Sunday Musings: Plant-Based Food Partners with Schools

Impossible Foods has partnered with a Florida school board to offer plant-based meat substitutes as part of the board’s ongoing effort to address the growing interest in plant-based diets among students. But how great is the demand?

Plant-Based School Lunch - © 2024 - Impossible Foods

What’s happening?

It’s a pilot program involving three middle schools and three high schools in Manatee Country. And it’s been in the works since 2019. But the COVID Crisis slammed the door on it, at that time.

The board held a surprise, pop-up taste test at one Manatee High School last year, in which students were encouraged to try plant based burgers, nuggets and chili.

“The kids were excited and wanted to have their voices heard,” Skye Grundy, a registered dietitian and Supervisor of Student Nutrition for the School District of Manatee County, said. “Some of them had never tried a plant-based item, so it was a good opportunity to let them try something new and different. It’s always nice when you can create excitement.”

What the kids say

At a recent lunch break, students at Dr. Mona Jain Middle School in Manatee has a broad choice of mains options: burgers, chicken sandwiches, pizza, salad, wraps, and more. They also had the chance to select a plant-based burger or plant-based ‘chicken’ nuggets.

Eighth Grader Delaney Arnold grabbed the nuggets. “I’m more of a nugget person,” Arnold told a reporter for the Manatee County Observer. “They’re good, and taste exactly the same as regular nuggets.”

Based on that, and many other positive comments, the board decided to run the pilot program this semester.

But how strong is the demand?

“Vegan is not a huge request or demand across the district,” Grundy said. “It’s very pocketed and not in huge groups anywhere. It’s truly about making sure we have some choices for all of our students to be able to participate in our program and feel welcome in the cafeteria.”

Before the trial, parents could request vegan lunch options for their kids if they weren’t already available.

The board’s Food Services Committee will look at the results of the pilot program at the end of the school year. The number of kids opting for vegan mains will determine whether the program continues in the fall, on a permanent basis.

My take

It’s indisputably laudable that the Manatee Country School Board is looking into institutionalizing vegan  offerings on their lunch program menus. But how significant is the move? The schools’ Supervisor of Student Nutrition admits demand is relatively small. Program boosters claim non-vegan kids trying the new mains are offering positive feedback.

My questions to you:

Is it worth implementing a permanent program offering vegan options at all schools in the board?

Or would the previous program based on parents’ requests be a more sensible approach?

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.