16 August 2021

Vegetarian meals: no longer meals ‘without’ but now meals ‘with’

Culinary trends

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In January 2009, a British study recommended reducing meat and dairy products and increasing vegetables in meals served in hospitals. It also recommended serving one vegetarian meal per week. “While the debate on meat consumption is only just beginning in France, it is already well-established in Sweden, the Netherlands and Great Britain,” the French newspaper Le Monde noted at the time.

Good for your health

Following the rise of these dishes in school canteens, they have now spread to hospitals for dieticians, doctors and healthcare staff.

Uniting around meals

Several French intellectuals including Matthieu Ricard and philosophers Florence Burgat and Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer wrote an opinion piece in the Le Monde newspaper justifying the need for an alternative to animal protein, entitled: “Vegetarian meals: the most secular of all”. Everyone can eat vegetarian.

“Allowing children to choose is all that we ask. Don’t stop them eating meat if they want to, but give them the option not to eat meat,” conclude the authors. By taking the approach of “How can we better respond to needs” rather than “How do we respond”, all catering professionals can gently introduce a focus on listening to feedback and offering freedom of choice.

Naming the range

Meat-free? Animal protein-free? Or with plant-based protein? Substitutes or alternatives: how can we talk about vegetarian products?

Until now, following in the steps of gluten-free and allergy-free products, meat- and fish-free menus and vegetarian dishes and products have focused on deprivation, which encourages opposition instead of uniting diners. Today, diners choose their own meals and diets to suit their lifestyle. They can also make different choices each day or each week, depending on their mood. Now the focus is not the ‘without’ but the ‘with’. These new options are increasingly available in all catering companies, whether institutional or commercial, for both fast food and table service. The focus is no longer on deprivation but on sharing, enjoying and camaraderie around the table.

Knowing how to positively frame your vegetarian range as having ‘plant-based protein’ or simply being a ‘veggie option’ or ‘vegetarian dish’ aligns with your diners’ need for authenticity, transparency, care for the planet and a quality-focused approach.

Curiosity and camaraderie around the table

The best approach is to move away from a focus on meeting vegetarians’ needs and instead to consider how to interest and spark the curiosity of non-vegetarian diners. That is when it becomes exciting in terms of the level of standards, research and innovation for dishes. Lentil or mushroom burgers, dishes with seitan and tempeh, vegetable bruschetta, omelettes, falafel and more: so many possibilities that diners in school and company canteens will love, at a much lower cost. That should get everyone around the table to agree!

Need ideas for your vegetarian menus?

Take a look at our booklet of delicious meat- and fish-free recipes to serve to your diners!

Download our Vegetarian Recipe Booklet

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