The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog


Posted on July 11, 2014 by The VRG Blog Editor

The following information is from Vegan in Volume, by Chef Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RD and published by The Vegetarian Resource Group. Special thanks to VRG intern Karen Abbe-Leibowitz for updating this section from the latest edition of the book. Karen is studying nutrition in college. You can order Vegan in Volume here and if you want to share vegan food service information (including recipes) with your local school, see:


Kids make eating an experience, perhaps unplanned on your part! Depending on the age of the children, design the menu to be easy to eat, relatively quick to serve, and to contain a variety of temperatures, colors, flavors, and textures.

Portion sizes should reflect the children’s ages. If you are following federal school food lunch guidelines (see below), be sure you have the portion sizes correct for the particular food you have on the menu. For example, peanut butter, beans, and commercially-prepared tofu may all be used as a meat alternative, but the portion sizes for each one differ. (See this PDF for meat alternates guide:

The USDA’s guidelines for school foods are constantly undergoing changes. With the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, schools are required to provide healthier food and beverage options. Menus are designed based on recommendations of the Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) (limit saturated fat to 10% of calories; limit sodium intake; choose a diet low in cholesterol; increase intake of fiber-containing foods; eat a variety of foods, etc.). (See pages 6, 24-25, and 71 of the following PDF:

Schools now have standards which offer a wider variety and increased amount of fruits and vegetables served, and allow commercially-prepared tofu as a meat alternate. This could be good news for vegans, as the selection and amounts of ingredients would have a wider range. The USDA school lunch program is in a constant state of revision so you should be sure to keep up on current changes (a good source for this is the USDA’s website at:


This information is pertinent to those concerned with elementary, middle, and high schools receiving USDA reimbursement. The following resources are USDA tools for nutrition education and healthy meal preparation in schools. These materials can be accessed by your local school food service director and are also found online.

• The HEALTHY MEALS RESOURCE SYSTEM is a resource for food service staff and chefs that contains quantity menus and recipes with several vegetarian (no meat, fish or fowl, but including dairy, honey, and eggs) and vegan (no meat, fish, fowl, dairy, eggs, or honey) options – be sure to thoroughly check ingredient lists as some meal titles sound like they may be vegetarian but are not. The recipes have nutritional analyses, state the food group (meat alter-native, fruit, etc.), and many include photographs for garnish suggestions. The recipes section also provides links to PDF files of cookbooks and recipe collections for quantity school lunch meal preparation.

• The FRESH FRUIT AND VEGETABLE (FFVP) TOOKLIT provides templates, handouts, and other resources to help implement a successful fruit and vegetable program. The program allows a wider variety of produce for students, including those enrolled for free and reduced-price meals. This would provide more options for vegetarian students.

• The SPECIAL DIETS PAGE on the USDA website provides a link to a wealth of resources concerning vegetarian diets. Includes MyPlate tips for vegetarians, handouts, lesson plans, recipes for food service, and other materials.

The USDA materials are a good resource to become familiar with because they have been approved by the USDA for use in the schools. For this reason, when working with schools which receive government reimbursement and must follow USDA rules, we suggest you start with the resources mentioned above. These are already being used in many school systems and meet the requirements outlined by the government. Commodity ingredients are also something to be familiar with since they are often incorporated into many of the recipes. Commodities are food ingredients available to the schools through the federal government for free or at greatly reduced prices. Commodities allow school food services to operate within their budgets and to serve meals to more children. In the past, vegetarian commod-ities have included varieties of dried and canned beans, peanut butter, dried and canned fruit, vegetables, and rice. Commodities vary depending on the avail-ability, year, and region. The school food service director is expected to take advantage of the commodities program whenever possible. (See this webpage for current commodity foods available:

Remember the constraints under which school food service personnel must work. They usually have tight budgets and a very short time period to feed a large number of children. Their menus and food preparation techniques must follow very precise guidelines. Change is a long and detailed process, but happens. For example, soy yogurt can now be exchanged for dairy yogurt in breakfast smoothies. (See: http://www. Have patience with your local school food service personnel and understand that they may need assistance in adding vegetarian/vegan menu options. For example, rather than asking for vegan options in general, have some suggestions prepared. We have included some vegan recipe names below that appear in the HEALTHY MEALS RESOURCE SYSTEM. You might want to suggest them when speaking with your school food service staff.

New items which are added to school menus must fit nutritional standards for breakfast and lunch, must fit into the school’s budget, and must be able to be produced on a large scale (and may have to withstand freezing, reheating, or being transported). (See for a guide to USDA meal requirements for school lunches.)

An important part of meal planning is making sure the food provided is accepted by the students. The Offer versus Serve (OVS) policy states that students must be offered all five components of lunch (fruit, vegetable, meat/ meat alternate, etc.), but may decline up to two of the five. This policy is optional in elementary and middle schools, but required in high schools. Nutrition education is an important part of the student’s decision in declining or accepting a food. However, short meal periods allow little or no nutrition education to occur in eating areas. Some other methods of nutrition education are including nutrition education in teachers’ lesson plans, or implementing taste testing periods or other events to introduce students to new healthy foods (See the Special Diets page for lesson plans). Some schools have budgets for nutrition education and some do not.

The more you can bring in grant money, children, parents, the PTA, local merchants, and approved recipes, the easier the transition for the Director. Also many schools run on menu cycles in order to help with costs because they can project their expenditures. This may be a slight obstacle if the Director is really tied to the cycle menus; however, it is not insurmountable. Any changes
to the menu means new recipes have to be printed, tested, scaled correctly, meet serving size guidelines for the day and week, taught to the cooks, new production sheets generated, and priced. All this requires time and money and therefore patience on your behalf.


School breakfast and lunch guidelines require that children receive at least one-fourth and one-third, respectively, of their daily nutrition and energy needs.

The USDA provides an online resource center of a large variety of samples menus that are in full compliance with the USDA guidelines. Some are listed below:

• Best Practices Sharing Center
• Menus That Move: Cycle Menus and Recipes
• Healthier Kansas Menus

Note: Currently, there are federal school regulations that govern the type and use of soy permitted. The regulations change, so be sure to check periodically. Specifications for tofu and soy yogurt:

Regulations on meat alternates: 6967e402df712f14a1e064a3d738a564&ty=HTML&h=L&r=PART&n=7y4.

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