Schools Are Serving Less Meat

Arguments for eating less meat have long been presented by nutritionists, environmentalists and animal rights activists. When a school district — or better yet, multiple school districts — make a small shift in how much meat they’re serving, there’s a big impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful impacts of industrial food, with the added benefit of better health for students.

Meatless Mondays, a program that provides students with all-vegetarian breakfast and lunch offerings one day a week, has been adopted by over 100 school districts across the country. Los Angeles Unified School District implemented the program in 2013 and New York City Public Schools implemented it in 2019 — reducing meat consumption for one day in these two districts alone amounts to over 1.5 million meat-free meals on any given Monday.

Beyond Meatless Mondays, nonprofits and companies alike are taking up the charge to increase plant-forward recipes, products and practices in schools. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are showing up in the K12 marketplace, signaling that they’re seeing opportunities to make long-term impact by influencing the eating habits of students. Nonprofits, like Forum for the Future, are working across the school food system to increase the number of tasty, healthy and affordable plant-based options available to schools and students. Other organizations, like Friends of the Earth, are leading conversations with school nutrition leaders, policymakers and nonprofits about how to implement cost-effective, healthy, plant-forward menus, how to reduce food waste and ways to increase the number of students eating those plant-forward meals and keeping food waste to a minimum.

Schools Are Switching to Compostable Serving Ware

In 2013, in pursuit of cost savings and environmental sustainability, six member-districts of the Urban School Food Alliance — collectively serving 2.5 million meals a day — aggregated their purchasing power and asked suppliers to develop compostable plates. The suppliers offered a solution and now those districts keep roughly 225 million polystyrene trays out of landfills each year. One district reported upwards of 24 percent in cost savings. Had these districts purchased the compostable plates on their own they might have faced double the cost for the same product, a barrier that keeps a lot of districts from making the same swap.

Many cities have taken up the work to reduce or ban polystyrene (commonly known as styrofoam), with students leading the charge. In particular, Baltimore Beyond Plastic, a youth-led organization founded in 2016 to support a Maryland expanded polystyrene phase-out, successfully supported the Baltimore Styrofoam ban, which goes into effect in October.

Schools Are Reducing Food Waste

Step into any school cafeteria during lunchtime and you’ll witness a complex paradox: plates filled with nourishing food, and a staggering amount of that food headed straight for the trash bin. While the National School Lunch Program serves 30 million kids every school day, it also wastes about $5 million worth of food every school day. That’s $1.2 billion in losses per school year.

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