In the 2018 School Nutrition Operations Report, 56.5% of districts surveyed offered or planned to serve vegetarian meal options. For many districts, this might include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or meatless pizza. While this may be simple and familiar, there is an opportunity to incorporate more vegetarian meals that meet student's ever-changing taste preferences and provide a wider variety of nutritional value.Introducing vegetarian options in your cafeteria is easier than you think! Making one or more of the changes below is a great way to get started:
Go Meatless One Day a Week
Dedicate one day each week, like Meatless Monday, to offer meat-free entrees to students. This helps raise awareness and educate students that meatless options are available.
New York City Schools started out with a pilot program in 15 Brooklyn schools where they proved meatless options to be cost-effective and popular among students. This year they fully implemented Meatless Monday in more than 1,800 schools where 1.1 million students attend. This one day helps to introduce new fruits and vegetables to students, improve their overall health, and reduce the district’s carbon footprint.
Turn Old Favorites into Vegetarian Ones
Many of your students' favorite meals can be slightly altered to become delicious vegetarian dishes.
- Instead of serving traditional hamburgers, Beanie Burgers can be an easy alternative.
- Traditional lasagna can be changed to incorporate more vegetables for a Fiesta Mexican Lasagna.
- Substitute Quinoa in your beef or chicken enchiladas for a tasty Quinoa Enchilada Bake
When Pinellas County Schools took on the initiative to provide healthier vegetarian and vegan options for their students, they started by revamping their serving line, creating more fun and unique menu options, and putting a higher priority on farm-to-table. Their menu now includes vegetarian chili and vegan quesadillas, in addition to vegetarian and vegan side salads, a hot vegetable side, milk alternatives, and free juice daily.
Add or Revamp Your Salad Bar
If you aren't ready to switch out menu options or devote one day a week to vegetarian meals, adding a salad bar provides a great alternative. Allowing students to grab their favorite fruits and vegetables to create something unique can also help to increase participation in your meal program.
When Santa Clara County introduced salad bars to their cafeteria, their goal was to make a wider variety of fruits and vegetables more accessible to students. Working with local farmers, they were able to incorporate local produce and offer fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables to also reduce costs. Incorporating Rainbow Days also helped encourage students to include a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables on their trays. To get started with your salad bar or receive additional funding, check out Salad Bars to Schools!
Once you have incorporated your new menu options, you'll want to promote them to students and parents. Include information in your digital menus, school website, school newspaper, morning announcements, and local news.
With the popularity of vegetarian meals continuing to grow, districts can find success by offering more creative, healthier, and tastier meatless options. If you are currently offering any vegetarian options in your cafeteria, share your favorite meals with your fellow menu planners in the comments below!