Vegan school lunches provide three times more fiber than standard school lunches, according to a new study published in The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management. The pilot study was conducted after six plant-based options were introduced to approximately 500 children aged five to 14 in K-8 schools in Washington, DC. Medical group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) launched the initiative at the schools in partnership with nonprofit DC Central Kitchen. “Many US kids are falling woefully short on fruits, vegetables, and fiber—setting them up for heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health problems,” PCRM Director of Nutrition Education Susan Levin, MS, RD said. “Our pilot program showed that serving plant-based options on the lunch line can help kids get more of the important nutrients they need to stay healthy.” PCRM found that the vegan meals (which feature dishes such as sesame tofu, three-bean chili, barbecue tofu bites, and southwest veggie burgers) contained an average of 9.5 grams of fiber while the standard school meals only averaged 2.8 grams of fiber. In addition to fiber (which 9 out of 10 children do not consume in adequate amounts), PCRM found that the vegan meals contained more iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C, and less saturated fat, than their animal-based counterparts. Researchers also tracked waste during the pilot study and found that waste from the vegan entrées did not exceed the national school food waste average, meaning that children were choosing and consuming the plant-based meals. “The pilot program showed that plant-based meals are not only healthy, but they’re also popular with students,” Levin said. “Gone are the days of mystery meat and pink slime—DC students are now choosing to fill their lunch trays with meals like sesame tofu with brown rice and locally grown broccoli and watermelon. We hope our pilot program gives schools around the country encouragement to add health-promoting plant-based meals to their own menus.” Currently, legislation is under consideration in New York and California to promote plant-based meals in school cafeterias.
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