Foodservice operators are creating more plant-based meals that honor the principles behind the practice, and many are doing so with the help of a program sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) dubbed Food Forward.
“Food Forward guides foodservice professionals through a variety of educational workshops to arm them with resources and knowledge about plant-based eating,” says Ashley Rhinehart, RN, senior food and nutrition manager for Food Forward. “Customers in all segments want more and better options. They want food that tastes great, is ethical, sustainable and good for them. That’s where we come in. We help operators better meet this demand.”
Free for participants, HSUS’s Food Forward program has has three main educational components. They are:
• Food Forward: This one-day symposium is mainly for foodservice directors and dietitians who gather to share their own successful plant-based food initiatives. They learn from peers through presentations, a lunch cooking demo and Q&A. Events are held one to two times a month and travel from city to city across the country. Chef attendees earn three ACF continuing education credits while dieticians can earn four and half.
• Food Forward Culinary Experience: This two-day in-kitchen training equips attendees with more knowledge about how to cook plant-based ingredients and meals. HSUS fills the days with hands-on training, cooking and tasting as well as presentations. A university, hospital or other large institutional foodservice provider typically co-hosts the Culinary Experience for no more than 20 professional. (Oftentimes, the institution extends an invite to a handful of culinarians from nearby institutions to further spread the knowledge.)
• Food Forward Nutrition Workshops: These soon-to-launch workshops will be the next phase for Food Forward and are crafted to help health professionals like dietitians and nurses feel more knowledgeable about the benefits of plant-based foods. The goal for these workshops is to better arm these health professionals with an understanding of plant-based diets so they can advocate, help clients and answer questions.
HSUS has been hosting its one-day Food Forward events since the program began in 2013. It has worked with thousands of operations across the country. But the culinary experience is newer.
“In January of 2015, we sat down with the sustainability marketing manager at Harvard and asked her what would be the most useful way we could help the operation,” Rhinehart says. “She said she loved the recipes from our “Vegan in Volume” cookbook, but that she needed to be able to train her staff on how to work with plant-based ingredients.”
Thus, the culinary experience was born. Led by Wanda White, executive chef for HSUS, who was previously with the nation’s first completely vegan dining hall—Mean Greens at the University of North Texas—the Culinary Experience is hands-on and arms attendees with recipes, techniques and menus that they can easily execute in their own kitchens.
“Chef White walks through the kitchen during the program giving tips and sharing techniques on how best to create simple, delicious recipes,” Rhinehart says. “Everyone gets to taste what they cook, too. Plus, a lot of operations already offer meatless dishes, so we try to work with them to leverage those recipes and build menus and dishes.”
Examples include vegan biscuits, tofu scrambled eggs, meatless meatloaf, tofu stir-fry and shepherd’s pie. The only cost for the host is to buy the ingredients that they’ll be cooking. Food Forward sends a list of what it will need and the rest is covered by HSUS.
“We keep in touch to make sure that the momentum doesn’t end with the event,” says Rhinehart, who adds that Food Forward has done 15 Culinary Experiences so far, with events planned each month up through August this year.
For colleges, the benefits are far reaching.
“Students like to try new and ‘weird’ things,” Rhinehart says. “They like to push the culinary envelope and they’re concerned with the environment and their impact on the globe. In hospitals, the value is more nutrition-based and health-focused. In schools, however, the value is both health-focused and cost-effective.”
In the Oakland Unified School District, the plate cost for meatless meals is down to $1.20.
“The district has meat-free options available every day and is exclusively meat-free at elementary schools on Mondays,” Rhinehart says. “The school’s department of nutrition services loves Meatless Mondays and is working on expanding vegetarian options that use beans and tofu instead of cheese as a source of protein.”
New recipes range from a meat-free Bolognese made with a plant protein that looks, feels, tastes and acts like meat to a veggie chicken salad sandwich. The district is also highlighting new salads, such as fiesta corn salad, cilantro lime slaw and Asian sesame slaw.
“When we can teach the cooks and foodservice professionals how and why plant-based foods are important, they can pay it forward with students, customers and other staff members,” Rhinehart says. “The impact of Food Forward is far reaching.”