Guest Blogger: Meatless Monday

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 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 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.
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34 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Meatless Monday

  1. Fantastic! Our school's meatless meals are usually something like this: baked potato with broccoli and goopy cheese sauce and a large baked pretzel. Can you say "carb overload??"

  2. Well, there's actually a lot of scientific research against the theory that meat intake causes heart disease and clogged arteries. As frogfarm says, one reason why this might happen is because of the unnatural ways in which we currently raise animals. However, most of the research shows that the highest contributor to cholesterol increases is due to the fact that we have cut out saturated fats and replaced them with fast digesting carbohydrates. Also, the raise in cholesterol due to animal proteins and saturated fats from fattier cuts of meat and full-fat cheeses has been proven to be insignificant because the cholesterol raised is not in the form of deadly small-particle LDL cholesterol, which has been shown to be a main contributor to cardiovascular disease.

    That said, I too partake in meatless Mondays, but not for health reasons, as the science contradicts that. I do it for the environment. It is still a good idea.

  3. The school where I work is kosher, and kosher meat is very expensive, so we only have meat about once a week. Being a non meat eater, I love it, but we do tend to carb overload to make up for it.

  4. A)The link between saturated fat and heart disease has never been proved.

    B)We need to eat less meat for the environment is more neo-malthusian mumbo jumbo.

    This blog is great for pointing out how poor U.S school lunches are, but it devoid of any valid nutritional advice in its own right.

  5. Good for you! The children should be eating healthy food, and even if you eat meat, you can see that fried chicken nuggets are not healthy. Do vegetarian children get a veggie choice every day? If my child were at that school, she wouldn't have an option for lunch. (She could eat the mozzarella sticks, but those don't constitute a healthy meal).

    And I am 99% sure that the meat going into the school lunch program is scraps from factory farmed animals. I highly doubt any meat going into the NYC schools are from humanely raised animals.

  6. I am a college student, and I just did a speech on vegetarianism in which I suggested a meatless day every week. 1/3 of raw materials and fossil fuels in the U.S. go toward raising animals for food, which is just staggering to me. I really believe if large school districts implement meatless days, that would go a long way toward helping personal and environmental health! Thanks for this post! 🙂

  7. frogfarm, I agree with you, but unfortunately grass-fed meat is too expensive for most people. When the choice is factory farmed meat or NO meat, I think the latter is the lesser of two evils. It's going to be a loooong time before school lunches feature grass-fed beef that goes for $5 a pound.

  8. I agree with frogfarm on this one.

    If this is what you choose for your family, that's fine by me. But please, don't force these ideals and beliefs on others, especially with my tax dollars.

  9. In reply to frogfarm:
    Enforcing one meatless day per week is hardly forcing anyone to pursue a completely meatless lifestyle. Meat at every meal, every day, is a very recent development and hardly mimics the lifestyle of the early hominids whose meat eating allowed our brains to become what they are today. Even when I grew up, raised by my depression-survivor grandmother in a very meat and potatoes home culture, we often had days without any meat at all because it was expensive.

    Current taxes and subsidies make it difficult for people to chose a healthy vegetarian diet. If you have kids going to school and have to rely on the lunches you have no choice whatsoever–honestly, if having to chose between a meat product and cheese covered starch the meat is more nutritious. I see nothing wrong with enforcing one day per week wherein kids learn that a meal does not require animal products.

  10. It's a great move toward food awareness in the schools. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with properly raised animal fats. It's probably one of the most health damaging, industry driven misconceptions out there. Good pasture raised meats, butter, cream and lard are not bad for you. They are more stable, contain healthful medium chain fatty acids, withstand heat better and don't produce free radicals and trans fats when they are heated. And they don't affect cholesterol.

    It is actually the highly processed vegetable oils and shortenings which cause hardening of the arteries and plaques. That is where trans fats come from, not animal fats. They can also contribute to cancer, heart disease, immune system dysfunction, sterility, learning disabilities, growth problems and osteoporosis. And sugar will raise your triglycerides higher and faster than anything.

    That said, kids need fat and cholesterol to grow. It is a necessary component of human physiology responsible for brain development, structure, cell communication, endocrine function, liver regulation, fat and vitamin absorption, immune health and healing. Every cell in your body produces cholesterol! If there is something to be demonized, it should be the amount of sugar that goes into kids nowadays.

  11. I totally agree with frogfarm.

    Also, I think it would have been better to incorporate more vegetables into everyday meals.

  12. In our school which is about 75% Catholic, we have a meatless main meal every Friday, but there's a veggie option every day.

  13. I think it's really interesting that there are so many people that agree with frogfarm and think that not having meat on a certain day is pushing vegetarian/vegan values on people. Most schools don't offer vegan options and as a vegan mom I will always have to send lunch with my child because there aren't vegan options at schools. So, how is that not pushing meat eating ways onto vegan/veggetarians. Maybe the people that think there should be meat served at every meal should send a lunch with their child that day.

  14. Great post. I don't know where Americans got the idea that they had to have meat at every meal and that it has to be the largest portion of their meal. That's ridiculous.

    Also, the types of meat that are served to school children are just scary –all those beef recalls for e-coli? All that beef is recalled AFTER the school children have consumed it. So very scary. Recently Marion Nestle (Food Politics blog) posted about the scraps of the meat scraps (really), treated with high amounts of ammonia, and then served to school kids. If you want to keep your kids safe, serve them small amounts of good meat, butter, and cheeses at home and encourage meatless school lunches for every day!

    "The New York Times (online December 30) also is interested in beef produced for the school lunch program. Its reporters investigated safety problems with beef trimmings that had been injected with ammonia to kill bacteria. Two things about the beef trimmings are especially interesting. One person is quoted in the article referring to them as “pink slime.” And they used to be used for pet foods until meat packers figured out that selling them to USDA for school lunches was more profitable.

    As for the ammonia treatment: surely this is not the same stuff used to clean bathrooms? Apparently so. But using it is tricky. You have to inject enough ammonia to kill bacteria but if you do the meat smells like an ammonia-treated bathroom. If you don’t want the meat to smell, you can’t use as much. But if you don’t use as much, you get Salmonella. This, alas, is another example of regulations not working."

  15. A question…do you still provide milk on Mondays? It seems the government is pretty strict with making milk part of school lunches even though the dairy industry is under scrutiny for factory farming, and growth hormones etc.

    As somebody that just finished reading "Eating Animals", and is slowly switching to a vegan diet. I applaud "Meatless Mondays". I especially like that it is educational and can start the conversation about factory farming and environmental concerns about agri-business.

  16. Thank goodness, I didn't have to make the comments that others have made. The guest poster has made a decision about children's diets based upon pseudo-science. Perhaps she should read, Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes before making any more menu suggestions.

  17. Thank you, Ms. Puccini! I'm so glad that NYC is going along with this, and I wish other school systems would start too. I'm glad children are told that it's okay to have a meal without meat…maybe someday Meatless Mondays will become a norm all over the country, and perhaps it will evolve into Meatless Everyday! There are so many good vegetarian foods out there that promote good health and good environmental practices. We need to get schools away from meat-centric diets.

    I don't think anyone can accuse school leaders of "forcing a lifestyle" on students when that lifestyle involves good health and foods. What parents can honestly say, "No! I don't want my child to be fit and healthy! I want them to keep eating hamburgers and pizza!" Trust me, there are schools that sponsor worse beliefs…

  18. While I disagree with the statement that going meat free being healthier or beneficial to the environment, I certainly don't have a problem with it. I do believe that we consume too much meat, I just don't believe that meat itself is bad for us.

    However, I do think that having at least one meat free meal is a great way to encourage healthy eating simply because we need more vegetables, fruits, grains, and pulses (beans, lentils, etc) in our diets. If you can switch to one meatless day at the schools, surely it would reduce the over all cost of school lunches? Which in turn would help the school to budget better for healthier foods the other 4 days of the week?

    One caveat, however. The meat should not be replaced with soy. I can't remember exactly where I found the articles online, I do believe that the information that was in them can be found in the book Nourishing Traditions. Soy in small amounts is fine for most people, soy in large amounts is bad for most people (especially because most soy used in food production is genetically modified). Children are more likely to have poor reactions to soy in their diet (one of which is a lack of ability to focus and poor memory- sound familiar?), and anyone who has a thyroid condition should avoid soy totally.

    So, on the one hand, I say "Bravo!" for making such a strong change in your school's food system. But on the other- be very, very careful about what you're replacing that meat with. And just remember seitan isn't such a good replacement because of how many people and children are allergic to wheat/gluten.

  19. The Meatless Monday options still include a lot of grains and legumes. What about fresh fruit and vegetables? Is that so hard to add to school lunches? I think that a lot of people who have never been vegetarian don't know how to provide REALLY healthy meatless options.

    I know people always bring up the fact that meat from pasture raised animals is more expensive, as are organic fruits and veggies. But, with the exception of people who are in a low-income situation and really don't have many options, for the rest of us I think it's a matter of choices.

    I wonder how many people out there put super unleaded in their cars rather than regular unleaded, and choose cheaper food items over grass-fed or organic. I suspect that many "feed" their cars better than they feed themselves.

  20. As a life long vegetarian mom who has a 4 & 2 year old who are also veggies – the thought that kids NEED meat to grow are inaccurate. My kids are very healthy and at the perfect height/weight ratios.
    I think that meatless Mondays are a wonderful idea. It gives kids the opportunity to learn about other types of foods besides fried meat etc… How many kids growing up in a non vegetarian family eat veggie burgers? Or other non meat (but healthy) alternates?
    Going one meal without meat is not going to harm anyone and it is serving to broaden the children's horizons food wise.

    I just thought it was important to say that children and adults can be very healthy without ever consuming meat (or cheese).

  21. I can't agree with someone who simply states that this is "wrong"-the fact is, there is no right or wrong, there is only moderation.

    Humans are not carnivores, we are omnivores. Meat does not need to be eaten every day. In fact, when saturated fats aren't eaten the body readily makes up cholesterol for us. Yes, children need to eat healthy fats. They are not found in most animal fats (fish being a notable exception).

    Skipping meat once, twice a week isn't a huge issue. In fact, it would benefit the kids drinking milk 2x a day, eating a cheese laden breakfast pizza and then having mystery meat for lunch. Less than 300 milligrams is the RDA of cholesterol.

    The fact is that meat and dairy are choices forced on children through subsidies and tax breaks. The #1 reason flavored milk is so popular in schools is because the dairy industry markets these products to children. Schools have contracts with the National Dairy Council to sell milk. To believe that they have your best interests at heart is naive-they are a business first. Factory farm animals are fed grain products the animals did not naturally evolve eating, products of over subsidized corn and soy production by the government.

    Your standard variety grass fed, naturally raised cow or free ranged chicken is a much healthier bet than a Micky D's hamburger, but again, all in moderation. Eating meat 3x or more a day is a fairly recent development and a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic.

  22. first, a question- is anyone on the parent wellness committee or the SchoolFood manager a nutritionist? just out of curiosity.

    overall, i have two schools of thought on this. I think it is awesome that you are introducing kids to a new way to eat healthy. eating vegetarian/vegan is indeed a good way to eat healthy and be green.

    that being said, it's NOT the ONLY way. for as much research there is pointing out the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle, there is plenty of research that show health benefits of meat (in moderation).

    I guess my point is, there is more than one way to eat healthily. meatless can definitely be a way, but in a diverse nation such as ours, it is absolutely not the only way.

  23. While I see absoloutely nothing wrong with having a meatless meal at school(we have them at our home!), the writer is using incorrect facts.

    Check out the movie FatHead or the blog:

    Tom Noughton gives alot of studies, facts and proof about why meat is not causing the problems the writer listed above. And he'll also let you know what is really causing the problems.

  24. I just found this blog last week and already found a connection for its readers through another blog that I read that focuses on getting local food into schools and reconnecting kids with farmers. There is a conference on May 17-19 in Detroit entitled "Taking Root: National Farm to Cafeteria Conference". There is more information about the conference at the Michigan Land Use Institute's blog:

  25. I've got an idea. Instead of trying to force your leftist animal rights agenda on everyone else, or considering yourself a "victim" of meat in school cafeterias, let's try something new.

    Stop school lunches. Let everyone bring their own. Require parents to take responsibility for their children's meals.

    That would mean liberty for all. Each makes his or her own food choices. And the taxpayers stop getting soaked.

  26. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Cheese pizza? Cheese and bean burrito? Aren't these already meatless days? Having one day a week without meat doesn't stir up so much controversy unless you call it meatless monday and push an agenda behind it.

  27. Wow! MY school never offers a meatless entree option (even at Lent and we're 70% Hispanic & Catholic). If they don't take the entree, there's less than half total meal gone (I swear the lunches are meager).

    My family and I instituted Meatless Monday right after Winter Break just becuase we were trying to save a little of the green stuff ($$$ that it). My hubby and I got well educated on complete proteins when our infant started to eat solids last year. So far we've struggled but I think it's helped. I know that our biggest problem is the missing flavor that meats just bring to the dishes. But I will continue because Meatless Mondays are helping us save money and cut our calories.

  28. Mrs. Puccini,

    I could not agree with you more.

    As for the "leftist, animal-rights agenda", "no proven studies" and "…blah blah blah tax dollars" comments…Are you kidding me?!

    You guys need to read THE CHINA STUDY and check out how much money is spent by the dairy and meat producers just to influence school kids into becoming lifelong "customers". That is almost as scary as the health implications of consuming an animal based diet.

    That Pearl

  29. As I've voiced before, I'm far from vegan or vegetarian – a nice slab of meat is all for me – LOL. But even a carnivore like myself have several meals a week that include no meat – so why just limit meatless days to one day a week – would two be even better? I do realize there are lots of proteins children need…but I think two meatless days a week would be better to show children a meal doesn't have to include meat to still be an enjoyable and nutritious meal.

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