As part of Public Sector Catering’s fantastic Plant-Based Week, the jellybean team was in high attendance at the publication’s ‘Future of Plant-Based Meals’ webinar, where industry experts weighed in on the key issues around plant-based eating in the public sector.

The demand for plant-based meals has unquestionably increased as more people adopt a healthier and flexitarian approach to eating.  But public sector caterers find themselves in a challenging situation. With the added responsibility of meeting nutritional standards across schools, care and hospitals, can they really meet the demand from consumers while providing a balanced diet that would usually include meat and dairy?

Kicking off the webinar David Foad, group editor of Public Sector Catering posed some timely questions to Dr Rupy Aujla – founder of The Doctor’s Kitchen – on the health benefits of a plant-based diet as part of culinary medicine, sometimes referred to as nutritional medicine.

Here is a breakdown of this fascinating interview:

 What is Culinary Medicine?

According to Dr. Rupy some illnesses and ailments can be cured by examining the patient’s nutritional needs, eating habits and general diet. This theory is central to culinary medicine and Dr. Rupy believes that this practice should be included in all medical degrees. Culinary medicine is not new, it originated in America and has been around for over 20 years. It teaches doctors and nurses the basics of clinical nutrition and how this affects the body, blending the science of nursing, medicine, and cookery. It can also fall into the self-care or wellness bracket, two particularly prominent modern eating/lifestyle trends.

When practised, culinary medicine involves a team of doctors, culinary students and dieticians. Interestingly Westminster Kingsway College is one of the few culinary institutes with a dedicated kitchen for culinary medicine.  In the future, Dr. Rupy hopes to work more closely with schools, hospitals and other public sector arenas to educate people about culinary and nutritional medicine, as well as help to instil the virtue of eating well for mental and physical health.

The Red Meat Issue

Dr. Rupy believes talking about red meat having to be part of a balanced diet is controversial. It used to be thought of as an essential protein but is now considered as more of a luxury in diets. Red meat is of course a convenient source of lots of different proteins, but the levels at which it’s currently being consumed are far too high. Ideally Dr Rupy recommends a plant-based diet with occasional red meat if desired. He did say that intolerances to plant-based food are on the rise, which is when real meat can come into play. It’s true it is often cited as the best source of iron, but Dr Rupy was quick to highlight that plant-based food can also supply us with iron and calcium from many different sources, including nuts and beans.


Along with the health benefits of eating less meat, Dr. Rupy also spoke of its impact on the environment. Most people are aware by now that meat requires a lot of resources to produce, has a higher carbon footprint than plant-based and puts a huge amount of pressure on our lands and environment.

Truly nutritional red meat needs to be from happy, grass fed animals which is why Dr Rupy believes that optimal diets can be plant-based. In doing so he also believes it will help lower our risk of having antimicrobial problems (anti-biotic resistant bacteria) in the future.

So, what’s the most sustainable solution? Plant forward thinking and plant focused diets! The food we consume should be a minimum of 85% plant-based with the rest coming from red meat, dairy, fish and poultry.

Plant-Based and the National Food Strategy

Dr Ruby feels that plant-based now needs to become part of the National Food Strategy vision, as currently the culture around food is still too focused on high fat, high sugar and processed foods.

He also felt that the idea of plant forward diets needs to be built into the Food Buying Standards in education. In doing so it can help the public sector in delivering on sustainable food procurement and to use more foods that are of a higher sustainable and nutritional standard. Plant-based can be a part of a high protein diet, but it can also be high in fibre as whole grains, nuts, beans and pulses are great for protein not just meat replacers.

Plant-based in the Hospital Catering sector

Although each patient will have their own unique requirements, Dr Rupy agreed vegan dishes are lower in calories, as well as protein and it can be hard for vegan patients to recover on their diet. Including vegan friendly meal replacement shakes as a supplement, can help ensure patients get the nutrients they need.

Despite this though Dr Rupy did point out that most vegans are generally healthier than the average person. And although there is no evidence to show that having a plant-based diet in hospital will aid recovery and health, having a well-planned diet (not specifically vegan) will reduce re-admission rates for some illnesses as well as help with certain food allergy issues. These issues can often come from processed food and bad diets, but additional research and education in this area is needed to understand the opportunity for plant-based foods in hospitals.

Advice for chefs making plant-based meals

So where should chefs start with plant-based? Flavour and customer demand are key in recipe development when it comes to plant-based meals. Dr. Rupy recommends trying flavourful food cultures that have traditionally embraced plant-based cooking. Middle-eastern cuisine is a good place to start, with Indian (30% of the country is vegetarian) and Asian dishes regularly using tofu and chickpeas. However, Dr Ruby is keen to highlight that menu development is not a one size fits all approach, and different sectors will need to factor in different needs for their diners. For example, those catering in the care sector need to think about including more fibre in the dish as your microbiota (gut strength) weakens  once over 65 and you need more fibre in your diet.

Planning Plant Forward Menus

Some caterers have begun to gradually reduce the amount of meat in dishes and embrace more eco-friendly methods of cooking. Dr Rupy encouraged chefs not to rely just on ‘mock meat’ but instead try whole ingredients such as flat mushrooms and tomatoes, which can be good substitutes. Taste is important and bringing out umami flavours that support the natural flavours of your dish will mean consumers don’t feel they’re missing out. Enhancers such as soy sauce or tahina are brilliant for adding another dimension to a dish.

Dr. Rupy also stressed the importance of good menu descriptors. Consumer buying habits mean that when offered food that is labelled as a healthy option versus food labelled as a luxurious option, people will often opt for luxury. Healthy can suggest they’re missing out so putting plant-based meals at the top of menus and promoting the quality and the taste of the dish will really boost appeal.

Session 2: The Big  Debate. The keynote interview was followed by a panel debate on – The future of plant-based meals in the public sector

Along with Dr Rupy, the panel included Simon Billing, Executive Director, Eating Better Alliance; Andy Jones, Chair, PSC100 Group; Alexia Robinson, CEO, Love British Food and Nick Vadis, Culinary Director, Compass Group UK.

Simon Biling started the panel discussion by praising the momentum and leadership within the cost sector when it came to promoting plant-based menus. The latest cost sector survey revealed that 80% were committed to reducing their meat usage further and a staggering 83% had increased the use of plant proteins such as beans and pulses in their dishes, with meat-free being moved higher up menus.

Chicken Misery

Simon also emphasised the importance of not using poultry as a substitute for red meat as demand dropped. With growing concerns over animal welfare, the environment and health, the Eating Better director echoed Dr. Rupy’s words on the importance of committing to higher standards of meat and dairy, blaming the ‘Nando’s effect’ for fuelling industrial chicken farming and imports.

He summarised perfectly that the sector should be focusing on ‘the best of British with a plant forward lens’.

Is plant-based a fad?

Alexia Robinson from Love British Food agreed standards need to be high and buying British meat will support this, but she was also concerned that plant-based is becoming a fad and could run the risk of denying children and the elderly essential nutrients found in quality meat and dairy products.

Simon highlighted that 18-35s had heightened worries over the environment and as such plant-based was just getting started. He praised the public sector for showing that nutritional plant-based dishes are possible and do work in the sector.

Nick Vardis from Compass Group UK agreed, highlighting the success of Compass’ new plant-based concept, ‘Root Kitchen’ within NHS Trusts, particularly with visitor and staff feeding.  The concept is backed with experts and nutritionists, and the Culinary Director emphasised that planning and training is essential for chefs to understand nutrition in order to ensure plant-based dishes meet standards. A mission that Compass is committed to through its chef food programme.

Guardians of the nation’s health

Andy Jones highlighted the importance of nutritional medicine as part of good health and that good food needs to be part of a patient’s recovery plan. Disagreeing with Alexia that plant-based is a fad, the PSC100 Chair believes that the pandemic had changed mind-sets for good. Customers want plant-based and it is now a big part of the nation’s diet.

Session 3: In the third part of the session, the panel were asked their thoughts on the education surrounding plant-based and what the industry can do to move forward.

Andy Jones pointed out the essential need to invest in chefs, as cooking evolves so too should knowledge during this crucial pivot point. There are opportunities available, apprenticeships for example aren’t exclusively for chefs starting their careers but for those who want to learn and develop their skills. An informed knowledge about varying dietary requirements can only improve the well-being of patients and as Nick Vadis acknowledged, food is essential for recovery. Dr Rupy Auija explained the importance of providing guidance on improving eating habits, whether it’s a reduction of sugar or a reduction in saturated fats. Furthermore, the sector could benefit from robust specifications when it comes to food and the meals that are served, with dieticians and nutritionists being actively involved in menu creation.

Incorporating more vegetables into meal options needs to be a priority and encouraged and there are so many opportunities to do this just by reformulating recipes. An example given by Nick Vadis was to re-evaluate the recipe of a beefburger, where 25% of the meat is replaced with mushrooms leading to an increased consumption of vegetables and a more succulent meal. In doing so, this highlights the varying choices around plant-based. The recommended five or seven fruit and veg a day, needs to be reconsidered as a strategy rather than a tick box, in a bid to change the mentality surrounding plant-based options. Ultimately, the goal of Plant-Based Week is not to remove meat entirely from diets, but to increase the nutritional value of meals and the choices available.

The panel agreed that more could be done on the Government’s behalf by way of appointing a dedicated Minister of Food. Alexia touched on the importance of reprioritising budgets so that the meat consumed as a nation is better quality – as a ripple effect, chefs will be empowered by improved budgets to buy better meat, helping British farmers. The feeling being, that as a nation we’re on the right track but this journey must continue to be driven forward.

It’s remarkable to see such a passion in the industry for plant-based and what we’ve learnt is that this change in diet is not a fad, but a bid to improve health and well-being. The over-arching feeling from the panel is that this dietary evolution is heading in the right direction. Nick Vadis perfectly surmised the main steps forward with ‘buy more British produce, educate those who supply and use less processed plant-based food’. Wise words indeed.

To see the full webinar, visit Public Sector Catering –