Are you a chef or caterer who wants to serve more meat-reduced and plant-based dishes? Then read on.

01 Feb 2021

Know your customers

Today’s students are mostly millennials. They love food, and embrace local, diverse, fresh, less processed, organic and speciality foods. They want healthy and sustainable options but they don’t want to compromise. They’re interested in what’s trending in the food world and crave exciting culinary experiences. And they want it all at an affordable price.

Making a success of Kale Yeah! is about appealing to all these customers. That includes meat-eaters, not just veggies and vegans. It’s about showing that eating less meat and more plants is a positive step, rather than a sacrifice.

Kale Yeah! will help you to:

  • Rebalance your menus to shift the focus away from animal products.
  • Incentivise plant-based eating by launching a loyalty scheme.
  • Promote plant-based food throughout the year.

Implementing this approach will help you meet Public Sector Catering magazine’s 20% meat reduction campaign while providing tasty, healthy meals that cater for everyone.

Books and fruit

 

So, how do you go about it? 

The first step is to make a note of the meat, fish and dairy products that you procured in the previous term or year by volume and spend. These baseline data will help identify where to make cuts and record reductions going forward. 

You then need to take an in-depth look at your menus and how you promote them.

1. Rebalance your menus

This is about shifting the focus of your menus away from animal products and adding more vegetables, pulses (beans, peas, lentils), grains, fruit, nuts and seeds by replacing some dishes and refining others. This can be done in a variety of ways:

See our rebalanced menu guide for caterers which shows how to adapt a typical menu to reduce the meat content by between 30% to over 50%.

Swap some entire meat dishes for plant-based

Aim to make 50% of the dishes you serve meat- and dairy-free:

Within dishes, swap some of the meat for plant ingredients

  • Leave some meaty dishes on the menu but substitute pulses or vegetables for at least 25% of the meat content.
  • Blend your burgers. Swap at least 25% of the beef for finely chopped mushrooms. You’ll reduce the carbon footprint and add "umami" – that deep and satisfying flavour associated with cheese and cooked meats.

Mix up your dishes

  • Make your dishes a balance of affordable and premium, comfort and functional, and familiar and new
  • To keep things familiar, offer meat or dairy-free adaptations of favourites such as shepherdess pie, beer-battered tofish (tofu) and chips, or three bean chilli non carne.
  • Keep an eye on what is hot on the high street. The Greggs vegan sausage roll and steak bakes have seen their profits skyrocket. Can you offer a comparable, competitively-priced product?
  • Explore international cuisine, especially street food. To engage students, why not invite them to submit plant-based recipes reflecting their cultural origins to showcase on the menu?
  • For more on meat substitutes, see below.

Check out our rebalanced menu guide for caterers which shows how to adapt a typical menu to reduce the meat content by between 30% to over 50%.

Tricks of the trade – add taste and texture

If preparing plant-based food is new to you, you may find the following tips helpful:

Taste

As well as sweet, salty, sour and bitter, there is the fifth taste, known as "umami". Umami gives food a rich, moreish depth. It is associated with the satisfaction of meat and cheese. It can sometimes be missing from plant-based dishes, which can give a bland result. You can take your dishes up a level by including these umami-boosting ingredients:

  • Tomato puree / tomato ketchup
  • Sun-dried or sun-blushed tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Olives
  • Capers
  • Seaweed
  • Fermented foods eg. Sauerkraut and kimchi
  • Pickled foods
  • Miso
  • Soy sauce
  • Smoked paprika
  • Truffle oil
  • Vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
  • Yeast extract (eg, Marmite)
  • Nutritional yeast flakes (eg, Engevita).

Texture

How a dish feels in the mouth is as important as how it tastes. Nobody likes mouthful after mouthful of sloppy mush or dry crumble! Some of the most popular, go-to plant-based ingredients – hummus, falafels, aubergine, avocado, butternut squash and sweet potato – are delicious, but soft and so don’t provide chomping satisfaction! Ensure your dish has bite as well as texture (creaminess and/ or crunch) to create a satisfying mouthfeel and a much more well-rounded eating experience.

To create creaminess:

  • Dairy-free milks, creams, yoghurts (cashew is especially creamy)
  • Nut butters
  • Silken tofu
  • Tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • And even though they don’t need much chewing, avocado, butternut squash, pumpkin and sweet potato add creaminess and can be pureed for use in creamy sauces.

To add crunch:

  • Beansprouts (uncooked)
  • Croutons
  • Toasted nuts & seeds
  • Fermented foods (eg sauerkraut and kimchi)
  • Pickled foods.

To provide chewiness:

  • Roasting/char-grilling vegetables
  • Wholegrains
  • Meat alternatives (see below).

Explore meat alternatives

You will be aware of the vegetarian brands Quorn and Linda McCartney Foods, but the world of meat alternatives has exploded in recent times and there are now many brands and vegan meats to experiment with. Alternatives to "the real thing" will appeal to some of your customers and not to others. They are not always the healthiest option. 

Some customers will be looking for healthy wholefoods, others will be craving familiar comfort food, so offer a mixture of meat-free versions of traditional favourites as well as exciting dishes featuring new ingredients. These can all be used to replace meat and fish:

  • Tofu (delicious when seasoned or marinated and cooked properly).
  • Tempeh (made from fermented soybeans, also needs marinading, ideal in Asian dishes).
  • Seitan (made from wheat gluten, very high in protein, used to make "mock meats" in many restaurants).
  • Banana blossom (can be battered and deep-fried and used as a fish alternative).
  • Jackfruit (has a pork-like texture and can be used in curries, wraps, on pizza and in many other ways).
  • Plant-based meats (eg ham, mince, chicken, bacon, steak strips).
  • Plant-based sausages, hot dogs and burgers.

Further resources and inspiration

If you would like to develop your plant-based cooking skills further and learn more about the tips outlined above, we recommend Humane Society International’s Forward Food plant-based culinary workshops, presented by Chef Jenny Chandler. 

See the Eating Better Alliance Better By Half roadmap for more tips on setting meat reduction targets and some great examples of organisations showing leadership.

And lastly, if you are looking for recipe inspiration, don’t rely on the first recipe that pops up in your web search. Check out websites where the recipes are reviewed and rated. Abel & Cole has some delicious and creative plant-based recipes and BBC Good Food has a good selection too. For more ideas, take a look at these chefs:

 

Delicious plate of food

2. Incentivise with a loyalty scheme

Encourage your customers to choose plant-based options by launching a Kale Yeah! loyalty scheme. For example, customers receive one free meal for every six plant-based meals purchased.

Not only will this encourage healthier eating habits, it will save your customers money and keep them coming back.

3. Promote plant-based dishes

Once you’ve put new plant-based dishes on your menu, there are several ways you can encourage your customers to choose them:

  • When naming a dish, avoid obvious labels such as "vegetable curry" or "vegan lasagne". Highlight ingredients, origin or cooking style instead, e.g. blackened tofu tacos with avocado lime crema, spicy Korean caulifire wings, detox miso noodle bowl, or roasted coconut, lime and tamarind curry.
  • Avoid describing dishes as "meat-free" or "meatless". Promote positive terms such as "plant-powered" and "protein-packed".
  • List the plant-based dishes first on the menu. This will imply they are impressive rather than an afterthought.
  • Don’t put plant-based dishes in a separate "veggie/ vegan" section of the menu where they may not catch the eye of meat-eaters.
  • Keep labelling discreet. Signpost vegetarian and fully plant-based options with a small symbol or code rather than shouting "vegetarian/vegan".
  • On serving stations, position meat-free dishes before the meat. Many diners choose from the first few options without looking further along.
  • Pump up your promotions during campaign initiatives such as Veganuary (January), National Vegetarian Week (May) and World Vegan Month (November).
     
    Students waiting in line in cafeteria Students waiting on line in cafeteria iStock

Meat-free days?

If you're interested in setting up a meat-free day, make sure you engage customers in the discussion from the start, working with the Students Union or through other fora (see also FAQ: Should we ban beef?). Check out the resources offered by Meat Free Monday and the beef ban statement by SOS-UK.

In general, people don’t like having their choice taken away, so restricting what's available and imposing rules could cause a backlash. However, if you present students with an opportunity to air their views and make a democratic decision, there is a better chance of the proposal being received with success.

Making wholesale changes across your menus to reduce the amount of meat on offer is less obvious but just as effective. This way you will be encouraging people to choose a certain way without taking away their options.

4. Sourcing better meat, fish and dairy

Alongside reducing animal products and boosting plant-based alternatives, we encourage caterers to source the remaining meat, fish and dairy on menus to high environmental and animal welfare standards. 

Meat: ensure the meat you buy is RSPCA assured as a minimum, but investigate free-range and organic where possible, or Pasture for life certified for beef and lamb.

Eggs: source free-range or organic eggs. Find out more from Farmdrop about what the different labels mean.

Fish: seek out fish approved by Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certified for farmed fish. 

Milk and dairy: ideally source organic products. 

For all sourcing, investigate buying direct from local producers if possible, and designing your menus around what's in season.

And for more information on what's meant by "better meat and dairy", read the comprehensive guide by the Eating Better alliance.

 

 

Kale Yeah!