A New Look at School Lunch

Most of us packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for school lunches or bought pizza from the cafeteria. Today, as people are becoming more health conscious and eating habits in America continue to evolve, more individuals live in households that have moved to eating plant-based foods. 

It is not hard to see that people’s eating habits have significantly changed; an increasing number of individuals are looking for healthier alternatives to their diets and their children's diets.

Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 children will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. More and more children are gaining weight, with obesity among children growing each year, leading to a number of health issues later in life. 

To combat health problems in children and to promote a healthier alternative to school lunch meals, Congress is moving to upgrade the school meal program in cafeterias across the country. Specifically, lawmakers are working to implement a plant-based food option because it is free of cholesterol, low in saturated fat, full of fiber and even better for the environment. The bill would not eliminate the current school food program, but would provide a plant-based option. 

In June, lifelong educator and AFSA member Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) listened to the needs of students and parents and helped introduce H.R. 4108, the Healthy Future Students and Earth Pilot Program Act, alongside Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.). This measure would help schools meet the increasing demand for plant-based meals by providing grants to districts that provide such meal options. 

The Healthy Future Students and Earth Pilot Program Act centers around the idea that every student is worthy of sustainable food systems at every level of society; it would promote the improvement of health in children while standing against climate change. 

“As usual, our young people understand this best,” said Bowman when the bill was introduced. “Students and their families have been clamoring for healthy, plant-based and culturally appropriate meal options at school.” 

He added that the bill would “advance food justice in marginalized communities, support local farmers of color and nourish all Americans while fighting the climate crisis.” 

Plant-based diets promote gut health, allowing the body to absorb nutrients from foods more easily, supporting the immune system and reducing inflammation. Such a diet lowers the risk of heart disease, improves kidney function and lowers cholesterol. This type of diet helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and is great for bowel management. Not only does it have health benefits, but it also reduces the individual’s carbon footprint by cutting down on meat products. Animal-based foods tend to be more carbon-intensive than plant-based foods, so reducing this will benefit the environment in the long run. 

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Eating habits begin in early childhood. Providing healthful plant-based meals in schools sets an example for students to learn to enjoy a variety of nutritious foods from an early age.” 

Currently, there are few or no options for kids in schools who prefer or require plant-based meals for religious, cultural, philosophical, health or other reasons. Likewise, students of color disproportionately rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition. Offering plant-based options not only will give students a chance to eat a healthier diet, it will also promote equity among kids of all races and backgrounds. The bill also would provide for procuring plant-based products from socially disadvantaged producers. 

“Every child deserves healthy, nutritious and sustainable meals that respects their choice,” Velázquez said in June.

What can you do to help?

Take action by telling your member of Congress to expand access to healthy, plant-based options at school by co-sponsoring H.R. 4108, the Healthy Future Students and Earth Pilot Program Act. 

Call your member of Congress at 1-833-394-7290 and enter your zip code. 

Leave a message: “As a constituent, I am calling to ask that you co-sponsor H.R.4108, the Healthy Future Students and Earth Pilot Program Act if you have not done so already.” You can close out your message by telling your representative why you want to see more plant-based options in schools.

You can further your voice by sharing this post and spreading the word.