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Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update
Healthy Tips and Recipes for Institutions

Volume VII, Number 1 Winter 1999  


We’ve received many questions similar to the following one. Here are our ideas. Of course, we would love to hear from you about what you do.

Question: We’re a full-menu restaurant (serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and we also run a small employee cafeteria (serving lunch and dinner to about 200 people per day) for a local industrial plant. We’ve gotten requests for some veggie options. We would prefer to work with the ingredients we have on hand (we don’t have a good supplier for soy products and don’t really have the time to do any training) and don’t have the budget to purchase any new equipment. Please help!

Answer: Piece of cake! First, establish if your veggie-requesters are vegetarian and/or vegan. Of course, if you offer all vegan items, then everyone can indulge! Let’s go with all vegan suggestions, keeping in mind that you can modify these as your customers like.

Offer a toast assortment (different breads, English muffins, bagels, etc.). Be sure to check labels or ask purveyors about egg, dairy, or honey content for your vegan clients. Have an assortment of condiments, such as margarine (look for non-dairy varieties), peanut butter, apple butter, and fruit preserves (no refined sugar, please).

Next, cook up hot cereals (oatmeal, Cream of Wheat or Rice, etc.) or offer single serving packets. Have a variety of cold cereals (no sugar please) and offer condiments, such as chopped nuts, chopped dried fruit, applesauce, fruit salad, shredded coconut, and wheat germ as toppings.

Baking buddies: if the spirit moves the cook, bake some apples or prepare a cobbler with seasonal fresh fruit (peaches, apricots, pears, and apples come to mind). Use maple syrup or apple juice concentrate instead of sugar.

If you prefer not to purchase rice or soymilk, have some nondairy creamer on hand for coffee, tea, and cereal.

Cold Stuff: if you have a salad bar, add cooked, cold beans (garbanzo beans, kidney beans, and black beans are good cold), cooked pasta, cooked diced potatoes, and cold steamed veggies. Pasta and potatoes can be tossed with fresh or dried herbs or with a veggie salad dressing (often commercial vinaigrette is veggie, but just be sure to read the label). You want to avoid using mayonnaise, as it usually contains eggs. Vegan mayonnaise is available. Depending on your audience, you may want to have wheat germ, chopped nuts, and toasted seeds (like sesame or sunflower) to be used as condiments. Oil, vinegar, chopped onions, chopped fresh herbs, chopped bell peppers, and chopped tomatoes can be left unblended and people can make their own veggie salad dressing. Salsas and guacamole (no bacon bits, please) can be used to top veggie salads.

Hot Stuff: Offer lots of side dishes so customers can mix and match their own meals. A cooked bean (think navy, pinto, lentil, white, black-eyed peas, etc.) could be offered every day, as well as steamed rice (try brown, basmati, or jasmine) or other types of grains. Again, this depends on your audience. Offer several cooked vegetables every day. They can be steamed in vegetable stock, roasted with herbs, grilled on a skewer, etc. Baked potatoes can be topped with chopped vegetables (we like a blend of finely diced carrots, onions, celery, radishes, and bell peppers), salsa, chutney, and grilled peppers and onions. Be sure to leave the butter and cheese on the side when cooking vegetables and grains or topping potatoes. Corn on the cob can be steamed or grilled for another veggie side dish.

Stuffing is often a neglected menu item. Prepare it with vegetable stock and chopped vegetables and/or nuts. Stuffing is not just for the holidays and complements a number of menu items. Offer it as a side dish or make a veggie entrée by filling bell peppers, tomatoes, or zucchini with stuffing and bake it (top with a vegetable-tomato sauce or with sautéed mushrooms- or both).

As far as equipment is concerned, we’re not really aware of the need for special equipment to prepare veggie foods. As with any cuisine, you see what you have in your kitchen and work with it! For example, you can purchase a rice cooker to prepare rice, steam it on top of the stove, bake it in the oven, cook it in a crock pot or even prepare it in the microwave (for small portions). Fresh veggies can be steamed in a commercial steamer or on the top of the stove. They can also be grilled, roasted, poached (in water, vegetable stock, wine, or vegetable juices), and baked. The same for grains. You get the picture.

Veggie options should be easy to include on your menus. See which items are popular (this varies according to your region, the season, etc.) and capitalize on them! If you find you’d like to do some veggie cooking, you can send for the VRG’s "Quantity Recipe Packet," which includes vegan recipes. To order send $15 to VRG, PO Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203.

You noted that you preferred not to purchase any new ingredients. We’re going to mention a few products, anyway, because you may find that they are very easy to use, easy to find, and may increase sales. Several companies sell veggie burgers and tofu dogs, which are prepared just like their traditional counterparts. The burgers can be found in different flavors, usually sold frozen (so you can keep them fresh until you need to prepare them). Ask your purveyor about frozen veggie entrees, soups, and side dishes. There are a lot of them nowadays!

If you really start getting into this, you might contact local bakeries (or natural food stores) for a supply of fresh-baked, veggie items. Many fresh breads, rolls, and bagels are already veggie! One last note: soy and rice milk are becoming very popular among many segments of the population (if you don’t want to cook with it, you might still consider offering it as a beverage on its own or as a condiment for coffee and tea). If your purveyor doesn’t have it, you might contact a local store that stocks it and work out an agreement with them. If you are interested in getting more information about vegan products, contact the VRG and request the "Product List for Institutions." Most important, have fun with your new menu listings. You’re doing a good thing!

Got a foodservice question? Visit our website at and query away!

Excerpts from the Winter 1999 Issue:

For the complete issue, please subscribe to the magazine. To subscribe to Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update, click here and check "Add 1 year Foodservice Update for $10 more  on whatever subscription form you choose.

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January 24, 1999

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