Plant-based school lunches: 10 easy swaps
May 9, 2023
These days you can easily find a plant-based alternative to just about every animal product you can think of. In terms of school menus, this means that children can enjoy tasty food that’s also healthier for them and the planet with plant-based school lunches.
Here is a quick run-down of the best, most accessible and affordable alternatives to animal products:
There is an abundance of meat alternatives currently used in UK schools, but which ones should you use in which dishes?
1. Beans and lentils
Pulses and beans are quite simply the most nutritious, sustainable and cheapest meat replacement there is. These little powerhouses are packed with an abundance of important nutrients. Both beans and lentils work extremely well in chillis, curries, burgers, and veggie balls. Lentils are an especially good replacement for mince or can be blended 50/50 to reduce meat content in a dish.
Tofu is made from soya beans. Just chop it up into small cubes, give it some flavour and seasoning and add to your recipe. It works really well in stir-fries and curries!
Scrambled tofu, flavoured with turmeric, soy sauce and other ingredients, depending on the recipe, is also a good alternative to scrambled eggs.
3. Soya protein
This is also made from soya beans and can be used as a replacement wherever mince is required, such as in a shepherd’s pie, spaghetti bolognese, lasagne or chilli. Try blending in some lentils and mushrooms too.
Jackfruit is a South and South-East Asian fruit whose flesh resembles the texture of tuna or flaked pork. It is now widely available tinned and with a good blend of seasoning, spices or sauces can be transformed into a delicious plant-based tuna mayo filling, or sticky BBQ pulled pork.
Seitan is produced using vital wheat gluten and is an excellent source of protein, although not suitable to anyone with any sort of intolerance to gluten. Its texture lends itself to being an excellent replacement for meat in casseroles, burgers and burritos.
Quorn is a popular ingredient that we see on lots of school menus, but what is it exactly? Well, it is a mycoprotein fermented from a fungus found in soil. It comes in many forms and can be used in just about any dish in place of meat. It is high in protein and fibre and low in fat.
Dairy and egg alternatives
7. Plant milks
The choice of plant-based milk is enormous. Take your pick from soya, oat, coconut, almond, rice, hemp, and now even pea milk. Almost all are fortified with extra nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and B12, so there is no argument for missing out on calcium by not drinking cow’s milk.
8. Plant-based cheeses
Plant-based cheeses are improving rapidly in terms of taste and texture. Like animal-based cheeses, however, they are high in saturated fat and should be used more sparingly for good health. You can make a delicious plant-based cheese sauce by making the base white sauce with plant-based butter and plant-based milk. You then add some grated plant-based cheese and nutritional yeast – a wonder ingredient that naturally has a cheesy flavour.
9. Chia or flax egg
Depending on the type of recipe, you can use ground linseeds or ground chia seeds mixed with water. This works particularly well to replace an egg when baking cakes.
Aquafaba (the cloudy liquid you find in tins of chickpeas) can be whisked up to make perfect meringues or a chocolate mousse.
We suggest using many of the ingredients above when doing menu consultation with schools in our School Plates programme. Many of the schools we work with have found that simple ingredient swaps have helped them cut their environmental impact, improve the overall nutrition of their menus and save them money too!
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