Red Jacket kitchen staff receives training on preparing good-tasting, plant-based meals

SHORTSVILLE — Vegetables have been getting a bad rap for a long time.

So says Stefanie Heath, food and nutrition specialist with the Humane Society of the United States.

Heath visited the Manchester-Shortsville (Red Jacket) school district Friday as part of the Forward Food initiative, which provides chefs, nutritionists and dining hall directors free training so they can create cost-effective and delicious plant-based meals.

And it might not be that hard a sell to kids. Because If you think that kids today are solely into junk food, think again.

Heath is seeing more and more K-12 school districts, colleges and universities choose to add plant-based meal options.

The numbers seem to back her up.

According to a study conducted by the Plant Based Foods Association and Nielsen, sales of plant-based meat in the U.S. in 2018 increased by 24% over the previous year, and plant-based food sales overall rose 20% to more than $3.3 billion.

So instead of a slice of greasy pizza and two or three — or more — fast-food burgers, instead, think spicy and ethnic foods. And definitely think healthy.

“Kids are very into adventurous eating,” Heath said. “They’re looking for healthier, more sustainable and more ethical food options, and this is a perfect way to get there.”

The staff at Red Jacket spent part of the day Friday learning how to prepare plant-based meals, such as the Amazing Lo Mein, Terrific Tabouli, Cool Corn and Edamame Salad dishes — even chocolate chip cookie dough hummus.

“People tend to think of hummus as more on the savory side,” Heath said. “You can absolutely make a sweet hummus and the kids will gobble that up.”

Red Jacket junior Evan Lawton was eager to try. He and his younger brother, Parker, already are on plant-based diets and decided to help the staff.

“We figured this would be a fun opportunity to learn some new recipes and help out our community,” Evan said.

Parker said because he already eats this way, he wanted to experience what it was like to make the food he enjoys.

“It’s good for the environment and I feel like it’s healthier,” Parker said.

Red Jacket already offers a popular salad bar, but Dorrie Dunham, the district’s food service manager, thought it might be a good time to offer students more plant-based meal choices.

There is a learning curve, according to Tina Stone, who in preparing the Crazy Chickpea Salad found that she was using some ingredients she doesn’t typically use and others she had never heard of before.

“It’s new to me,” Stone said.

Dunham said she is confident that her staff of six at the middle school and high school and four at the elementary school will learn and perhaps surprise the kids.

The plan is to offer tastings for students before the end of the school year and work on menu development over the summer, with implementation in the fall, Dunham said.

The dishes Dunham has tried are delicious, and she is confident the kids will love these options.

“These kids nowadays are such big foodies,” Dunham said. “We really have to keep on our toes to keep up with their knowledge and their palates. I think we do a pretty good job.”

And for those who cannot, will not eat anything green, the message is, try it, you’ll like it.

“One way we can get them to try new things is by making sure the vegetables are seasoned well and that they have textures and a lot of flavor,” Heath said. “Food Forward highlights these things so kids can be excited about plant-based eating.”

Brew & BBQ Festival

Here’s some more information about the second annual Brew & BBQ Festival at the New York Kitchen, from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 1.

The event not only highlights the craft beer and hard ciders produced in New York, but attendees also will have the opportunity to vote on Best Consumer Experience and Best Display, with the winning breweries receiving on-tap placement for a full year at New York Kitchen.

Last year, OSB Ciderworks of Lakeville, Livingston County, won for Best Consumer Experience with its “Cider Pong.” ReInvention Brewing in Manchester won for Best Display with its Americana-themed setup. Both will be in attendance this year.

Several gold medal winners from the 2019 New York State Craft Brewers Association Competition will also attend including: Rohrbach’s, Three Heads, Big Ditch, Naked Dove, Southern Tier, Brooklyn Brewery and Resurgence.

An educational twist to the event offers festival visitors the opportunity to learn about the importance of New York state-grown hops, barley and malt and the rapid growth of farm-based craft beverage businesses since New York State’s first Wine, Beer, Spirits and Cider summit in 2012.

General admission tickets for the event are $40 and $25 for designated drivers. For tickets and a full list of vendors, visit nykitchen.com.