This Celeb Has Created the Nation’s First All-Vegan School Lunch Menu

image source: thinkstock
image source: thinkstock

Use your imagination for a minute here. Picture a school cafeteria that doesn’t look like what you probably remember from your school days, with trays filled with French fries, rectangular pizzas, and tacos affectionately dubbed “mystery meat.” Instead the trays are piled with vegetables, whole grains, and fruit. Take it one step further and imagine some of those vegetables came from the garden outside your child’s classroom, where the students had a hand in planting, growing, and harvesting the plants that would later become their lunch.

I haven’t gone completely insane. This is the vision that will occur at a small school in Calabasas, California this coming fall. World-renowned producer James Cameron and his wife Suzi Amis Cameron have plans to serve the nation’s first all-vegan lunch menu at the non-profit private school MUSE they founded in 2006. If you’re anything like me, your first thought might be something like, “Well of course at a private school in swanky California they could do something like this.” While this school may not be representative of the average, everyday public school so many kids attend, it’s not as far out of the realm as it sounds.

As the Camerons point out, plant-based menus in reality aren’t really all that expensive. This is especially true for this school that puts an emphasis on the environment and sustainability by giving hands-on teaching experience about where our food comes from and what its impact on the environment is. (It appears that the push for the plant-based menu comes largely from an environmental-impact stance as opposed to a purely health-driven one.)

With all the school lunch photos from around the world floating around the Internet as of late (whether they’re accurate or not), I’m glad to see something positive and refreshing stemming from our corner of the globe. A plant-based diet has loads of benefits, from environmental sustainability, heart health, decreased cancer risk, and more. On top of that, there’s a mysterious magical effect that happens in school cafeterias: if it’s served, kids eat it, regardless of their disgust or hesitation to eat the same foods at home. I spent time as a dietitian in a charter school that served up red quinoa and kale, and kindergarteners and teens alike gobbled them down like they were chicken nuggets and ice cream. (Okay, maybe not that good.)

Younger kids that go to local daycares that provide more gourmet-like meal options are so much less picky when it comes to eating than other kids I’ve been around who only eat three foods on standard rotation. For whatever reason, when kids are told what to eat or given certain options outside they home, they put up less resistance. (Same thing goes for listening.) In this case, a school that serves plant-based meals is a huge step in the right direction in my book. Even if families don’t choose to eat this way at home, kids are getting exposed to a greater variety of vegetables and eating styles.

Now, however good it appears on the surface, it still brings with it some not-so-greatness. As I read the summary of the intended menu, all I could do was personalize the story and think of all the things on the list of “such great foods” that my son wouldn’t be able to eat. Maybe this specific menu would help other kids’ diet needs, but because of food allergies, it would hinder my son’s. He wouldn’t be able to eat any wheat-based grains or anything made of soy (AKA faux meat products). While there are still some options left that fit both his allergy needs and the school’s goal, I’d worry how many days of the week the menu would meet all of those needs. I think of the same thing for kids with nut allergies; a plant-based menu is likely to have more nut-based dishes than a traditional school menu.

Of course these same things would be true when it comes to school lunch menus as they are in most schools now, but it still raises the question if such a specific rule for a school menu is helpful across the board. Regardless, I’d still love for other schools to be able to take a page out of the MUSE book and put a greater emphasis on vegetables in general, health and diet, and where our food comes from. Maybe one day that will be standard and not a battle of red-tape to fight.

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