With nationwide childhood obesity rates reaching unprecedented levels, it’s clear that the time has come to swap the greasy cafeteria “mystery” meatloaf and fatty chicken nuggets out for healthier protein-packed plant-based options. This cafeteria conversion is well underway in schools across the US — from Meatless Mondays to all veg menus — and it’s good news for our health, the planet, and animals.
Most recently, an elementary school in Queens, New York City — Public School 244 — garnered national headlines when it announced that its cafeteria now dishes out 100 percent vegetarian meals, offering exclusively meat-free lunches to its 400 students. The story has reignited an important national discussion about childhood nutrition and how incorporating more fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods can have a positive impact on student health as well as performance in the classroom.
While some schools worry whether children will want to eat healthier options, Bob Groff, principal of Public School 244, explains to ABC News how his students have embraced the new menu: “It’s been a really great response from the kids, but they also understand it’s about what is the healthiest option for them. Because we teach them throughout our curriculum to make healthy choices, they understand what is happening and believe in what we’re doing too.”
This same sentiment is felt across the country in Los Angeles, where earlier this year, the LA Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country, announced its cafeterias are now meat-free every Monday! Serving up an estimated 650,000 vegetarian meals each Monday, the school district’s values reflect the city’s official endorsement of Meatless Mondays.
Baltimore City Schools helped pave this path to meatless meals in school when, in 2009, it became the first public school district to implement Meatless Mondays, serving all-vegetarian meals to 80,000 students every Monday.
Other smaller school districts are “testing the waters” for vegetarian menus. During COK’s US VegWeek campaign, schools in Guilford, Connecticut participated by implementing a 100 percent meat-free menu in its four elementary schools while the district’s middle and high schools featured a delicious meat-free entree each day.
With all the fast food and unhealthy options available to kids outside of school, will these changes have an impact on children’s health? Preliminary studies say yes! Cities that have made significant changes in school nutrition policy, bringing in healthier options and cutting out junk foods, have seen childhood obesity rates drop. Among these cities seeing drops are New York City and Los Angeles.
Think your local school district could use more vegetarian options? Learn more about our Meatless Monday campaign and how you can help bring it to your area!