More Plants Please!
Making a Powerful Impact Through School Lunch
February 22, 2018 | By
Feeding school children entails a great deal of responsibility and offers the power of choice to school districts. While it might be obvious that school food choices impact the health and academic performance of students, these choices also impact our economy and the health of our planet. Over 30 million children eat school lunch every day, which means that making responsible choices in school food creates a sizeable and lasting impact.
To enable schools to make a positive environmental impact through school lunch offerings and to teach students the benefits of making more plant forward meal choices in and out of school, we got to work crafting new recipes, developing new promotional materials, and gathering resources. Our end result is More Plants Please! a plant forward initiative we are proud to launch on The Lunch Box.
Plant forward meals are not about changing an entire meal program, but focus on offering healthy and environmentally-friendly options on a scale that is easily attainable for foodservice staff. At Chef Ann Foundation, we consider a recipe to be plant forward if it is one of the following:
- free of animal protein
- a traditional meat-based recipe where some of the meat has been replaced with plant-based proteins that credit to the meal pattern
All of our plant forward recipes meet USDA guidelines, were tested in school kitchens, and were approved by students so that schools can serve more plants more easily. Our new plant forward recipes also use plant-based proteins, like the chickpeas in Chickpea Masala and the tofu in Pineapple Fried rice, to provide students protein-packed dishes that help them stay full and thrive in the classroom.
After adding new recipes and identifying existing plant forward recipes, we grouped recipes together to create compliant menu cycles focused on reducing meat-based proteins. The recipes in these menu cycles still include meals like Sesame Chicken, but the meat-based dishes are balanced with plant forward meals across the cycle to avoid offering only meat-based options.
To help school food service directors educate and communicate about plant forward meals with their school communities, we created lunchroom posters and flyers for staff and families. The posters encourage students to make responsible, informed decisions by introducing them to alternative protein sources and teaching them how their meal choices affect the planet and their long-term health. For example, one poster illustrates the environmental impacts of eating plant-based proteins, while another guides students through building nutritious lunches from whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and plant-based proteins.
The two flyers include one to send around to staff and another for home. The flyer to staff explains the why, what, and how of serving plant forward meals so that staff members can choose to eat more plant-based foods and encourage students to do so too. The take home flyer helps students bring their lunch time habits home to their families by providing a roadmap to making one-bowl meals with whole grains, fresh vegetables, and plant-based proteins.
More Plants Please! recipes, menu cycles, and resources help schools make responsible and powerful decisions. “When you combine knowledge about the impact of meat-based proteins on the planet with the great responsibility of feeding students, these plant forward recipes become the natural choice,” explained Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Novato Unified School District Miguel Villarreal in a recent interview.
Even if a school can only offer a few plant forward meals, they make a substantial impact because so many children eat school lunch each day, and because when we introduce children to new foods and new ways of eating, we help them cultivate healthy habits that last a lifetime.
“Schools can be a partner to parents in introducing new foods that become the basis for a lifetime of healthy choices,” commented Nona Evans, President of Whole Kids Foundation, which works to improve child nutrition and partnered with us to bring More Plants Please! to schools.