The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog


Posted on May 05, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor


By Hana Takemoto
The Vegetarian Resource Group Intern

When I began my internship at The Vegetarian Resource Group,
I also began exploring a few topics of research. One of
them that came up in the discussion was vegan options on school
lunch menus. After taking a look at the lunch menu during the
lunch period at my school, Atholton High in Howard County, it
became apparent that few vegan options existed. From that point on,
I began my quest to investigate how to add vegan options to the
lunch menus of high schools in Howard County, Maryland.

My conversation with the Area Field Representative of Food &
Nutrition Services at Howard County Public Schools revealed that
last year, several vegan items were added to Atholton’s salad bars.
These items were hummus, a black bean salsa, and pasta fazool,
none of which, according to the field representative, were a big hit.
The vegan Boca Burger was once on the menu but is no longer served
due to unpopularity and cost. She also told me that if a student were
to have an idea of a food item or recipe that he or she would like
considered, she could be contacted to see if it meets the guidelines.
Along with the field representative, I also spoke with the food service
supervisor at my school, who also offered interesting information:

School meals in Howard County have to meet federal and state requirements.
In order for the meals to be reimbursed, food service workers must
follow the “Offer vs. Serve” policy: high schools are under the United
States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations that state that a
student may choose any three of five options at lunch. One of the
choices must be at least a 1/2 cup serving of fruits or vegetables or a
1/2 cup serving of a combination of fruits and vegetables.

The five options are:
1. Milk
2. Fruit
3. Vegetables
4. Meat/meat alternatives
5. Grains
(“Meal Pattern Requirements” I-1)

Some, but not all of the time, fruit, vegetable, and grain dishes are
vegan. The “meat alternate” previously mentioned can be the following:
● Yogurt
● Peanut butter and other nut or seed butters,
● Cooked dry beans or peas
● Eggs
● Cheese
● Certain enriched macaroni with fortified protein
● Tofu and other soy products (2.2 ounces of commercially
prepared tofu containing at least 5 grams of protein is creditable as a
1.0 ounce equivalent meat alternate) as of January, 2012
● Alternate protein product that meets certain requirements
(“Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast
Programs” 8)

USDA states, “ …the most appropriate way to ensure that the product
meets Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) requirements is to request that
the product be manufactured under the CN Labeling Program following a
Federally approved quality control program,” (“Crediting Tofu and Soy
Yogurt Products” 2). The CN Labeling Program is the Child Nutrition
Labeling Program. This program gives food manufacturers the option to
include a standardized food crediting statement on their product label.
In fact, there is a whole other process of applying for the CN Label,
detailed here:

Currently, if a vegan student wants to buy lunch, he or she can reject
the milk and meat option and opt for the fruit, vegetable, and grain
options. If the student wants a meat alternate, he or she can ask food
service workers at their school if there are any options.

What does this all mean?
If a student wants to eat a vegan lunch at high school in Howard County,
he or she can either bring their own lunch from home or buy a lunch off
of the school menu. A student may also choose to combine those two
options. If there are not enough vegan options so that the student can
eat a sufficient lunch at school, he or she may seek to incorporate more
vegan-friendly options into their lunch by supplementing what is offered
with one or more vegan items from home, like a vegan milk, beans,
imitation meat, or anything else the student would desire. For example,
a student could bring from home a bean salad to supplement a
school-bought lunch that includes a salad from the salad bar, apple
slices, and a bread roll. If the student wants to request a new vegan
food, he or she has the option of contacting the field representative of
their high school. The field representative can assist the student in
finding an option. As important as adding the option is, a priority is
that the student works on promoting the vegan food to others in the
schools, or else this choice won’t stay on the menu.

There should be more transparency and ease with which students and
parents can learn about these guidelines. If I were a student
individually seeking to add different items to my high school lunch menu
to better suit my dietary needs, I probably would have given up by now.

Is it worth it?
What if students still didn’t buy lunch, even if a wide variety of
vegan options were offered? My concern lies in the usefulness of having
more vegan options on the school menu. As a vegan student, I bring my
own lunch because of convenience, not because of the lack of vegan
options on the menu. Therefore, I speculate that having a more
vegan-friendly menu might not be a big enough push for non-vegan
students to try out the vegan options at school. Currently, my
investigation is leaning towards learning what impact bringing new vegan
options would have on the community at Atholton High School. I am in the
process of distributing surveys to Atholton students in the effort to
learn more about how to introduce vegan items in a way that would bring
the most positive change.

Works Cited
United States. Dept. of Agriculture. Crediting Tofu and Soy Yogurt
Products. USDA, Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

United States. Dept. of Agriculture. Meal Pattern Requirements. USDA,
Aug. 2014. Print. 18
Apr. 2016.

United States. Dept. of Agriculture. Nutrition Standards in the
National School Lunch and
School Breakfast Programs. USDA, Jan. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

Also see

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