Some kids will have to wait until Tuesday for their chicken nuggets or sloppy Joes.
Beginning this school year, Buffalo Public Schools joined more than 31 districts and 57 K-12 schools in jumping on the Meatless Monday bandwagon.
The decade-old Meatless Monday campaign, begun in 2003 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Monday Campaigns, has become a weekly habit for conscientious eaters around the globe. In the U.S., some credit the campaign to encourage Americans to reduce the amount of meat they consume for spurring the drop in meat consumption to levels that haven't been seen since the 1950s.
Now, schools are getting in on the movement in an effort to improve students’ nutrition, tread a bit lighter on the earth, and save a little money in the process.
Will the kids go for it? Considering how students elsewhere have balked at healthier menus and asked for pink-slime burgers to replace all-beef patties, it's a question well-worth asking.
Scott Richardson, policy analyst for anti-hunger group Project Bread, says they will—as long as they are given enough time to get used to the change. Project Bread is engaged in improving the quality of school meals in Massachusetts through its Chefs in Schools program, and Richardson has studied the school lunch program and how kids make wise food choices in school.
He says research shows that children must be presented with an item 10 to 15 times before they’ll accept a new kind of food. He uses the example of one of the cafeterias Project Bread partners with introducing a kale dish at lunch. Many of the kids had never seen kale before. Food service workers, Richardson says, served the new dish with a smile and welcomed constructive feedback from the children.
“They said the kale was too bitter,” Richardson remembers. “So the staff added some fresh sweet apple to sweeten it up a little bit, and the kids seemed to like it. But that process took months.”
For its part, Buffalo is setting the bar far, far lower than kale. Bridget O'Brien Wood, the district's food service director, tells the local NPF affiliate, WBFO, that the first meatless meals included cheese pizza and a yogurt-and-cheese-stick meal.
"But now we're going to really try to get them to try some new things and work on recipe development to get new items out there," he says.
To make more challenging dishes work, Richardson is adamant that the school cafeteria can’t be the only place students are educated about healthier food options. He says teachers should be reinforcing the principles of Meatless Monday—and eating healthier in general—in the classroom and modeling the appropriate behavior.
Here’s a novel idea: What if students and teachers actually ate together?
“If the adults are jazzed about Meatless Mondays,” he says, “they’re going to communicate that to the kids, verbally and nonverbally.
“Otherwise, they can start Meatless Mondays," Richardson add, ominously, "and it’ll all go in the trash.”