More plant-based options coming to Pullman dining centers

Closeup of chef Michael Acker cooking lentil meatloaf.
Dining chef Michael Acker works on his lentil meatloaf during the Forward Food training last month.

Washington State University Pullman’s Dining Services has reaffirmed its commitment to culinary innovation by pledging to increase its plant-based offerings by 5% per year for the next three years.

The commitment will not only help Dining Services offer more plant-based options to the WSU community — it will also help staff meet their environmental sustainability goals and let chefs innovate in an exciting and increasingly popular culinary space.

Training lets chefs get creative

To reduce dining’s environmental impact while continuing to offer food options students will love, dining staff have been hard at work building an innovative plant-based menu that features traditionally healthy items as well as plant-based “comfort foods” that feel indulgent but don’t rely on animal products.

To create some of those foods, Dining Services participated in a week-long training with professional chefs from Forward Food, the organization they’re working with on the pledge, earlier this month. At the training, Dining Services chefs learned about the benefits of plant-based foods and received tips and tricks for working with ingredients like tofu and flaxseed. Forward Food also provided 10 “base recipes” that dining staff expanded on and made their own.

A taco with baked chorizo tofu – a chef’s creation from the Forward Food training.

“Giving the staff the challenge to re-create things and seeing the lightbulb going off that this type of food can be really good was inspiring,” said Dining Services Registered Dietitian Alice Ma. “It’s a great avenue for them to experiment and develop professional skills as chefs.”

The training let dining chefs get creative, gave them a better feel for the ingredients they’re working with, and enhanced their understanding of plant-based diets.

“This has been groundbreaking for our chefs and our staff,” said Dining Services Associate Director Adam Koerner. “It’s helped us get more excited about making these plant-based options into high-quality, nutritious items that are sustainable for the planet and teach our customers good buying habits for their future.”

Dining chefs came up with recipes for Impossible black bean tacos, falafel pitas, tofu chicken-fried steak, and several other items that will appear on dining center menus in the future. These new items aren’t just for students — faculty and staff interested in trying the new plant-based options can purchase meals individually in the dining centers or participate in the Mini Meal Plan.  

Committing to sustainability

Dining Services has pledged to make 40% of its menu plant-based by 2024. Meeting that target will allow it to better serve the WSU community, which is increasingly asking for plant-based offerings; working with Forward Food to get there will help ensure that culinary innovation and sustainability are part of the process.

A tofu parmesan dish created by chefs at last month’s Forward Food training.

“I believe it’s our responsibility to make sustainability part of what we do, and a third party helps us stay on track toward meeting our goals,” Koerner said. “The pledge helps keep us going in the right direction.”

To help dining achieve its sustainability goals, Forward Food evaluates dining’s purchasing histories and other metrics that provide a picture of its environmental impact, then offers suggestions to reduce things like greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption. One key step in increasing sustainability is increasing plant-based offerings, Ma said, because plant-based foods have a lower environmental impact than animal products.

“Our goal is always to source our food more sustainably, and part of that is sourcing less meat and more plants,” she said. “The idea with the pledge and us increasing plant-based options is that you don’t have to completely give up meat or other things you like. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”

The Forward Food program, which is sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, asks K-12 and higher education institutions to commit to increasing plant-based options in their dining centers. Visit the website to learn more.

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