Daily Plant-Based Entrée
Including a daily plant-based entrée such as a veggie burger, bean burrito, or fresh garden salad from the salad bar not only addresses inadequate consumption of healthful plant-based foods and helps form healthier eating habits, but can also lower children’s fat, calorie, sodium, and cholesterol intake by reducing consumption of processed meat and dairy products such as cheesy pizza, sausages and bacon, and fried chicken nuggets.
It is an easy way for schools to meet the new nutrition standards based on the most recent Dietary Guidelines.
- Demand for fruits and vegetables is increasing, and so is demand for plant-based entrées. USDA now allows commercial tofu and soy products such as soy yogurt to meet all or part of the meats/meat alternates component in school breakfast and lunch for a reimbursable meal. Mature beans and dry peas (e.g., kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans/ chickpeas, black-eyed peas, split peas and lentils) were already considered appropriate as meat alternates and are easily turned into bean burgers and burritos, bean salads, chili, and sides for entrées and salads.
- A beef patty that is 85 percent lean can still provide at minimum 7 grams of fat, 38 mg of cholesterol, and no dietary fiber in a burger patty, compared with canned beans that can provide up to the same amount of protein with 0.4 grams of fat, 0 mg of cholesterol, and 6 grams of dietary fiber in a bean patty.
- It takes a health-conscious food service director to incorporate these low-fat, nutrient-rich, high-fiber foods into a school’s menu plan.
- While it takes more investment and leadership to offer plant-based entrées, a number of school districts are going above and beyond the USDA requirements. From Boulder to New York City, many school districts serve veggie nuggets, soy taco pocket sandwiches, veggie burgers, and veggie chili on a regular basis. Many more participate in Meatless Mondays and have salad bars stocked with local and fresh produce.
For more information on increasing plant-based options in the school lunch program, see the Resources for Schools section.