Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update

Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update
Healthy Tips and Recipes for Institutions
Volume XII, Numbers 2 and 3 Summer 2006

Vegetarian and Vegan Foods in Schools

By Amie Hamlin

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) conducts surveys of foodservice directors around the country. For the first time they asked if the school offered vegetarian and vegan options. 25% of elementary, 30% of middle schools, and 36% of high schools offer daily vegetarian meals (includes eggs and dairy). 5% of elementary, 6% of middle, and 10% of high schools offer vegan options (defined as no meat, dairy, or animal products). What is not known is how many schools might have included peanut butter and jelly or salads as vegetarian or vegan options, since they are offered in so many schools. It would be interesting to know how many schools are offering vegetarian options other than PB&J/salad, and to find out what they are serving. That the SNA asked the question on its survey indicates that there is interest in the subject.

New York City schools hired a professional chef, Jorge Collazo, and one of their initiatives includes enhanced nutrition standards, to exceed USDA standards with an emphasis on more plant-based proteins, among other changes. In addition, the SchoolFood Plus initiative in New York City has as a main objective "Introducing newly developed plant-based recipes, in cafeterias city-wide, that utilize foods grown by New York farmers and procured by the NYC public school system." SchoolFood Plus is a partnership of New York City Department of Education; Office of SchoolFood; New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets; Teachers' College, Columbia University and FoodChange, and was initially funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 2004. Its goal is to improve the eating habits, health, and academic performance of New York City public school children while strengthening the New York State agricultural economy through the procurement of local, regional produce. FoodChange is a non-profit that works to improve lives through education, nutrition, and financial empowerment, with recipes that are solely plant-based.

Grady High School in Atlanta has a separate vegetarian lunch line, with options like veggie burgers, eggrolls, pasta salad, vegetarian pizza, and sloppy joes made of tofu. The vegetarian service was originally designed for 30 students in a vegetarian club, and now up to one-third of the 1,200 students get on the vegetarian line each day. Tom Callahan, the senior vice president of Sodexho, a foodservice management company (contract management) which provides Grady's foodservice, noted that Eugene, OR, and other progressive cities in the Pacific Northwest, are beginning to look at vegetarian lines as well.

Appleton Central Schools in Appleton, Wisconsin made drastic changes to food available in their public schools. But first they started by making those changes in their high school for troubled youth. By eliminating all junk foods and artificial ingredients, offering plenty of fresh whole foods, and a plant-based option each day, they saw dramatic improvements in attendance, grades, and behavior.

The Bloomfield Central School District, in upstate New York, offers a farmers market line complete with locally grown vegetables and fruits, whole grain and bean salads, and two 5-gallon pots of soup each day, at least one of which is vegan. They can hardly keep the farmers market line stocked, and the soups always disappear by the end of the lunch periods.

Getting Kids to Like Oatmeal

One school was having a problem getting young children to eat oatmeal. The nutrition committee got involved, and suggested some changes to the oatmeal, including a change of name. The new oatmeal had chopped apples, cinnamon, and pure maple syrup (only 1 teaspoon per serving) and a new name, apple pie oatmeal. It was kicked off with two dozen balloons, flashing pins for the women serving the children, a volunteer at the beginning of the lunch line telling the children about the new apple pie oatmeal, and plain oatmeal to compare it to. The kids got a fancy pencil for trying both and telling the nutrition committee volunteers which one they liked most (and they could report if they didn't like it). Out of 50 students, 4 liked the plain better, and the rest really liked the apple pie oatmeal. The following week it was tried again, this time comparing peach pie oatmeal with apple pie oatmeal. The mylar balloons were still flying from the week before, and this week crazy straws were handed out as a reward for trying the oatmeals. The result was 50/50 for apple versus peach, and now the school will alternate the flavors each week. The total cost of the promotion was $56, well worth it to get 50 children to try a healthy breakfast and to find out that they like it.


Steps to Change

It's really important that if you want to create change in your cafeteria, you must work with, not against, the foodservice director. Recognize the difficult circumstances they work under and see if you can problem solve together as a team. Remember, too, that the cafeteria is just one part of the whole school food environment, and changes must be made whenever food is available in schools, so that when students go to school, they get a consistent message wherever they are in the building.

Excerpts from the Summer 2006 Issue:
Adding Vegetarian Options into School Lunch Programs by Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RD, CCE
Food Service Hotline
Vegetarian and Vegan Foods in Schools by Amie Hamlin
School Foods 101 by Amie Hamlin
Vegetarian Quantity Recipes
Veggie Pita Delight
Chili "con soya" with Beans
Vegetable Chili
Vegan Pumpkin Pie
Apple Crisp with a Crunchy Granola Topping

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