 100% plant based at events, but people are really looking to know what’s in their food and how healthy and purposeful it is going to be for them, the communities around them and the planet, pointing to some of the many terms that now exist to define consumers’ dietary practices.
No matter how people refer to their dietary principles, eating healthy is here to stay, and the events industry must continue embracing the plant-based trend to meet consumer demand and be more sustainable.
1. Incorporate Healthy Proteins Into Breakfast Offerings
While a fruit plate might be the first idea that comes to mind as a great vegetarian and vegan option, it is stressed that the importance of being more creative and nutritionally minded when it comes to starting the day off on a healthy note.
Most people want protein with their breakfast, but don’t make it tofu. Incorporate protein-rich grains such as a quinoa porridge, and overall, add something vegetarian but not just a fruit plate and skip the heavily processed vegan meat alternatives.
Another healthy start to the day could be a vibrant smoothie bar with plenty of fruits, greens, protein powders and plant-based milk and a morning break station with fruit skewers.
2. Lose the Dairy-Based Cheese and Focus on Plant-Based Appetizers
Dairy cheeses are one of the main ingredients for salads and many appetizers, according to Stuckrath, who believes the industry needs to zero in on having a healthier balance of strictly plant-based offerings.
The easiest way is to realize that not all of your salads need to have cheese on them. A researcher did an audit of a catering menu and discovered that of the 300 items on the menu, only 20% were dairy-free, and out of 23 salads alone, only four were vegan because all of the others had cheese.
For appetizers, it’s important to have options that don’t contain cheese, shrimp, pork, beef or chicken.
3. Go Heavy on Grains, Beans and Veggies for Main Dishes
While the trendy “cauliflower steak” can be good if it’s done right, the latest plant-based trends in main dishes for lunch and dinner call for healthy grains and beans.
Millet is big, and it’s becoming the new quinoa because you can do more with it, and there are bean-based options such as a pizza crust called Banza, which is made with chickpeas, so you could do a fun make-your-own pizza night using that and vegan cheeses. The main idea is incorporating something like a grain or a bean into the dish to give it the heartiness and protein that it needs and then adding vegetables to that.
Although veggie burgers and the Impossible meat alternative have been trending in recent years, researchers don’t believe these are healthy plant-based options, as they are usually loaded with GMOs and many “lab-grown meat” alternatives have even been banned in other countries.
There was an event that occurred recently where they served pasta Bolognese using Impossible meat, and about 80% of the attendees wouldn’t eat it.
If meat is going to be served, make it the accompaniment to everything else, which should mainly be plant-based.
Make sure all of your sides are plant-based, and you’re not serving heavy, cream-laced sides that are not vegan. There are so many ways to do sauces without beef or chicken broth or dairy, and chefs have the skillset to do that by using nut-based or oat-based milks if it needs to be a richer sauce.
4. Think Vegan Decadence for Dessert
Delicious sweets to cap off a meal can also be plant-based.
There are so many great ways to use plant-based milks in desserts. Oatly has a fantastic, plant-based soft serve ice cream, for example, and anyone can tell it’s not made with dairy, but it’s still delicious.
Creating tasty desserts utilizing plant-based ice cream or plant-based whipping cream, along with fresh fruits and herbs, is another way to elevate the plant-based offering for a meal’s finale.
Also, you could even ask a chef to do something really innovative by taking aquafaba, the liquid from canned chickpeas, and whisking it into a wonderful merengue.
As the plant-based culinary movement continues to evolve, so do the options for delivering unique plant-based culinary programs for events.
You don’t need all of these heavy things to get the same great flavors. And while one of the biggest challenges with catering chefs is lack of time, it’s important to start being more thoughtful and thinking, ‘How can I use my skillset to rethink how I would make this dish?’
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