Students at Hyde School in Bath are eating record amounts of plant-based foods. This new development is no accident. The boarding school has been actively promoting vegan and vegetarian dishes for the past three years.

Hyde’s embrace of plant-based fare puts it ahead of the curve of most other independent college preparatory schools. Like their public school counterparts, private schools in the state are serving ever more plant-based food. The reason? Students are eating more vegan and vegetarian food than ever before.

“Based on my invoices, we’re buying more plant-based food than we are any other food,” Hyde’s nutrition director Michael Flynn said. He says on a given week the school buys 60 to 80 percent more vegetables, fruits, beans, grains and seeds than it did on the same week five years ago.

“We’re constantly looking at how we can increase the plant-based options so potentially they’ll eat more,” Flynn said.

It’s easy to think Flynn and his sous-chef Donna Leonard want the students to go vegan. But that’s not the case. Instead Hyde wants to occupy the majority of each student’s plate with plants, allowing a smaller space for meat and dairy.

Naturally, Hyde’s student body includes full-time vegetarians. But the number of students who select plant-based options each day far exceeds their numbers. Similar trends are evident at the nation’s restaurants and grocery stores, where non-vegetarians are buying vegan food at record levels.

Heidi L’Heureux, who works in the Waynflete Cafe at the West End day school, prepares hummus wraps – a far cry from the late 1980s when bagels, pizza and grilled cheese were favorites with the student body.

One new plant-based dish winning over the students and faculty at Hyde School is the savory blueberry burger, made with Maine wild blueberries, quinoa, chickpeas, cilantro and red bell peppers. Other favorite veg dishes at Hyde include zucchini-crusted pizza with tofu, sweet potato hummus and Brussels sprouts salad.

“Students reach out to us and say, ‘We have a game this week. What will give us the most energy?’ ” Flynn told me. “We encourage them to go raw, plant-based. There isn’t a quick fix, but if you stick with that for the week you’ll have more energy for that fourth quarter.”)

Hyde’s increased vegetarian options reflect the dining staff’s awareness of the ever-widening body of medical evidence linking plant-based diets to disease reversal and prevention. Flynn’s background is in healthcare, and says he “watched a lot of the patients have issues because of their diet.” In his travels, he says he also saw how dietary customs affect health. “You start to feel responsible if you’re providing food that would put them in the hospital,” Flynn said.

Over at Waynflete School, a day school in Portland’s West End, the appearance of more plant-based fare reflects increased demand.

In recent years, Waynflete students have gravitated to “salads and the healthier items,” said Pauline Barry, who has run the Waynflete Cafe since 1989 when grilled cheese, bagels, ham Italians and pizza were top sellers. Recently Barry told me: “The majority of the stuff I do is the salads and wraps.”

The cafe offers three vegan salads – harvest blend, Asian and Thai – all of which can be served in a wrap. Other Waynflete veg favorites include vegetable sushi and hummus with avocado wraps.

At North Yarmouth Academy, a day school in Yarmouth’s village, favorite vegan dishes include the scratch-made hummus, veggie fried rice and California rolls.

Dining director David Daigle told me the population of vegan and vegetarian students changes from year-to-year, but “The older kids are the ones that are more apt to eat the vegetables and vegetarian options. They have an environmental club and are more aware of how beneficial that food is for them.”

At Gould Academy in the village of Bethel, just 20 or so students out of 250 are full-time vegetarians and vegans, yet to keep up with demand for popular vegan dishes – roasted tofu with tomatoes and lentil loaf with homemade barbecue sauce, to name two – dining director Brian Scheidegger makes 40 to 50 portions.

“In the last five years the number of people taking the vegetarian and vegan options has gone up significantly,” Scheidegger said.

Other student favorites at the boarding school include ripe plantain with black beans, pad Thai with tofu, quinoa vegetable pilaf, and fakin’ bacon with sliced jalapenos.

“We’re doing more with tofu and tempeh and we’re doing more with TVP (textured vegetable protein),” Scheidegger said. “We do a lot with bean and legumes. We use quinoa and wheat berries all the time now. We have organic brown rice every day. The kids really enjoy it.”

Back at Hyde, senior Aaron Ayala is a vegetarian who appreciates the school’s focus on vegetarian and vegan foods. “There are consistently healthy, delicious options for me,” he said.

Hyde’s dining staff is happy to oblige.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in downtown Portland. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

Correction: This story was updated at 1:53 p.m. on April 5 to correct the name of the cook at Waynflete School shown in a photo.

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