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Vegetarian Action

Thinking of the Children: Project Healthy Beginnings

By Jeff Morrison

Welcome to your child’s first day of school. I’m sure many of you remember it from the perspective of the attendee. Waking up half-excited, half-nervous, you’re still never prepared for those first steps out the door. Later that day, your child returns home from school and suddenly, your eyes, puffy from crying, instantly dry up and widen as you read the school lunch menu. There isn’t a single vegetarian option available.

Thus begins the story of Project Healthy Beginnings, a group of concerned parents in the San Diego region that has worked to get healthy alternatives on the school lunch menu for their children. Barbara Gates, along with friends and co-sponsors Heike Suggs and Debbie Fox, started the group as a response to the fact that their children’s dietary needs weren’t being recognized within the school district. “It would have been very difficult to go it alone. Change is not always welcomed,” says Barbara. Initially the group met with resistance. “It took several meetings and phone calls to get them to pay attention, but we did receive limited support.”

Support didn’t necessarily mean acceptance, however. Project Healthy Beginnings, at the request of the school’s Food Services Director, created one dozen vegetarian-friendly lunch menus. As of this writing, none are being served. Barbara blames this on marketing. “Our menus were each offered one time only and then dismissed. Unfortunately, the veggie options were labeled so, and put in competition with favorites, such as hot dogs, cheese pizza, and chili-cheese nachos. The majority of kids chose what was familiar.”

Although Ms. Gates’ school district is far from the proverbial vegan “horn of plenty,” Project Healthy Beginnings has still made surprising progress.

Currently, the three women are volunteer teaching a cooking curriculum in their children’s classes, with excellent results thus far. The school recently added beans and a bread component to the salad bar. “Due to our efforts,” says Barbara, “our nutrition department has put in writing that they will pursue a ‘build your own baked potato bar’ and a veggie burger this spring.” Next up: a Health Fair with a vegetarian perspective, a school garden project, and possible California state legislation requiring schools to offer more vegetarian options. “Without a legislated mandate or resolution, food services do not have the support and/or motivation to change. Corn dogs served with mac ’n‘ cheese currently meets USDA standards for a healthy meal!” she says.

Despite the fact that it has been a struggle, Barbara Gates remains enthusiastic about the work that she’s been doing. As far as advice for parents in similar situations, Barbara can only say one thing: “START. Be persistent. It’s an uphill climb, but our kids and their future make it worthwhile for me.”

For more information on Project Healthy Beginnings, check their website at

Jeff researched and wrote this article while doing an internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group. He is presently a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C.

Excerpts from the 2003 Issue 1:
Quick and Easy Low-Cost Vegan Menus
Eat right on a limited budget, by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD.
Carrot Cookery
Liven up your meals with this versatile veggie using recipes from Chef Nancy Berkoff.
What is an Organic Inspector?
Erin Crandell fills us in.
Note from the Coordinators
Scientific Update

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone who wishes to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

Thanks to volunteer Stephanie Schueler for converting this article to HTML.

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Last Updated
Feb. 10, 2003

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