Jacqui Mee, Director of food at Olive Catering Services discusses the trend in sustainable menus, vegetarian and vegan diets, and how workplaces can ensure employees have exciting dishes with high nutrition
Consumers are becoming much more eco-conscious, and are now making decisions based on this attitude right down to their eating habits. It is now taken as a given that vegan and vegetarian options are available to customers no matter where they choose to eat so it goes without saying that plant-based options are expected in workplace restaurants too. As people become more conscious of the environment, a diet that is not only nutritious but sustainable too will become more and more appealing to the wider market. In the same way you would consider energy consumption and recycling policies, workplaces must think about how they can offer a menu for their employees that is both exciting and sustainable.
THE RISE OF PLANT-BASED DIETS
Vegetarian and vegan diets on the whole are steadily rising in popularity, and customers are able to buy a range of exciting plant-based dishes wherever they choose to dine. In the workplace, vegetarian dishes can go beyond the usual cheese sandwiches and baked potatoes and instead take advantage of offering exciting plant-based meals to encourage workers to leave their desks for lunch.
Dishes inspired by other countries can lend themselves well to vegan or vegetarian adaptations, for example Korean, Lebanese, and Moroccan flavours are really catching the eyes of our customers at the moment. People are opting for more unusual ingredients too, with new products such as tempeh, seitan, and jackfruit becoming popular meat substitutes with both vegetarian and meat-eaters alike. With this in mind, the team at Olive Catering Services are rotating unique flavours and different textures within our menus to prevent customers getting bored of the same offering day after day.
From a workplace caterer’s perspective, Asian food can be a valuable asset to any plant-based menu. While there are certain specialist ingredients which can cost a bit more, on the whole
dishes like stir fries are cost-effective to produce, offering really tasty dishes which lend themselves well to vegetarian ingredients and can be subsidised by the workplace so employees can enjoy healthy food at a good price.
It’s vital that when considering a sustainable menu, all aspects of nutrition are included within a range of dishes. The best advice to take when choosing a workplace caterer would be to make sure that the menus on offer are providing all the nutritional requirements needed. This can only be achieved by using a variety of fruit, vegetables, nut seeds, pulses, and grains within meals.
Olive recently teamed up with commercial TV network, ITV, and Veg Power, an initiative from The Food Foundation, to support its campaign to get people eating more veg. This was a great example of how workplaces can offer exciting but nutritional meals as we hosted veg pop-up stands and fresh juice bars in each of the ITV staff restaurants to give employees samples of fresh vegetables and recipe inspiration. Olive’s Food Innovation team also created bespoke menus for the campaign that featured the designated vegetable of the week served up in a unique way. A balanced, nutritional diet will promote health and wellbeing, ensuring employees are having healthy meals rather than visiting a burger van for chips during their lunch break. A healthy meal will also make people feel full quicker and sustain their energy for a longer period of time which results in a better workforce that are more focused.
USE LOCALLY-SOURCED PRODUCE
Using local produce in their dining room is another great way for workplaces to ensure that they provide a truly sustainable food service. Here at Olive, we champion the use of seasonal produce and making meals from scratch to ensure our customers are getting the freshest ingredients that not only taste amazing but offer great nutritional benefits too. Using fresh and seasonal ingredients that clean eating promotes can help caterers create much more interesting meals that will catch the attention of those looking for an alternative to meat.
Buying locally naturally encourages caterers to use seasonal fruits and vegetables. Seasonal produce is packed full of nutrients and flavours thanks to it growing within its natural season and not forced to grow in manmade conditions. They are also free from synthetic preservatives as they do not need to be transported as far, so have no need to be preserved for a long period of time. From a green point of view, using locally sourced food ingredients helps reduce carbon emissions as it uses less “food miles” – which refers to the distance the food has travelled – and therefore less fuel is used for transporting the produce to where it needs to be.
From a culinary aspect, a sustainable menu is all about offering variety so people want to try a vegetarian or vegan dish, and not feel like they are missing out on any nutritional value. By adopting a sustainable catering option for the workplace, managers can ensure their employees’ wellbeing is maintained with healthy, plant-based meal options and cater to vegetarian and vegan staff with new menus.