Thousands of children in the UK have returned to school to a healthier food menu, with around three million meals going meat-free.
The more sustainable meat-free menu options have been introduced as part of the new School Plates programme, launched by ProVeg UK earlier this summer.
A total of 110 primary schools across two local authorities in England (one in the North West of England and one North of London) have been working on new menus in collaboration with the food awareness organisation ahead of their launch this term.
The healthier changes include the introduction of Meat-Free Mondays and new daily meat-free meals, while the descriptions for the meat-free and plant-based dishes have also been given a revamp to make them more appealing to children.
Schools have been replacing the meat element in some of their existing dishes with chickpeas, beans, lentils and meat alternatives, as well as adding in more vegetables.
Others have simply added new meat-free and plant-based options to their menus, without removing any dishes already available, allowing children a choice between the two.
“We all want children to thrive and these new-look, healthier menus are a big step in the right direction,” explains Jimmy Pierson, director of ProVeg UK.
“Eating more plant-based foods is a great way to improve children’s health in the short term – particularly by helping to reduce childhood obesity – and also in the long term by helping to reduce the risk of all kinds of chronic health conditions.
“It’s so important that children establish healthy eating patterns at an early age, and schools play a key role in this.”
Healthier school meals
During the next 12 months around 3.1 million meat-based meals will now become meat-free, based on commitments from the schools and local authorities currently engaging with School Plates.
Washingborough Academy in Lincolnshire is one school taking part in the programme, and has praised its efforts to expose youngsters to healthier options.
Many more local authorities and primary schools are set to follow suit next term.
Amy Odene, School Plates manager for ProVeg UK said: “We are thrilled with the level of interest and engagement so far, and it just goes to show that there is a real appetite for improving the meal provision within schools.
“When it comes to improving children’s health, helping the planet and saving money all at the same time, there is no better time than now.”
When will we find out about other local authorities?
ProVeg have plans in place to roll out the menu changes with more local authorities next year, ready for the new school term.
Confirmation of those getting involved are set to be announced in January, while the organisation also hope to launch the menus in schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the future.