Plant-based dishes are becoming increasingly important as many consumers generally are trying to reduce their meat consumption.

In fact, 59% of meat-free alternatives are eaten by non-vegetarians
(Kantar Worldpanel)

As a result, we’re seeing caterers looking for ingredients and dishes which appeal to meat and non-meat eaters alike to cut down on both preparation time and having to buy in additional ingredients.

Vegan Jay HalfordJay Halford is a professional chef who is on a mission to educate and inspire others to feed their bodies with healthy, 100% natural and nutritious foods. Here Jay looks at the difference between plant-based eating and veganism – the two are different – and how caterers can incorporate exciting healthy dishes without meat but packed full of fruits and vegetables into their menus.

For me, food is all about nourishment and giving people the knowledge they may not have access to so easily. I’m not a nutritionist, by any means but I am a chef, a chef that can show you how to make amazingly tasty food that you will enjoy making and your customers will love eating.

Diet fads will always come and go, but one thing always remains the same – natural, live fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds will always be good for us. There has been a massive boom in ‘plant-based eating’ and following a vegan lifestyle; it is easy to presume that both are the same, but they are not.

Those following a ‘plant-based’ lifestyle are committed to following a diet that focuses on whole, plant foods. Instead of basing meals around meat, plant-based followers focus on plant-based ingredients, which include sweet potatoes, starchy vegetables, and wholegrains – brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat – as well as plenty of legumes, chickpeas, lima beans and kidney beans. If planned well, plant-based diets are rich in protein, iron, calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals.

The plant-based sources of these nutrients tend to be low in saturated fat, high in fibre and packed with antioxidants, which can help in tackling serious health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Refined sugar is a no-no and followers of a plant-based diet will often find they maximise their nutrient intake, as foods are kept as close to their natural state as possible and avoid highly processed foods.

Vegan Jay HalfordThat sounds a lot like being a vegan…?

While there are similarities, veganism takes things a little further and being vegan does not automatically mean you are being healthy. There is an awful lot of vegan junk food on the market and some people think that just because you are vegan you are being healthy! A can of coke, for example, is vegan and there are many ingredients and products on the market which are vegan-friendly but highly processed and full of sugar and salt.

Similar to a plant-based diet, vegans also eliminate all animal products from their diets – meat, fish, eggs, gelatin and other animal byproducts. Instead, vegans prioritise a diet rich in foods that are bursting with natural ingredients and filled with essential vitamins and minerals. As with a plant-based diet, refined sugar is also a no-no – it’s all about keeping everything natural. Vegans and Plant-based followers will find they can maximise their nutrient intake if the dishes they consumer are kept as close to their natural state as possible and highly processed foods are avoided.

Still not sure of how they differ? Let’s look closer at this.

Veganism can be seen also as a philosophy that’s deeply devoted to animal rights and somewhat stricter than a plant-based diet. As well as eliminating animal products from their diets, this belief extends to all aspects of their lives… Yes, that includes anything that consists of leather, fur, wool or silk–even down to honey and beeswax and products that may be derived from and/or tested on animals.

As with plant-based diets, there are plenty of health benefits: helping to reduce obesity, heart disease and assistance in the elimination of toxins in the body. Oh, and let’s not forget the increased energy, younger, glowing skin and that spring in your step!

Plant-based refers to the whole, plant foods and not just foods that are deemed to be “vegan”. A pack of digestive biscuits are, at their core, vegan but we wouldn’t consider them to be “plant-based”. As great as digestives can be, they do not resemble an original plant form.

Another way to look at it is that a “plant-based” meal maybe, by definition vegan, yet a person following a plant-based diet isn’t necessarily a vegan; they may focus their diet on being highly meat-free and full of plant-based foods but still wear and use products that come from animal-derived products.

As a caterer, you’ll know that a vegan menu, or at least vegan dishes, are a must-have to appeal to a wide range of customers. But as we’ve seen above veganism is actually just one strand of plant-based eating. There will never be a ‘one size fits all’ way of eating – we’re all different, which is what makes life that bit more colourful. Whether you dabble in one or the other or are committed to following something entirely different, it’s important that you make sure it’s something that appeals to your customer base and benefits your business.

For more information on plant-based eating and for inspirational recipes to add to your offering visit www.jayhalford.com