Meatless Monday Brings Education to the Lunchroom

August 29th, 2011

As the new school year begins, hundreds of thousands of students across the U.S. will discover the health and environmental benefits of eating less meat. Meatless Monday is already in 12 full K-12 districts, over 40 individual elementary, middle and high schools, and more than 50 colleges and universities around the country. The number of participating schools is set to spike this year, as Sodexo is introducing Meatless Monday to their entire network of schools and colleges at the start of the season.

So why are Meatless Mondays so popular with schools? Because the campaign is an easy way to improve meal quality, educate students about health, and get them to try new foods. Chef Tim Cipriano, Food Service Director for all 45 New Haven Public Schools, introduced Meatless Monday as part of his overall plan to bring healthy meals to the cafeteria and nutrition education to the classroom. “I don’t do it to be radical,” explains Chef Tim, “I do it because we have a huge childhood nutrition problem in this country and in school kids should be eating real, local food.”

Chef Tim Cipriano brings nutrition education into New Haven's classrooms.

Cece Parish, the Food Director for St. Catherine’s School in Richmond Virginia, echoes Chef Tim’s sentiment:

“Whether they pack their own or eat off the menu, the school dining room is a major player in a student’s food experience during their most formative years. If the dining room is simply a place to offer the quickest, cheapest, easiest foods, what do the children learn? School meals are the best way to educate children about making balanced choices when it comes to food.”

Ms. Parish also brought Meatless Monday to her school as a way to educate students, not just about health and the environment, but also about mindfulness and moderation. She is happy to report that student reactions have been “overwhelmingly positive!”: the girls at St. Catherine’s -who range from pre-K to college prep- love to try new entrees and suggest Meatless Monday menu ideas.

The educational opportunity of Meatless Monday also extends to college students. Many young adults on campus are getting their first taste of independent living. Offering a wide variety of nutritious options is an excellent way to ease students into a lifetime of healthy habits. David George, the director of food services at Syracuse University hopes to expand student palettes with weekly “Try Me!” bites of fruit, vegetables, beans and grains. If students like the sample, they can get a larger helping by trying the Meatless Monday entree

At the University of Maryland, the students themselves are using Meatless Monday to encourage healthy eating. The campaign was brought to campus by two environmental science and policy majors who wanted to teach their peers about sustainable options. Both the student founders and staff acknowledge that Meatless Monday is all about promoting healthy alternatives, not removing choice.

“The idea of telling 20,000 people what they should eat is definitely not the right approach,” Director of Dining Services Colleen Wright-Riva said. “We’re in the business of offering students as many different options as possible and then letting them decide what to choose.”

This freedom of choice allows students to have ownership in their dietary decisions, which is much more likely to lead to healthy habits.

You can easily bring Meatless Monday to any school with the help of our materials! Download our K-12 and College action kits for starting steps, promotion ideas and more. You can also visit our resource page for fun posters and our official logo. Of course it wouldn’t be Meatless Monday without delicious, veggie-filled entrees, so stop by our bulk recipe page for dozens of creative meal ideas!