Nutrition: The gentle approach to plant-based meals

Nutrition: The gentle approach to plant-based meals

It’s no secret that veganism is growing. We all probably know someone who got involved in Veganuary and, perhaps unsurprisingly, research has shown that one of the biggest trends in the world of food and drink in 2018 was the shift to plant-based diets.

In February, Kantar Worldpanel revealed that a total of 4.4bn meat-free dinners were eaten in 2018 – up 150m on the previous year – with 1% of all households including a vegan, 5% a vegetarian and 10% labelling themselves flexitarians.

At Cityserve we recognise this growing trend and have already started looking at how we can cater for the growing popularity of plant-based meals. Like anything we do, changes have to be researched, ideas developed and – in line with our motto #itsallaboutthekids – the children are at the heart of it all.

I already work closely with Forest Green Rovers – the only vegan football club on the planet. We’ve been serving vegan food to our players and fans on match weekends since 2015 and are now introducing our award-winning food to schools so pupils and staff can taste it for themselves. You can find out more about this on YouTube by searching for ‘Little Green Devils’.

I’ve discovered that tasting is often the key moment when it comes to changing to plant-based food, and that’s what we focus on when altering our menus at Cityserve. We start by working with suppliers to source products

and develop new ideas, as well as getting the pupils to help on our ideas. After all, there’s no point introducing new meals if they’ve already decided they won’t like them!

Then we move on to blind tasting sessions of our new menu items with the pupils.

The focus is on easily identifiable meals that the children can relate to and will eat. It’s important to us that any plant-based menus have the same nutritional values, protein levels and pupil acceptance as a standard menu.

We’re also aware that changes like this aren’t just about us and the children, but about their parents, too. Support from parents is absolutely vital with something like this, so we make sure we keep them informed about any planned changes, including reasons for those changes, timescales and the benefits they might bring. By getting them involved with new dishes and new menus, including inviting them to join in sampling, we can win their support. We’re also providing plant-based recipe packs that parents can use at home to cook with their children.

Support from parents in-turn leads to acceptance from children. As the process moves forward, we include interactive cookery days in our Development Kitchen and talks and demonstrations in schools.

That way we can show people the potential benefits of plant-based meals. We’re not suggesting that every pupil should become vegan, but what we do want to do is recognise the growing trend towards plant-based diets and to make sure we’re giving every option possible to children and their families.

While we’re at it, we can show children that plant-based food can be just as vibrant, tasty and recognisable as the meals they’re used to. Remember, you always eat with your eyes before you decide if you want to taste any food, plant-based meals or not.