Veg-Centric Menus: Not Just for Vegetarians

Whether it’s meat-loving chefs embracing “vegetable butchery” or the new ways veggie burgers are showing up on even the beefiest of hamburger menus, the topics of vegetarianism, veganism, flexitarianism, pescatarianism and “Meatless Mondays” get weekly attention in newspapers across the country. Beyond the media hype, a few forces are driving the interest in meatless fare: the local food movement and the popularity of farmers markets have been giving produce a boost for several years now. Consumers are trying to find interesting ways to eat better-for-you foods. Once limited to tofu and other meat stand-ins, today’s meat-free options have improved greatly, and chefs are seeing the value in letting produce star on the plate. And as beef and other protein prices rise, vegetarian menu options become a cost-effective alternative. Meat-free options are getting a second look, and when they taste good, diners will return.

While vegetarians and vegans may represent a small part of the market — experts put the figure around 3% — there are plenty of reasons to add more vegetable options to any menu, and inventive menus are showing more tantalizing ways to do so.

Veg-Centric Menu Tips

  • Make Beans Count: Garbanzo, edamame, refried: A side or add-on of beans can turn any meat-free dish into a main course.
  • Resize Sides: Offer bigger side dish portions or a side sampler for diners who want to skip the main event.
  • Make a Note: Many restaurants, like True Food Café, make note of vegetarian and gluten-free options in menu copy, but don’t create a separate section, which might get overlooked by flexitarians.
  • Let Veggies Shine: Instead of using vegetables, grains or vegetable protein to make meat-like “steaks” or “chicken,” let mushrooms, root vegetables, grains and beans stand on their own merit.
  • Give It a Day: Not all operations are ready to skip meat, but giving a day over to vegetable specials is a good way to start a more flexitarian approach.
  • Celebrate the Season: Seasonal specials and harvest celebrations are another way to put the focus on produce.
  • Have Options: Adding a tofu or grilled vegetable option to a protein lineup of beef, chicken and fish is an easy way to make sandwiches and salads vegetarian ready.
  • Bank on a Better Burger: With handcrafted, smashed and slathered versions of the veggie burger, diners are willing to take another look.
  • Let Them Build It: Several emerging chains (and many established ones) make meals easy for any dietary restrictions with build-your-own service lines that offer an interactive way for diners to choose their ingredients.

Content provided by ConAgra Foodservice