Houston ISD is the first school district in the state of Texas to participate in the Meatless Monday movement’s Lean & Green Day, according to Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit public health initiative. Since December, the district’s Food Services Department has made an effort to serve more vegetarian menu items for students on a regular basis.
“The average American consumes eight ounces of meat per day, which is 45 percent more than the USDA recommendation,” said HISD Food Services’ Nutrition Manager Amanda Oceguera. “By reducing consumption of meat you can reduce your risk of chronic preventable diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer.”
Oceguera said HISD Food Services decided to join the movement as an added benefit to students and to accompany its efforts to continue to provide students with nutritious, well-balanced meals. Participation levels remain steady as students choose meat-free favorites and learn to enjoy new healthy options.
Elementary and middle school students have the option of selecting one meat-free lunch entree each Monday, and on the second Monday of each month two meat-free options are available. Choices include, but are not limited to, bean and cheese burritos, cheese enchiladas, pasta with marinara sauce, and spicy grilled cheese sandwiches. Lean and Green Day is marked by a ‘LG’ symbol on the menu, and vegetarian items are identified with a ‘V’ symbol.
Oceguera said a common myth is that meat is necessary for essential nutrients such as protein and iron. However, there are a variety of healthy meat-free foods that are high in these nutrients, such as eggs, beans, peas, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, nuts, seeds and soy products.
During the month of March, schools made public address announcements focused on healthy eating and gave students information about the benefits of reducing meat consumption.
“Americans have among the highest per capita meat consumption in the world,” said Kristie Middleton, food policy manager for the Humane Society of the United States. “Providing more plant-based meals to kids can improve their health and raise their consciousness about how their food choices connect to important social questions about public health, the environment and the treatment of animals.”
Meatless Monday was launched in 2003 at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The initiative’s goal is to reduce meat consumption by 15 percent for personal health and the health of the planet.