MEATLESS MONDAYS IN OUR SCHOOLS FOR OUR KIDS AND PLANET
By Elizabeth Puccini
I’m a Mom in the New York City Public School System, which serves 850,000 school lunches a day. When my son started pre-K last September and I first took a look at the schools’ lunch menu, these were some of the meals I saw: Chicken Nuggets, Sweet and Sour Pork, Hamburger, Beef Raviolis, Mozzarella Sticks, and Pizza. I was struck that every meal on the menu was either meat or cheese based. Animal protein, in the form of meat or cheese, is the main source of saturated fats, which raise the level of cholesterol in your blood thereby increasing your risk of heart disease. I also knew that animal production for food consumption contributes more to global warming than all forms of transportation combined! With 50% of children between the ages of 2-15 already having fatty streaks in their arteries (according to a study by The New England Journal of Medicine), what I saw was a menu that was making our children and planet sick.
In New York City parents can form a wellness committee at their school and request to meet with their SchoolFood manager from the Department of Education’s Office of SchoolFood. The SchoolFood manager’s job is to try and accommodate parents’ requests regarding changes they’d like to see to the lunch menu. Fortunately, my son’s school already had a wellness committee, and so I joined. When the parents on our committee voiced our concern about the preponderance of meat and cheese dishes to our SchoolFood manager, and asked if we could have Meatless Mondays that would feature more plant-based meals, to our delight, he said yes. We then received permission from the principals of our schools and, starting in October 2009, our schools were the first in New York City to have Meatless Mondays.
Since October, we’ve tried to expand the meals offered on Meatless Mondays and even had a taste test with our students to find out which plant-based meals they prefer. For the month of April our Meatless Mondays feature vegetarian chili with rice, black-bean burritos, African gumbo and veggie burgers with a side of beans. All these meals are cooked with fresh ingredients in our school kitchen. We are still trying out other plant-based recipes, so that we have a medley of tasty, nutritious meals to offer our children.
Our goal now is to have other schools join us on our Meatless Monday campaign, because we believe all children should receive the health benefits of eating plant-based meals on Monday. Meatless Mondays is also a great educational tool, because the first question a child asks when they hear about Meatless Monday is, “Why no meat?” That question starts a conversation about why it’s so important to reduce our consumption of meat both for our health and the health of our planet. The children at our schools have been extremely responsive to this message and have enthusiastically embraced Meatless Mondays knowing they are doing their part to reduce global warming.
If you’re a parent in New York City and would like your school to go meatless on Monday, please go to our blog nycgreenschools.org to find out how to do so. The Baltimore City Public School system, which serves 85,000 students a day, already participates in Meatless Mondays, joining an international movement of individuals, organizations and cities making the commitment to lower their meat consumption and to enjoy a plant-based diet on Monday. If you’d like your school to take part in this exciting campaign, go to meatlessmonday.com and contact them for how to get started. I believe that together, school by school, classroom by classroom, we can make the difference for our children and planet.