Brown Rice Poke Bowl with veggies and shrimp

Plant-forward. Veg-centric. Plant-focused. These terms are making a splash in foodie lingo as an increasing number of innovative chefs and restauranteurs embrace meals using more whole grains, vegetables and legumes, and less meat.  

Not to be confused with strictly vegetarian or vegan dishes, plant-forward cuisine is about reducing the animal-based protein composition of a meal and celebrating the flavors, textures, and colors contributed by its plant components. It’s about using meat as a garnish or condiment, rather than relying on it as the main event. Amy Myrdal Miller, director of The Culinary Institute of America Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative, wrote in Produce Business Magazine that, in response to research showing a connection between traditional dietary patterns (like the Mediterranean diet) and improved health outcomes, “some in the nutrition and culinary community started recommending ‘plant-forward’ diets to illustrate how traditional dietary patterns emphasize plant foods and de-emphasize animal foods.”

When it comes to creating crave-worthy plant-forward menus that include minimal amounts of animal protein, many chefs are finding that the secret ingredient is whole grains. The heartiness of whole grains rounds out a meal and leaves diners feeling satiated in a way that vegetables alone may not do. Rather than feeling short-changed by a smaller portion of meat or fish, customers ordering dishes that spotlight grains such as farro or amaranth are often impressed that the ingredients feel premium. They feel like they are getting something unique and fresh, with flavor often driven by herbs and spices, rather than dominated by the heaviness of meat. 

Summer Veggie Saffron Penne.jpg

Veg-centric eating might feel new and unusual to those accustomed to meals centered around the meat du jour, but this pattern of eating has been around for a very long time. In fact, most traditional diets (including Mediterranean, Latin American, African and Asian heritage diets), rely on plant-based foods to do the heavy lifting, with fish and (more occasionally) meat making limited appearances. It’s no surprise that many of the chefs creating more plant-heavy menus are turning to these cultural cuisines for inspiration, incorporating Asian-style grain bowls, African-style pilafs and stews, and Mediterranean salads loaded with beans and whole grains. 

If you’re looking to explore your own veg-centric side, here’s a list of 50 chefs pioneering this movement at their restaurants around the world, or give it a whirl in your own kitchen by trying one of these recipes:

Tell us about your favorite plant-forward, whole-grain-packed meals in the comments below! (Caroline)

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