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Casual and fine-dining restaurants and consumer packaged foods need to adapt to ever-changing diets, especially now as it pertains to moving away from meat-forward dishes and pushing vegetables to the forefront, and they’ve been doing a good job with a 45% and 22% growth in the areas, respectively. This was a response to the rise of vegetarianism and veganism over the past five to 10 years, which has helped normalize and make once “alternative diets” more mainstream. And while going meatless continues to be a trend that more people are adopting, there are some people who haven’t quite committed to standing firmly on either side of the meat-eating fence and instead freely swing from ordering beef burgers one day to happily cooking up a veggie patty the next. These are the flexitarians.

Flexitarians are omnivores in the truest sense, eating both meat and plants as full meals and not sticking to as strict a diet as a vegetarian or vegan would. Instead, those who adopt a flexitarian lifestyle are weening meat out of their diets, not entirely, to make room for more health-conscious choices; the two top reasons for adopting a flexitarian diet are for improving personal and planetary health. A large percentage of flexitarians are Millennials who are seeking to opt out of eating animal proteins or sugars for health reasons above all others, yet as of 2016, 2.5 million Americans over the age of 55 have adopted flexitarian diets, too, which could be due to a “Millennial influence.” Millennials, more than any age group now, have heralded eating more local, healthier and environmentally friendly products, causing a ripple effect. Those who are middle-aged and older who are concerned about their health look to this generation for answers and adopt them for themselves, as well.

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Flexitarians will cut out meat from one meal a week (oftentimes “Meatless Mondays”) to start, though most cite sticking to the 80/20 Principle (20% omnivore, 80% vegetables) for their weekly meals. Some of the favorite brands of this group are Gardein, Beyond Meat, Yves Cold Cuts, Soyrizo, LYFE Kitchen and Protein Bar. They will look for sustainable ways to get protein from alternative sources to meat, like quinoa, edamame and chia, and choose meatless packaged meals have lasting health effects, not just filler ingredients.

Ingredients play a big role in a flexitarian lifestyle – with less meat on the table, there’s room to get creative and a little exotic. Asian ingredients are trending in American cuisine with Korean BBQ-flavors the newest up-and-comer in not only specialty but fast-casual dining. The flexitarian will create meals that resemble animal dishes, like sweet potato kebabs or avocado eggrolls, or substitute ingredients deemed less healthy, like ditching pasta for spiralized zucchini. They’re a little more playful with their dishes and open to innovative ideas that will make their dining experience more fun, which is good news for restaurateurs and packed meal brands interested in flexing their trendier muscles. When meat is removed from the main dish, the imagination can run wild. Not only are they sticking to the classic steaming or boiling technique, flexitarians are branching off into smoking vegetables and pickling out-of-the-box vegetables, like beets and cauliflower.

Vegetables are being given the star treatment now like never before. As this trend grows, we’ll see in-home staples and out-of-home dishes embrace new flavors and combinations like never before now that vegetables have moved from the side to the middle of plate, thanks to those who chose not to stand on the middle of the fence.

Culinary Chronicles: Vegetables Step Up to the Plate

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