Louisianna Waring, Senior Insight and Policy Officer, The Vegan Society shares why the Society is delighted to be celebrating the tenth anniversary of International School Meals Day.
It’s an exciting time for us to be able to look ahead at the future of school food and see where plant-based options will feature.
As we know, no matter your age, food is an integral aspect of everyone’s lives. Access to a variety of foods not only promotes good health but can also help to foster great social relationships and cultural bonding – all of which brings more joy into our lives. School meals are no different – they are an essential part of the school experience, but sadly there are still occasions where vegan or vegan-curious pupils are not sufficiently catered for. This is one of the reasons we created the Catering for Everyone campaign, which seeks to mandate at least one plant-based option on all public sector menus.
To support the campaign, The Vegan Society surveyed 500 UK-based parents and guardians with children aged 15 or younger. We asked questions relating to vegan food for children: do they like the current options in supermarkets? What could the food industry do to encourage children to eat more vegan foods? Do they support schools increasing the amount of vegan food on offer? What food options would they support? All of this and more is covered in detail in our full report, with key insights details below.
Vegan food in schools
Schools play a crucial role in setting healthy eating habits for children from an early age – ensuring vegan options in schools can promote inclusivity, sustainability and good nutrition. It can also normalise an ethical food culture that doesn’t rely on animals but embraces tasty protein-packed and fibre-rich vegan staples such as lentils, chickpeas and beans.
In our research, the majority (68.6%) of parents and guardians sampled said that they either “completely” (29.7%) or “somewhat” (38.9%) support schools increasing the number of nutritionally balanced vegan food options on offer to children. We asked these respondents why they supported this, with most citing the healthfulness of vegan meals. Many others said vegan meals can be cost effective for schools, as well as environmentally friendly. Some of our favourite anonymous quotes included:
“It’s great for schools to reduce consumption of meat. Would allow schools to provide nutritionally dense meals at a lower cost. Would allow children to try new foods they may not try at home”
“I wish I’d had more options and variety when I was at school. I want my children to eat a wider variety of different foods and would prefer for them to eat healthier, more plant-based options”
“Because I want what’s best for the environment, and if it comes with a benefit to my child there is nothing I can complain about”
What vegan options should schools offer?
We then asked the panel which vegan foods they would support schools offering. Perhaps unsurprisingly, meals and snacks that focused on fruit, vegetables and pulses scored highly. For example, 48.3% of the panel said that they would support more meals focused on wholefoods, such as spaghetti bolognaise made from lentils, and 44.3% said they would support more desserts focused on fruits, such as vegan apple crumble.
Interestingly, vegan foods that are a direct replacement for animal products also scored well amongst the panel. 45.7% of the parents and guardians surveyed said that they would support schools offering more meat alternatives, and 41.6% said they would support schools offering more cheese alternatives. With support from nutrition experts like dietitians, brands can ensure that the nutritional profiles of their products stand out from the crowd due to higher protein and fibre contents and lower amounts of added salt, sugar and fat.
35.1% of the panel said they would support schools offering more milk alternatives. The Vegan Society’s Play Fair with Plant Milk campaign highlights the importance of fortified milk alternative provision in promoting balanced nutrition.
It’s clear there’s huge support from parents and guardians for schools to increase their vegan food offerings, and we’re delighted to be able to share these findings with your growing ISMD community on this significant anniversary.
As part of the Catering for Everyone campaign, The Vegan Society has plenty of information available for educators, families and caterers – click here to find it on our website.