Illinois state Governor JB Pritzker recently signed a law bill requiring all schools statewide to provide plant-based lunch options. Representative Cyril Nichols introduced the bill adding vegan options in 2021, which will go into effect in August 2023.
The bill will mandate that all Illinois schools offer students vegan lunch options upon request. The new law will also help meet Halal dietary needs if meals aren’t prepared with alcohol or alcohol byproducts. All plant-based lunches would have to adhere to federal nutrition guidelines as well.
“Whether a student’s dietary needs are rooted in religious, health-related or other, personal reasons, offering a plant-based meal option would satisfy a variety of requirements,” State Senator Dave Koehler said in a statement. “Providing a secondary healthy lunch option in our schools is a win all-around.”
Sadly, many school districts struggle to provide students with enough fruits and vegetables at lunchtime. However, the USDA encourages schools to include fresh produce in meals whenever possible. House Bill 4089 will help that become a reality for thousands of students who want plant-based lunch choices.
“Some students may only be able to depend on one meal a day,” said Koehler. “It’s incredibly important for all students to have access to a well-rounded, nutritious meal during the school day that meets their dietary needs.”
Benefits of Eating a Plant-Based Lunch
Mounting evidence suggests that plant-based diets could provide more nutritional value than omnivore diets. One study found that vegan school lunches contain three times more fiber than meat-based entrees. Around 90% of American children don’t consume the recommended daily fiber intake.
So, having more plant-based lunch options such as whole grains and legumes could help boost their fiber consumption. The American Heart Association recommends that children ages nine to thirteen eat 26 to 31 grams of fiber each day.
In the study, vegan entrees provided to nearly 500 students contained an average of 9.5 grams of fiber. In comparison, standard meat-based entrees had about 2.8 grams, on average.
Other Schools Across the United States Serve More Plant-Based Lunch Options
According to the School Nutrition Association, a nonprofit organization run by school nutritionists, 14% of school districts provided vegan lunches in 2017. Only 11.5% of schools offered plant-based lunches in 2016, proving that more students have shown interest in reducing meat consumption.
School districts across the country, from California to Maine, have started offering vegan options to students. In January 2022, New York City school districts adopted Vegan Fridays, where school lunches contain only plant-based options.
The city’s Department of Education introduced Meatless Mondays in 2019 and Meatless Fridays in April 2021. So, adding Vegan Fridays will provide students with even more plant-based lunch choices.
It’s part of Mayor Eric Adams’ initiative to offer healthier options for students. He’s experienced the benefits of a vegan diet firsthand. After adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet, Adams reversed most of his symptoms associated with Type 2 diabetes. Ever since he’s been on a mission to educate the public about vegan diets and help students improve their health.
A Little Help from the Impossible Foods Vegan Food Brand
And in May 2021, some K-12 schools in California, Washington, and Oklahoma piloted Impossible Foods’ plant-based meat products. The students gave feedback on the meat substitutes via surveys, which helped the company gauge the trial run’s success. They hope to expand the vegan eating program to school districts soon.
Several school districts across California have already successfully offered plant-based lunch options. For example, Oakland Unified School District began serving plant-based meals like veggie chow mein and garden burgers for lunch. By doing this, the district saved $40,000 and a staggering 42 million gallons of water over just two years!
In 2017, the Food Services Division launched a pilot program introducing vegan meals in Los Angeles Unified School District. Plant-based lunches included protein-rich offerings like falafel flatbread and three-bean vegan chili. The students loved the meals so much that officials suggested expanding the program to school districts throughout the city!
A Federal Solution Might Pass Congress
Finally, Congress is considering passing a federal bill called the Healthy Future Students and Earth Act (H.R.4108). The legislation introduced in June 2021 by Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) would make plant-based lunches available to students nationwide. The government would launch a pilot grant program to incentivize school districts to offer students more plant-based, climate-friendly options.
Many Students Interested in Plant-Based School Lunch Offerings
Since US public schools serve over seven billion meals annually, the bill offers a tremendous opportunity to invest in students’ health. And having more plant-based choices in schools would also help the climate, something students consider a top priority.
The global insight and trends firm Wunderman Thompson Intelligence released a report about future sustainability trends. They found that Gen Z, comprising 10–25-year-olds, is the most outspoken and passionate about environmental concerns. In a 2021 survey including 3,000 people in the U.S., U.K., and China, 71% of Gen Zers said they would consume more plant-based food to reduce carbon emissions.
So, it seems that all across the globe, young children and adults demand more plant-based lunch choices at schools. Hopefully, this trend will continue so we can pave the way toward a healthier, more eco-friendly future.
Final Thoughts on Plant-Based Lunches at Schools
Illinois became the second state after New York to require all schools to offer plant-based lunch options. Whether students choose vegan lunches for religious, health-related, or personal reasons, it’s nice to have alternatives available. State officials also hope passing the bill will provide students with more nutritious meals.
Other school districts throughout the country have followed suit, including California, Maine, and Oklahoma schools. Studies and surveys show that younger generations are keen on vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. So, it seems likely that more schools will offer plant-based lunches in the future.