Fruit and Vegetable Intake Improves Mental Well-Being Among Children
Encourage Your School to Serve Vegan Lunches.
More and more students want vegan school lunches because they are concerned about the environment, their health, and animals. And schools are starting to listen: Approximately 14% of school districts across the U.S. offered vegan options in 2017—up from 11.5% in 2016.
That’s good news for students, many of whom may already have elevated cholesterol levels and are not getting enough fruits and vegetables.
Research shows that half of U.S. children and adolescents do not have ideal cholesterol levels, and 25% are in the clinically high range, a risk factor for developing heart disease later in life. A healthy diet focused on fruits and vegetables reduces cardiovascular risk factors in children, according to a recent study. But only 7.1% of U.S. adolescents eat the federally recommended servings of fruit per day, and only 2% consume the daily recommended servings of vegetables per day.
Vegan school lunches aren’t just good for students; they are good for the environment, too. A report from Friends of Earth found that if all school districts in California swapped out a beef burger for a black bean burger just one day per month, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as taking 22,000 cars off the road for one year!
“Research shows that healthy, protein-rich plant-based foods like lentils and beans are 26 to 34 times less carbon-intensive than beef,” according to the Friends of the Earth. “If every California public school switched from a beef burger to a plant-based burger just once a month, it would save 300 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually.”
Share these five vegan school lunch resources with your local schools:
BOOKLET: Vegan Quantity Recipes for Schools
Involving students in the process of adding more meat-free options to school cafeteria options can be fun, educational, and help generate a sense of responsibility. With strong leadership, valuable partners, and other support, “foodservice leaders are showing that changing school food to improve kids’ health and protect the environment is not only feasible, but can actually help boost student participation and community appreciation of school food,” according to Scaling Up Healthy Climate-Friendly School Food from Friends of the Earth.
Other tips and ideas:
- When writing menu items, focus on the flavorful food, not the nutritional value or the “vegan” label. Students may think food with a “vegan” label is only for vegan, and many youngsters aren’t particularly interested if food is healthy. They want to know it’s delicious.
- Encourage students to participate in selecting menu items. Organize tasting events, and let students vote on their favorite foods. “Everyone gets excited about our taste-testing. It’s new, exciting, and they get a say in it, so they get to participate in the decision-making."
- Some schools ask students to submit their own plant-based recipes, and the winning dishes are served on the lunch menu — and named after the student.
- Offer plant-based items in enticing formats, such as salad bars, food trucks, pop-up restaurants, and grab-and-go options.
- Some schools are including farmers in their programs. A farmer talks to the kids about the produce he grows, and then that particular fruit or vegetable is featured on the menu.
- Some schools hire professional chefs to create new recipes with beautiful presentation.
- Hayhoe R, Rechel B, Clark AB, Gummerson C, Louise Smith SJ, Welch AA. Cross-sectional associations of schoolchildren’s fruit and vegetable consumption, and meal choices, with their mental well-being: a cross-sectional study. BMJ Nutr Prev Health. 2021;e000205:1-16. doi: 10.1136/bmjnph-2020-000205