Promoting Food Day and World Vegetarian Day

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD

Food Day is during October of each year, while World Vegetarian Day is an international event that takes place annually on October 1. Events planned around these celebrations are a great way to make your community aware of the need to:

  • Promote healthful foods and healthful eating.
  • Support sustainable agriculture while pushing to curtail the subsidy of large agribusiness.
  • Alleviate food insecurity.
  • Protect animals and the environment.

There are many ways to plan food-related events for Food Day or World Vegetarian Day! These range from asking a local market to offer veggie sticks and hummus at a table with Food Day or World Vegetarian Day information to planning earth-conscious menus for community organizations ... and beyond!

The information in this article can be shared with the people who plan or offer meals for senior centers, preschools, shelters or missions, residential or non-residential schools, employee cafeterias, and other large or small food operations. Organizations may also wish to refer to it when catering their own events.

Secrets of the (Vegetarian) Storeroom

You may be surprised at how many vegetarian or vegan products a typical storeroom holds. Here is a fast review:

Frozen fruits and vegetables
Frozen potatoes
Frozen pie crust (made with vegetable shortening)
Fruit juice concentrates (to be used as a cooking sweetener in place of sugar)
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Fresh potatoes
Prepared salsas
Fresh garlic and onions
Fresh herbs
Assorted breads
Tortillas (made with vegetable oil instead of lard)v
Nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
Oil-based salad dressings (made without dairy or eggs)
Unsweetened fruit juices
Nonperishable storage
Fruit canned in juice or water
Canned vegetables
Canned tomato products
Canned and dried beans (pinto, kidney, black, navy, white, and lima beans; lentils; garbanzos; black-eyed peas; and split peas)
Pasta (made without eggs)
Potato mixes (made without dairy)
Pretzels, potato or tortilla chips, and some graham crackers
Unsweetened hot cereals (such as oats, farina, and Cream of Wheat)
Unsweetened cold cereals (such as puffed rice, bran flakes, and shredded wheat)
Peanut butter and other nut butters
Fruit preserves
Oils and vinegars
Dried herbs and spices
Maple syrup
Flavoring extracts and zests

Note: Inspect the labels if you are using processed products, such as bakery mixes, frozen entrées, and prepared salad dressings. Some animal-derived ingredients (bacon bits, dried milk, powdered egg, etc.) are obvious, but others (casein, rennet, or enzymes) are not.

Designing the Vegetarian Menu

Vegetarian entrées are easily prepared from the ingredients you already have in your walk-ins and storerooms. Pasta, rice, barley, beans, legumes, and potatoes can all form the base of vegetarian entrées. Less traditional ingredients, such as tofu or seitan, are available; you can decide if you have the time to train your staff and the budget to incorporate these items. The key is to design a menu that as many people as possible will accept. If you need to prepare separate items, you need to plan for foods that are quick and easy to make and serve.

Pasta is an easy way to go for fast vegetarian entrées. To make a pasta dish acceptable to both omnivores and vegans, choose pasta made without eggs. Prepare a marinara sauce; add sautéed or steamed mushrooms, minced garlic, and extra tomatoes; and serve over cooked pasta for a fast entrée. Another idea is to toss pasta with sauce; place in steam table pan; top with chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, and onions; cover; and bake until hot for a quick vegetarian casserole. Additions to the tomato sauce can include chopped seasonal vegetables (such as summer squash, carrots, and different varieties of mushrooms), cooked lentils or white beans, roasted garlic, and fresh chopped herbs (basil or oregano).

If your menu offers dishes prepared with beans or legumes, cook the beans without animal products so you may use them for everyone. If you don’t prepare beans, keep cans of several varieties on hand. You can toss together a hearty four-bean soup (with kidney, navy, and garbanzo beans and black-eyed peas) and pair it with a baked potato (topped with chopped veggies and vegan margarine), steamed rice, or pasta salad to have a fast vegetarian entrée. Or season red or black beans with onions, cumin, and pepper and serve on a steaming bed of white or brown rice. Cooked beans can be puréed, seasoned, and used as a protein-rich sauce to top pasta, rice, or other cooked grains. Toss cooked beans into a rice pilaf for another fast entrée. Many of these vegan items will also work well for lowfat, high-protein, pregnancy, or geriatric menus.

If you have baked potatoes on the menu, cook them without butter or meat stock so everyone can enjoy them. Baked potatoes can be topped with chopped fresh and cooked vegetables, cooked beans, salsa, and vegan margarine. Pair them with a veggie bean stew or hot dinner rolls. You can also serve a stuffed baked potato with steamed red and green cabbage and mushrooms for a fast vegetarian dinner.

Examples of labor-saving vegan menu items for everyone would be carrot sticks with hummus or bean dip and crackers. Many side dishes are inherently vegan, including roasted potatoes drizzled with oil or vegan margarine, baked potatoes with salsa and vegan margarine as toppings, vegetables steamed with dried herbs, sautéed mushrooms, green beans amandine, glazed carrots (using maple syrup or orange juice concentrate rather than honey to keep it vegan), fruit salad or fruit compote, and steamed barley or rice served with chopped nuts or sautéed vegetables.

Think Versatility

Vegetarian ingredients adapt easily to different dishes.

- Canned or cooked lentils can be mashed with stewed eggplant or zucchini, fresh tomatoes, onions, and garlic and used as a sandwich filling.
- Tomato salsa can be a salad dressing, 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.

Vegetarian in a Minute

We know that meal preparation and serving time is short and budgets limited. Many vegetarian menu items are easy to prepare and serve, and the general population often enjoys them as much as vegetarians do. Here are suggestions for fast, lower-budget vegan menu items:


Side Dishes


A ‘Village’ Approach for Putting Food Day into Action

There is a great take-away about making just about every day into Food Day with activities currently being used by All Saints' School in Carmel Valley, California. Earthbound Farm’s Farm Stand, an organic farm and distributor located near the school, provides hot lunch to the school five days a week. The school had not previously had a hot lunch program. The serving trays and utensils are washed and used repeatedly, making it an almost zero-waste program. The Farm Stand is close to the school, so little fuel is used in delivering the meals.

Earthbound Farm's Farm Stand Café is now providing what may be the only 100-percent certified organic school lunch in the country, and one with almost no waste. The uneaten food and unbleached paper napkins are composted at the Farm Stand.

According to school administration, the lunch program came through “two parents speaking.” Parents and students help to serve the lunches; this provides a sense of community and offers an opportunity to educate students, parents, and staff about healthful eating and environmental issues. There is a plan to incorporate these topics into the school curriculum, as well as to continue to develop the school’s organic garden.

All the food produced in Earthbound Farm's Stand is certified organic, which means all the ingredients are grown without chemicals and using methods that are safe for field workers, wildlife, neighboring homes and schools, and the environment. Recipes that are as low as possible in fat and sugar without sacrificing flavor have been developed. Although the Farm Stand offerings are not entirely vegetarian at this point, kindergarten through eighth grades students are trying (and liking) foods that are new to them, such as roasted beets (“They’re sweet and pretty.”), baked sweet potatoes, and organic sourdough bread.

Easy Ways to 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, and then add ingredients to create fast vegetarian entrées or side dishes.

For an entrée:
Cold black, white, kidney, and red beans
Cold lentils tossed with mushrooms and tomatoes
Smoked, barbecued, baked, or grilled tofu
Sliced vegan deli meats
Grilled eggplant
Grilled or marinated mushrooms
Cold vegan ravioli or tortellini
Bean and salsa combinations
Hummus and olive combinations
Chopped walnuts or peanuts
For a side dish:
Green and wax beans
Chopped onions, radishes, tomatoes, garlic, olives
Shredded carrots, beets, zucchini, crookneck squash
Cut corn
Chopped pickled vegetables
Sliced marinated or fresh mushrooms
Chopped nuts (such as walnuts, peanuts, and cashews), and pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds


Recipes with an asterisk (*) should be fairly easy for a community group (rather than professional food service) to produce.

*Chilled Bread and Tomato Soup

(Makes 32 1 ½-cup servings)

This dish is budget-conscious — it requires day-old bread!

  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 pounds diced onions
  • 2 pounds diced carrots
  • 2 pounds diced celery
  • 1 pound diced fennel (If fresh fennel is not available, add an extra pound of celery.)
  • 1 cup diced fresh garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons white pepper
  • 2 gallons chopped fresh tomatoes, or 2 gallons canned chopped tomatoes, drained dried bay leaves
  • 2 cups shredded fresh basil
  • 3 pounds crustless stale or dried bread, ripped or cut into small pieces

In a stock pot, heat the oil. Add the onions, carrots, celery, and fennel. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, approximately 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and pepper and cook 1 additional minute. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, and basil. Cook on low heat for 5 more minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Stir in bread to moisten, little by little, stirring between additions. Purée in a blender or food processor or by hand, in batches if necessary.

Return the soup to the pot and cook over high heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cool properly, and allow soup to chill for at least 2 hours prior to serving.

Total calories per serving: 252 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 51 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 62 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

*Braised Vegetable Stew

(Makes forty-five 1-cup servings, including tofu)

This flavorful stew is versatile, using seasonal vegetables. It can be served over mashed potatoes, or the mashed potatoes can be placed on top, shepherd’s pie-style.

  • 10 pounds potatoes, cooked until tender and then peeled
  • 2 cups nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 2 cups diced onions
  • ¼ cup minced garlic
  • 2 quarts (4 pounds) large-diced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 quart (2 pounds) diced red bell peppers
  • 1 cup deseeded and chopped fresh chilies (You choose the heat!)
  • 4 pounds cubed extra firm tofu (optional)
  • 1 gallon low-sodium vegetable stock
  • 1 Tablespoon prepared mustard
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ⅔ cup water

In a large pot, mash the potatoes with margarine until very few lumps remain. Cover, set aside, and keep warm for service.

Spray a large stock pot with oil. Add the onions, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, chilies, and tofu and cook, tossing and stirring, until softened, for approximately 8 minutes. Add stock and bring to a fast boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Stir in mustard and allow the stew to simmer for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water until smooth. Add to stew. Bring the stew to a fast boil and boil for 2 minutes, stirring to incorporate the cornstarch. Serve hot over mashed potatoes, or serve mashed potatoes on top of the stew.

Total calories per serving: 215 Fat: 10 grams
Carbohydrates: 24 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 151 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Whole Grain Cornbread

(Serves 20-30)

This fast recipe can be served with vegan soups, stews, and chili. Also, it is a great breakfast dish, and it freezes well.

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup white pastry flour
  • 4 cups cornmeal
  • 2 Tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups soft silken tofu
  • 1 cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 3 ½ cups soymilk mixed with 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ cup melted nonhydrogenated vegan margarine

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Spray three full hotel pans (used on steam tables) with vegetable oil. In a large mixing bowl (large enough to hold the dry and liquid ingredients), whisk together the pastry flours, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the tofu, sugar, and soy-milk. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix together just to moisten. Add the melted margarine; stir until just combined.

Pour the mixture into the oiled pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting.

Total calories per serving: 262 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 45 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 425 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

*Chopped Tomato Sandwiches

(Makes 24 sandwiches)

When you add the Avocado Potato Salad (below) as a side dish, you get a wonderful combination of color, texture, and taste all on one plate!

  • ¾ cup white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped sweet onions or drained canned tomatoes
  • 24 6-inch pita breads
  • 24 leaves romaine lettuce

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, garlic, pepper, and oil. Set aside.

Combine the onions and tomatoes and add them to the vinegar mixture.

When ready to assemble, split the pita breads, line each with a lettuce leaf, and spoon the tomato filling into each pita. Serve with Avocado Potato Salad (below).

Total calories per serving: 214 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 35 grams Protein: 6 grams
Sodium: 324 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

*Avocado Potato Salad

(Makes 24 ½-cup servings)

This recipe is adapted from the California Avocado Commission.

  • ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • ¾ cup vegan mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 ½ pounds unpeeled, diced cooked potatoes
  • 1 cup diced celery 1 cup chopped sweet onions
  • 3 cups peeled, diced ripe avocados
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley

In a medium bowl, mix together the lemon juice and garlic. Stir in the mayonnaise and olive oil and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, celery, and onions. Toss with the dressing.

Just before serving, gently fold in the avocados and parsley. Serve with Chopped Tomato Sandwiches (above).

Total calories per serving: 103 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 9 grams Protein: 1 grams
Sodium: 65 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

*Penne Bolognese

(Serves 30-35)

This recipe can be assembled fairly quickly and tastes good either right from the stove or cooled overnight. You can purchase nutritional yeast in natural foods stores or online.

  • 5 pounds uncooked penne pasta
  • 5 cups chopped onions
  • 3 cups chopped carrots
  • 3 cups chopped celery
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 4 Tablespoons dried parsley
  • 2 Tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 Tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 2 quarts vegan tomato or marinara sauce
  • ½ pound (1 ½ cups) nutritional yeast

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a 10-quart pot (big enough to eventually hold the cooked penne), sauté the onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil over medium heat. Cook vegetables until softened, approximately 6-8 minutes. Add the parsley, oregano, and black pepper and cook with the vegetables for approximately 10 minutes. Add the tomato or marinara sauce and simmer for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Toss with hot pasta, top with nutritional yeast, and serve hot.

Nancy Berkoff is The VRG's Food Service Advisor. She is the author of Vegans Know How to Party and Vegan in Volume.