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Flexitarian. A term that has been added to the Oxford dictionary as of 2014 is now one of the biggest trends, taking the restaurant industry by storm.

What is Flexitarianism?

According to Food Business News approximately 25% of consumers are identifying with this lifestyle, and it’s growth potential has no end in site.

A Flexitarian diet, also known as a semi-vegetarian diet, consists of an intake that is primarily plant based but with the flexibility of adding animal protein on occasion. Based on a report published by the National Institutes of Health, there are 3 category types when it comes to protein consumption: meat eaters, meat reducers, and meat-free. These primarily plant forward consumers can be categorized as “meat-reducers” which can be interpreted exactly how it sounds: they are actively reducing the amount of meat they consume on a regular basis in exchange for plant proteins.

This veggie prominent diet tends to focus on improving overall health, by increasing nutrient density in the diet and in turn, sourcing the very best means of protein.

Flexitarian Lifestyle: Changing the Way We Look at Dieting

The emerging reports associated with this trend point to this group of consumers intention to improve their health by observing this lifestyle. The American diet, as a whole, is unhealthy. No shock there. For decades, an entire wing of the food industry has been built around the health, or lack thereof, of our population in general. Everyone has been in search of the new weight-loss trick as if it were the holy grail, few finding long term solution in reducing weight alone.

Alternatively, this veggie prominent diet tends to focus on improving overall health, by increasing nutrient density in the diet and in turn, sourcing the very best means of protein. The whole ideaology behind the flexitarian lifestyle can be found within the China Study. This comprehensive research states that there is a direct correlation between the decline in human health and the consumption of animal proteins.

So what does this mean for you, the food service professional, your audience and restaurateurs everywhere? If you haven’t already, it’s time to learn how to add plant protein to your menu, and we are here to help.

What was once the last food left on the plate in childhood is now one of the most prominent sources of vegetable protein on the market today.

Plant Protein Sources

When it comes to meat alternatives, there are a plethora of options from which to choose from. Protein-rich sources of plant protein can include, but are not limited to:

Tempeh

TVP (textured vegetable protein)

Black beans

Chickpeas

Lentils

Soybeans

Nuts and nut butters

Quinoa

Brown Rice

Seitan

Green Peas

The list goes on and on. Matter of fact, over the years, the food manufacturer has ridden the wave of vegetarian and vegan protein sources in an attempt to serve those following this plant-forward trend. As a result, brands such as “Beyond Meat” have emerged with meatless offerings that look like, cook like and eat like their animal based counterparts. Not only can these meat alternatives give the experience of consuming an actual animal sourced protein, they also share the amino acid profile.

Quick Nutrition Science Lesson

There are 9 essential amino acids that are responsible for repairing muscle tissue and other protein based tissues within the body. These are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Typically, plant proteins are not “complete”, meaning they lack all 9 of the essential amino acids and must be combined with other foods in order to complete the chain. (The 2 plant proteins that are an exception to this rule are soybeans and quinoa. ) Back to our article.

Easy Meat-free Swaps for Existing Menu Items

That being said, meat alternative brands such as Beyond Meat, have taken that burden of combining plant proteins and completing amino acid chain profiles off of the shoulders of the restaurateur. This means, it’s a heck of a lot easier to update your restaurant menu with delicious plant proteins. Winner winner meat-alternative dinner.

With this in mind, it only takes a few quick swaps and a nifty nutrition calculator and you are well on your way to changing your existing recipes to suit your ever growing Flexitarian audience. Yes, existing recipes. Same delicious outcome, half the work. Let’s take a look.

1. Serving up a burger? Simply trade your traditional 1/4lb beef patty for a 4 oz Beyond Meat patty.

2. Swap shredded, marinated jackfruit or seitan for pulled pork or chicken in sandwiches and even nachos.

3. Season and break up tempeh into spaghetti sauces and chili recipes in place of ground beef. Tempeh has a dense bite and absorbs flavor easily.

4. Trade bleached all purpose flour for whole grain wheat and quinoa flours in breakfast recipes such as pancakes and belgian waffles.

5. Offer greek style dairy-free yogurt and fruit as a sweet substitute for syrup.

6. Use pea-protein based milk in fruit smoothies in place of dairy or lower protein nut milks

7. Want to try your hand at desserts? Black beans can be blended into brownie batter for a very moist profile which increases protein value and reduces net carbohydrate count. Double whammy. Swirl in some nut butter for added creaminess and additional protein content.

When it comes to appealing to your increasingly plant-forward consumer base, it’s not always about working harder, just smarter. Incorporating these easy swaps can provide a variety of plant based options for even the most discriminating flexitarian palate.

MenuCalc is an industry-leading recipe analysis tool used by many restaurant, cafe, and convenience store owners. To start a free trial or learn more, contact us today.

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