If you grew up in the US public school system, you surely remember the square pizzas covered in a thick layer of cheese, the perfectly rectangular chicken nuggets, and the nachos covered in orange plastic-like cheese.  I’m not going to lie, I was one of those kids who looked forward to pizza Fridays.  Clearly, I had great taste in food!

Look familiar?

The other day, Vishnu and I took a walk down memory lane after he shared an article with me about a New York City elementary school cafeteria going completely vegetarian.  In fact, this is the first public school in the nation to do so.  And not only has the menu changed, but school administrators are also beginning to build healthy lifestyle education into the curriculum, teaching their students about what options exist.

Of course, the school is not banning kids from bringing their own non-vegetarian lunches to school.  However, instead of meat filled options, kids now purchase things like black bean quesadillas, brown rice, falafel, roasted red potatoes, and tofu.  How awesome, right!?  And get this, the kids love the new menu so much that they’re even requesting this kind of food at home now.

The new menu still follows the USDA’s standards, so there is no reason to be concerned that students are not receiving adequate nutrients.  And even though everything is still in line with government regulations, there are  those who still oppose this “revolutionary” way of feeding young kids (ahem, the U.S. meat industry, ahem).  However, it should be noted that the cities with the most aggressive nutrition policies are the ones that have seen the biggest drops in childhood obesity rates. 

How good does this look?!

Even though this is only one school out of thousands, I’m still excited about the possibilities this opens up.  I’m really hoping that other school districts take notice and begin to make responsible decisions about what we are feeding our nation’s kids.  And although I am a vegetarian myself, I don’t think that this is the only healthy diet out there.  I am a true believer in “different strokes for different folks.”  However, I do think that vegetarian foods need to be introduced early and in a fun way, which I think schools can help do.  It amazes me when people, both children and adults, don’t know what common fruits and vegetables are.

And just to be clear, I realize that healthy living is a multi-faceted issue.  While this is a small step in turning things around, it’s a step.  And that is something that gives me hope.

I really want to know – what do you think about public schools offering an entirely vegetarian cafeteria menu?

By Parita

13 thoughts on “Vegetarian School Lunches”
  1. Ah this makes me so happy to read and I completely agree that it’s a step in the direction. As you know, I do enjoy my non-vegetarian food but try to include plenty of vegetarian meals into my diet. While I do consciously make an effort to ensure it’s balanced, I’m glad this school is an example that veggie meals don’t have to mean solely be limited to pasta, pizza and cheese! If it means serving healthy meals, I think it’s great to just offer an entirely vegetarian menu- there’s always breakfast and lunch for students to get their carnivorous fix!

  2. Wow that is so cool! I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction! And like you, while I’m a vegetarian, I don’t necessarily think that’s the only healthy way out there. It definitely sounds like this school is making a difference though!

  3. I think it’s great! But I’m a vegetarian and kind of biased haha. I do think any steps a school takes in creating healthier food options for kids is better than how we had it. Even if they offer more vegetables or just one vegetarian option that isn’t cheese pizza, I think that’s a step in the right direction. I wish dietitians and nutritionists were this engaged in creating healthy lunches when I was a young kid! Vegetarianism is definitely not the only way to live, either! It’s just what works for me 🙂

  4. I’m not a vegetarian, but I rarely eat meat, maybe once a week. But yet i think this is a very extreme/expensive solution. If it is working, I think it’s wonderful! but i also think it’s very sad that schools can’t find a middle of the road solution. Why can it only be artificial crap or full on vegetarian food? Why not just not provide regular food with various options but made out of real ingredients, especially vegetable options too so kids aren’t scared of them. But like you said, it’s the aggressive approaches to a very bad system, are ones that see results. Very interesting debate Parita! 😉

  5. I think that’s wonderful. And I’m impressed people are taking to it so easily. Sadly I don’t know if that would ever fly at schools in the Midwest. People where I’m from just don’t understand the concept of not eating meat at every meal.

  6. I eat a lot of meat but I think this is an awesome idea for schools! Children that do eat meat will probably eat it at home for dinner anyways, so it’s a great way to lower the intake throughout the day. The meal you posted also looks really well made, not like the schlep I use to get for lunch!

  7. Can you believe that I never went to a school that had a cafeteria? It wasn’t until I went to university that the option of buying food at school became available. Craziness. That being said, I never had the pleasure of experiencing bad cafeteria food, but I’ve heard plenty of horror stories. I think the school offering a vegetarian menu is a great step in the right direction, but it seems like too extreme a step to me. Like why can’t they just focus on providing healthier options that cater to every eating style? Why does it have to be either the crap food extreme or the super healthy, vegetarian extreme? I love that they’re starting to put more of a focus on healthy living, but I just think it should be more moderate instead of jumping from one end to the other.

  8. wow wat a revolutionary step…i really appreciate the management in taking such good care of the children…..

    this is the first time i am visiting your blog and i just gave a quick reading of things in the blog here and there….it seems to be very interesting and informative….and you look super gorgeous parita :-))….

  9. I looked forward to pizza lunches too. So yummy! Remember, Elliot pizzas? or something like that. I’m glad things are changing, there are so many obese kids in the country, and hopefully once they start enjoying healthier foods, they will start making changes at home. Vegetarian isnt’ always healthier, but hopefully if the food is being cooked right and nutritious, the kids will burn off the fat.

  10. I love this idea…I don’t let Maya eat at the cafeteria because while it’s come a long way since I was in school, it’s still has a long way to go!

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