Foodservice Update

Healthy Tips and Recipes for Institutions from The Vegetarian Resource Group

Quick-and-Easy, Lower Budget Vegan Items to Serve in Institutional Settings

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD

According to Lt. Sheila LeJeune, MS, RD, food service director of Lafayette Parish Correctional Center in Louisiana, her department serves at least 1,000 inmates per meal for approximately $2 a day. Lt. LeJeune has been with the facility for more than 24 years, having been hired after a federal inmate who did not receive requested diabetic meals won a 1982 lawsuit against the Lafayette Sheriff's Department. In addition to the diabetic meals, Lt. LeJeune attempts to offer nutritionally complete meals for inmates who follow special dietary patterns. Since time and budget are limited, many menu items are prepared so they fulfill the requirements of several different dietary patterns.

LeJeune's focus is to try to keep food costs low while running a safe and sanitary food facility and offering high-quality meals. With 10 food service personnel and 20 inmates assisting, the department serves approximately a million meals each year. Of these meals about 160,000 are special diets, including diabetic, low-salt, bland, modified consistency, pregnancy, renal, and vegetarian.

Menus are planned so inmates receive approximately 3,000 calories per day. Inmate employees can have double portions if desired, plus additional food items and coffee. There is also a canteen where inmates can purchase additional foods.

Vegetarian in a Minute

We know that institutional meal preparation and serving time is short and budgets limited. Vegetarian menu items can still be easy to prepare and to serve, and they may be acceptable to the general population as well as the vegetarian population. Here are some suggestions for fast, lower-budget vegan menu items.


Three-Bean Tamale Pie:
Alternate three types of cooked beans with salsa, top with prepared vegan cornbread mix, and bake. If cornbread is usually prepared with dairy and/or eggs, substitute seasoned mashed potatoes. (The seasoning could include dried parsley, ground black or white pepper, and garlic powder.)
Chili Sauté:
Add chopped bell peppers, onions, and garlic to three- or four-bean chili, and sauté or bake. Serve over steamed rice, vegetarian cornbread, or mashed potatoes.
Veggie Shepherd's Pie:
Top vegetable stew– a mixture of carrots, celery, onions, and mushrooms or mixed vegetables combined with cooked beans–with prepared mashed potatoes and bake.
Pasta Bake:
Combine cooked pasta with tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, and diced mushrooms. Season with ground basil and oregano and bake.
Lentil Stew:
Combine cooked lentils with cooked, quartered steamed potatoes; cooked carrot slices; diced celery; and chopped tomatoes. Season with pepper and dill, and simmer until ready to serve.
Serve veggie burgers topped with vegetarian chili and chopped veggies. Serve on a hamburger bun or toasted bread.
Burrito Wrap:
Fill a large tortilla with mashed beans, sliced chilies, chopped tomatoes or salsa, and sliced onions. Heat in the oven or microwave and serve hot.

Side Dishes

Garlic Mashed Potatoes:
Prepare mashed potato mix with hot water and vegan margarine, which contains no dairy ingredients. Add granulated garlic.
Herbed Potatoes:
Coat small, cooked potatoes with vegetable oil spray. Toss with dried herbs, and bake until crisp.
Refried Beans:
Mash cooked pinto or black beans with sautéed onions and bell peppers. Steam or bake to heat.
O'Brien Potatoes:
Add diced peppers, chopped onions, and cut corn to hash browns. Bake to heat.
Rice Pilaf:
Sauté cooked rice in a small amount of vegetable oil or steam in vegetable broth or water. (You can use water that has been drained from cooked vegetables.) Garnish with cooked peas, carrots, mushrooms, and chopped nuts.


Peach or Cherry Cobbler:
Top frozen or canned pie filling with strips of vegan pie crust, chopped nuts, and raisins, and bake.
Baked Apple:
Stuff cored apples with raisins and ground cinnamon. Sweeten with orange juice concentrate, and bake.
Apple Bread Pudding:
Combine shredded rolls and bread with apple pie filling, and bake. (Use applesauce for additional moisture.)
Fruit Compote:
Stew dried fruit (such as raisins, apricots, prunes, and apples) with peeled, sliced apples and pears. Season with cinnamon, mace, and lemon zest. Serve hot or chilled.

Think Versatility

Vegetarian ingredients are versatile and adapt easily to different dishes. Canned or cooked lentils can be mashed with stewed eggplant or zucchini, fresh tomatoes, onions, and garlic and then used as a sandwich filling. Tomato salsa can be a salad dressing, the flavoring for soup, and an ingredient in casseroles. Orange or apple juice concentrate can flavor a salad dressing or marinade, replace sugar in baking recipes, or add ‘zip' to a sweet-and-sour sauce. Cooked black beans can be tossed in salads, simmered in soups, baked into breads, or smashed into spreads, or they can stand on their own, garnished with sliced onions.

Think Efficiency

Develop time-saving production techniques for preparing vegetarian and non-vegetarian menu items. For example, preparing steamed vegetables with nonhydrogenated vegan margarine rather than butter or using vegetable stock or base rather than meat stock means making only one batch for everyone. Purchase canned vegetarian refried beans (for the same price as the non-vegetarian variety), canned fruit packed in juice or water, and frozen fruit processed without sugar.

Sysco food service, a national purveyor, carries the Moonrose line of vegetarian products. Many of these items are helpful for vegetarian quantity feeding, including soy pasta and several veggie meats that can be used for vegan meatballs, ‘steaks,' and chops.

Dress Up That Green Salad

Green salads are cool, crisp, and receptive to change. Build a basic salad with head and leaf lettuce and red and green cabbage. Then, add ingredients to create fast vegetarian entrées or side dishes.

As an entrée, add:

  • Cold black, white, kidney, or red beans
  • Cold lentils tossed with mushrooms and tomatoes
  • Smoked, barbecued, baked, or grilled tofu
  • Sliced veggie deli meats
  • Bean and salsa combinations
  • Hummus and olive combinations
  • Grilled eggplant
  • Grilled or marinated mushrooms
  • Cold vegetarian ravioli or tortellini
  • Chopped walnuts or peanuts

As a side dish, add:

  • Green and wax beans
  • Cut corn
  • Shredded carrots, beets, zucchini, and/or crookneck squash
  • Chopped onions, radishes, tomatoes, garlic, and/or olives
  • Chopped pickled vegetables
  • Sliced marinated or fresh mushrooms
  • Chopped nuts, such as walnuts, peanuts, or cashews, or pumpkin and sesame seeds

White Bean and Tomato Stew

(Makes twenty-five 3-ounce portions)

Pair this with a pasta salad and fresh baked bread for lunch.

  • 3 pounds cooked white beans, drained
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 ounces chopped onions
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 ounce olive oil
  • ¾ cup minced fresh carrots
  • 14 ounces chopped canned tomatoes, drained

Combine beans, stock, garlic, onions, and thyme in a medium-sized stockpot and simmer for 40 minutes. Add paprika and parsley and continue to simmer.

Pour the oil into a small sauté pan. Add the carrots and sweat until translucent; add tomatoes and sweat until glistening. Add carrots and tomatoes to stock.

Stir to combine and allow stew to simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed.

Total calories per serving: 98 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 16 grams Protein: 6 grams
Sodium: 110 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Tomato, Vegetable, and Bean Soup

(Serves 10)

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped canned mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon dried sage
  • 3 cups vegetable broth or vegetable juice
  • 2 pounds chopped canned tomatoes (not drained)
  • 1 pound cooked white beans
  • 10 ounces uncooked pasta

In a medium-sized stockpot, heat oil and sauté mushrooms, onions, and celery until vegetables are soft. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and sage and cook for 1 minute. Add broth, tomatoes, and beans. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and reduce heat to medium. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes or until pasta is al dente (just tender). If desired, continue to cook, but don't let the pasta absorb all the liquid.

Total calories per serving: 239 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 37 grams Protein: 9 grams
Sodium: 489 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) Tacos

(Serves 10)

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup taco seasoning (commercial blend of chili powder, cumin, and black pepper)
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 10 corn tortillas

In a large skillet, heat the water over medium heat and add the TVP, stirring well. Allow the TVP to reconstitute for 2-3 minutes. Add oil and then taco seasoning, stirring well.

Allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Mix in salsa and remove from heat. Serve wrapped in tortillas.

Total calories per serving: 187 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 28 grams Protein: 11 grams
Sodium: 1,541 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Veggie Sloppy Joes

(Serves 12)

Use this recipe as a base for many vegetarian entrées, soups, and stews. Add chopped or julienned seasonal vegetables, a variety of tomatoes, peppers and chilies, or mushroom blends for variety. This recipe can be made several days ahead and kept refrigerated until needed. Do not freeze, as the texture does not hold up well when frozen.

  • 13 cups Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup minced onions
  • 1 cup minced green bell peppers
  • 3 cups canned diced tomatoes (with liquid)
  • 1 cup tomato paste
  • 2 cups prepared tomato sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated garlic
  • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup

Place TVP in medium-sized bowl. Add boiling water and stir. Allow to soak for 5 minutes.

Place TVP in a small stockpot. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Simmer until vegetables are soft and mixture is hot, approximately 15 minutes.

Note: Serve over steamed rice, cornbread, or toasted buns or herbed rolls. Use this recipe as a hot sandwich filling in pita bread or wraps or to ‘stuff' a potato. Also, it can be used as an ingredient in hot appetizers, wrapped in phyllo or puff pastry dough, or used as a stuffing ingredient for mushroom caps. Or modify the seasonings, and use it as a vegetarian Bolognese sauce for pasta.

Total calories per serving: 62 Fat: Less than 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 44 grams Protein: 55 grams
Sodium: 533 milligrams Fiber: 20 grams

Baked Onions

(Makes 50 portions)

  • Fifty 4-ounce yellow or white onions
  • 1 cup oil or melted nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 10 ounces dry seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1 quart vegetable stock

Peel onions and steam for 3 minutes or until tender. Place steamed onions on ungreased baking pans. Brush with oil and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Pour stock around onions. Cover tightly and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Total calories per portion: 107 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 14 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 201 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Fruit Salad with Citrus Dressing

(Serves 12)

This recipe can serve as a refreshing end to almost any meal.

  • 3 cups canned, drained pineapple chunks packed in water or juice
  • 3 cups peeled and chopped red grapefruit or orange pieces
  • 2 cups canned, drained diced peaches
  • ½ cup unsweetened orange juice
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons orange juice concentrate

Combine fruit and set aside.

In a small pot, combine orange juice, lemon juice, and nuts (if using). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in orange juice concentrate. Allow dressing to cool. Pour over fruit mixture and toss until evenly coated.

Total calories per serving: 65 Fat: Less than 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 17 grams Protein: 1 gram Sodium: 3 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Nancy Berkoff is The Vegetarian Resource Group's Food Service Advisor. She is the author of Vegan in Volume, Vegan Meals for One or Two, Vegan Menu for People with Diabetes, Vegan Seafood: Beyond the Fish Shtick for Vegetarians, and numerous other cookbooks.