While only 21% of consumers follow some sort of restrictive diet—ranging from semi vegetarian to vegan—a majority of consumers eat meatless meals at least once a week, according to Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian report. As more consumers make efforts to choose healthier and better-for-you foods, more operators are making the effort to offer tasty, craveable vegetarian or plant-forward foods. And thankfully, plant-based options nowadays far surpass the sad iceberg lettuce salads that most diners who wanted a meatless meal used to have to purchase. Check out these four versatile ways to use plant-based foods on the menu.
1) Apps, sides and shareable plates
Loaded fries are one of the most popular appetizers offered on menus, with 43% of consumers saying they’d be likely to order them, according to Technomic’s 2017 Starters, Small Plates & Sides report. And while they’re technically vegetable-based (being made with potatoes), offering a vegetable-blended base can be a great way to entice those who would otherwise shy away from an app.
For those diners looking for something a bit healthier, offering a vegetable-based tater-tot analog like Carrot Puffs or Kale Puffs can be the perfect solution. They can be served as a standalone side, or they can be given the “loaded” treatment that nachos and fries are given—piled high with ingredients like beans, roasted veggies, a sprinkling of cheese, salsa and guac, these vegetable tots are a surefire win for operators.
2) Alternative proteins for main dishes
Veggie burgers have come a long way in the last decade. Now, there are options for people who want something that tastes like meat as well as those who want something that’s more clearly a veggie-packed patty. They can be topped with a range of exciting and unique toppings to appeal to consumers who want to try something new. For instance, a veggie burger can be topped with mango chutney, sliced jalapeno and cucumber-mint yogurt raita for an Indian spin. For a Korean twist, spread gochujang aioli on the bun and top the vegetarian patty with kimchi. Chipotle black bean burgers can get topped with avocado, pepper Jack cheese and pico de gallo for a Tex-Mex burger sensation.
For those looking for something a bit more familiar, vegetable-based burger patties that are more similar to the traditional cheeseburger are also available, made with wholesome, healthy ingredients including soy protein, black beans, quinoa, mushrooms and more. And since more than half of consumers say they eat burgers at least once a week, according to Technomic’s 2017 Burgerreport, the opportunity for operators to attract burger-lovers with vegetarian options is big.
3) Better-for-you breakfast
At breakfast, bacon, sausage and ham reign supreme, but for those looking for unique breakfast options that don’t contain meat, one great alternative is Eggs Benedict. Eggs Benedict is traditionally served on an English muffin with Canadian bacon or another protein, but they’re a perfect place for vegetarian breakfast sausage patties.
Breakfast sausage patties are a perfect accompaniment for just about any classic breakfast dish, in fact. From pancakes and eggs to a loaded omelet, they help increase the protein level without the fat that traditional pork sausage adds.
4) Bowl meals
Finally, plant-forward foods are a perfect fit for the increasingly popular bowl meal. Bowl meals in a variety of iterations are on the rise—according to MenuMonitor, bowls overall are up by 4.3% year-over-year, while more specifically, Mexican bowls are up nearly 5%, veggie bowls are up 11% and teriyaki bowls are up about 4%. Bowl meals offer the portability and convenience that consumers love for meals on-the-go, and they’re also customizable—perfect for catering to diners with specific dietary preferences. They’re also great for breakfast, lunch or dinner, providing operators with a versatile, all-day opportunity to appeal to health-conscious diners.
Add in chopped up plant-based patties to a veggie bowl as a protein source, or lean on comfort food bowl meals like macaroni and cheese or spaghetti. Then, offer consumers an array of toppings to choose from to ramp up the nutrition, including veggie chickenless tenders or strips with buffalo sauce and blue cheese, for a buffalo blue mac and cheese bowl, or veggie meatballs for a lightened-up version of this comfort food favorite.
For diners who want to add more vegetables to their diet, choosing plant-based options that are similar to meals they already eat is convenient and easy. And with more operators branching out from offering simple salads, there’s more opportunity than ever for diners to get what they want, all while giving operators what they want—more business.