In response to increased interest in plant-based meals, Chartwells Higher Education recently unveiled a program that puts plant-based foods center stage. Dubbed Plant-Forward, it provides the framework for options ranging from temporary campus events to dedicated plant-based dining and retail.
Chartwells’ decision reflects evolving preferences for vegan and vegetarian options, particularly among Gen Z members. This development arose out of both a commitment to sustainability and a preference for a “diet” clean ‘and functional foods.
“Today’s students are exploring more vegan and vegetarian options as a solution to healthy eating, but don’t always know where to start,” says Laura Lapp, vice president of sustainability and culinary innovation at Chartwells. Plant-Forward meals are designed to encourage them throughout the process and allow them to explore the nutritional benefits of relying more on plant foods.
The menus, developed by Keith Gramlich, Culinary Director of Chartwells Northeast Division, are designed to provide physiological benefits, clarity and sustained energy and have a reduced carbon footprint. They are also anything but bland, drawing on a globally diverse palette of flavors.
The menus offer complete and complex meals that contain a minimum of 15 grams of protein, mono and polyunsaturated fats, reduced carbohydrates and beneficial levels of vitamin B12 to provide lasting energy. Options like global superfood bowls, portable street food devices, elixirs, healthy shots and smoothies fit into Gen Z’s predilection for snacks and meals throughout the day. The menus are designed to rely heavily on fresh, local and sustainable ingredients.
Chartwells hosted a pilot launch at several schools including Colgate University in Hamilton, NY, St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, and Northeastern University in Boston. Chartwells and the local Colgate culinary team hosted a one-day plant-based dining takeover, converting the all-you-can-eat facility into plant-based concepts. The offerings included a vegetable butcher and a vegan rotisserie. On the menu: cauliflower “ribs” rubbed with chimichurri and served with a Texan BBQ sauce, potatoes rubbed with a mixture of berebere spices and stuffed with kimchi, smoked and roasted butternut squash with lime and a maitake breast.
The temporary conversion was “a huge success,” says Gramlich. However, these pilots stressed the need for a certain grip. “We had to accompany a lot of students in the service to explain PAOW! (People And Our World) plant-based protein and what was the plant-based takeover for each of our internal concepts that were transformed, ”he adds. “Athletes in particular would say, ‘Where’s the meat?’ », But the tasting made them believers.
“Culinary and marketing must go hand in hand,” he observes. “We post messages on our social media platforms as well as our Dine on Campus websites to explain what the nutritional and healthy benefits are, what the menu items are and how and why you should have a plant-based diet built in. in your day. the dining experience today, whatever lifestyle you choose as a student.
And, despite the “where’s the meat?” reaction from some students, the common notion that humans are die-hard carnivores is eroded. During the pandemic, when salad bars on campuses shifted from self-service to staff service, Gramlich saw attendance at some schools jump to 50%, with men outnumbering women.
Colleges can dive into Plant-Forward as deep as they want.
“Vision is not universal,” says Gramlich. “It can be incorporated into all the concepts we have in residential restaurants, in-house retail concepts and even in catering offerings for clients and student groups and sports training table menus,” the pre and post-workout platforms.
The growing interest in plant-based meals is well established: Gramlich says about a quarter of college students are looking for healthier choices to support a healthier lifestyle. But cereal bowls with steamed vegetables and tofu no longer fill the void. Well-developed flavor profiles and attention to macronutrients are now major concerns.
“The beauty of this new program is the versatility it offers our chefs to be creative and continue to bring innovation to campus while always staying ahead of current trends,” said Gramlich. “The boundaries are endless,” he adds.