Improving School Food with Plant-Based Meals
The Physicians Committee works with school districts, the government, and students and parents across the country to bring plant-based food to schools.
Benefits of Plant-Based School Meals
Eating habits begin in early childhood. Providing healthful plant-based meals in schools sets an example for students to learn to enjoy a variety of nutritious foods from an early age.
Plant-based meals provide excellent nutrition—they are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that boost students’ health. Children who are raised on healthful vegan diets have a reduced risk for heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and other conditions. Adolescents raised on a plant-based diet often find they have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight. They also have fewer problems with acne, allergies, and gastrointestinal problems than their peers who eat animal products.
Plant-based school meals can also help address rising rates of chronic disease. Projections from the CDC show that 1 in 3 children will develop type 2 diabetes during their lifetime. More and more children are gaining excess weight, paving the way for health problems later in life. Twenty-five percent of children ages 5 to 10 years have high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, or other early warning signs of heart disease. In fact, American children often have fatty streaks in their arteries before they finish high school. Plant-based meals promote health, because they are free of cholesterol, low in saturated fat, and full of fiber.
Plant-Powered School Districts
New York City
New York City serves plant-based meals exclusively to all 1 million of its students on Mondays as part of its Meatless Mondays campaign. The district also offers a daily plant-based option at every school. The district is already home to four fully vegetarian public schools, who serve plant-powered menus packed with foods like crunchy tofu with sesame lo-mein noodles and pasta fagioli with roasted zucchini.
Santa Barbara Unified School District
SBUSD serves a plant-based option at each meal. Options include plant-based chili, rojo burritos, Thai green curry bowls, vegan “meatball” subs, and veggie pozole. Of the 2 million meals SBUSD serves every year, approximately 50 percent of the meals are vegan. The plant-based options often sell out more quickly than the meat-based meals! SBUSD is also home to many school gardens, where students learn about the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables.
DC Central Kitchen
DC Central Kitchen is a food service provider for 15 schools in Washington, D.C. DC Central Kitchen implemented a plant-based pilot program with more than 400 students at Walker Jones Education Campus, a K-8 school that operates inside of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). DCCK added some of the most popular entrées from the pilot—including Veg-Out Chili and Powered-Up Pasta with Chickpeas—to its main menu. DC Central Kitchen helps students learn to enjoy vegetables through its Fresh Feature Friday program. Students sample one vegetable made three ways, and the winner of this hands-on taste test moves to the lunch line!
Los Angeles Unified School District introduced a plant-based pilot program to test vegan meals at a variety of schools throughout the district. Meals include falafel flatbread and three-bean vegan chili. The pilot has been so popular among students that LAUSD’s food services division said they would recommend expanding the program to every school in the district!