Plant-Based Meals Gain Popularity In Restaurants And Frozen Food

A new article from the Consumer Reports October 2017 issue is highlighting how people's love of "bowls" has hugely modified what consistently goes into those bowls. For example, you've got your “power bowls,” your “grain bowls,” and even your “Buddha bowls.” Everyone from Sweetgreen to Chipotle has an option for piling your food into a well-balanced meal, and it has changed people's expectations for what a plate looks like. It's rounder, but more importantly, has consistently better nutrition. 

It's actually been a practice for a long time that has ebbed and flowed, beginning with the macrobiotic bowls that came into popularity in the 1960s, and which usually featured grains, vegetables, and some sort of protein. But we've come to an interesting realization: The more people focus on the health aspect of what's inside their bowls, the more likely it is that they'll leave the meat protein behind.

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“Meat is increasingly becoming a side dish or a condiment in meals,” dietitian Amy Keating explained to Consumer Reports, “rather than the main event." What does this mean? Keating thinks that the sorts of things that go in bowls, like kale, quinoa, seeds, and other nutrient dense fillers, appeal to the virtuous feeling of taking care of yourself. In short, it means that people want more of the vegetation and less of the gristle. “Their ingredients tend to be what people think of as ‘power’ or ‘super’ foods, those they should be getting more of in their diet,” she added.

Another reason vegetarianism has become a more popular choice is in the strides made by companies that focus on organic and vegetarian frozen meals, like Amy's Kitchen. Consumer Reports’ nutritionist Ellen Klosz says that the quality of the vegetarian meals is simply better across the board; meat, as the argument goes, doesn't always taste great when it's heated up in the microwave.

“Bowl mania really hit its stride this year, and frozen food manufacturers have taken notice,” explained Klosz. “When we started exploring the supermarket options, we were surprised by how many there were, so we looked at the category to see just how healthy and tasty frozen grain bowls could be.”

They tried 26 different frozen meals, some labeled as vegan or vegetarian. Professional tasters deemed most of the meat in the meals as “gristly” or “dry and chewy." Not very high praise. But the veggie ones did notably well.

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“For the most part, grain bowls—even frozen ones—deliver on this front. The ones in our tests contained simple, recognizable ingredients, such as whole grains, vegetables, protein, and seasonings,” Klosz said, adding that the flavors tended to be more interesting and complicated than typical meat and potatoes. "Higher-quality ingredients in the top-rated bowls gave them plenty of flavor, and the majority of meals in this category were inspired by cuisines with strong flavor profiles, such as Asian, Indian, and Mexican.”

Good food well-prepared will always be popular, and that includes vegetables that aren't just boiled and piled on a plate. Reducing meat intake is good for bodies, the planet, and also your taste buds.

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