No Meat on Mondays in U.S. Largest School District

Could your child's school be far behind now that the nation's biggest school district has jumped on the "Meatless Monday" bandwagon?

The New York Public schools have become the latest school district in the country to join a movement called "Meatless Monday."

Starting in the fall, all 1.1 million students in the district's 1800 schools will be served a vegetarian school lunch and breakfast once-a-week on Mondays. The district, which is the largest in the U.S., tested the program at 15 schools in Brooklyn last spring and expanded it to more schools last fall. The program was considered successful enough to take to the entire district beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.

Meatless Monday is a global movement with a simple message: one day a week, cut the meat from your meals. The program, a non-profit initiative in association with the Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, wants people to reduce their meat consumption by 15% in order to improve their health and the health of the planet.

"Cutting back on meat a little will improve New Yorkers' health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Mayor Bill de Blasio, referring to the fact that food animals, like cows, generate greenhouse gases. Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza, pointed out that more fruits and veggies could help improve overall health in a district where 1-in-5 kindergarten children is considered obese.

"Our students and educators are truly leaders in this movement, and I salute them! Richard A. Carranza, New York Schools Chancellor

Not everyone thinks Meatless Monday meals are better than regular cafeteria fare. Vegetarian options for the kids will be things like veggie tacos, meatless chili and grilled cheese, which is what Mayor Bill de Blasio ate, along with a serving of baked beans, when he made the announcement at PS 130 Elementary School.

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"Grilled cheese as part of a healthy balanced diet is fine," Robin Barrie, a registered dietitian with three kids in the NYC public school system, told the New York Post . "But I don't consider it healthy on its own. The saturated fat in a grilled cheese is almost the same as the saturated fat in red meat."

And Barrie says a one-day-a-week veggie meal won't have much impact if kids are eating cheeseburgers the next day, which the Post says is on the menu Tuesdays at PS 130.

Getting kids to actually eat legitimately healthy meatless meals is going to be a hard sell, said Emily Burson, founder of California-based school-menu consulting company School Nutrition Plus. "The [meals] with cheese are the biggest hits because it's familiar to them," Burson told the Post. "That's what they see on kids' menus at restaurants, which are generally processed food high in fat and sodium. So we're really fighting against those kids' menus at restaurants."

They're also fighting the fact that some healthy and tastier meat substitutes are expensive.

"It's pointless if their options are going to be meatless, but white flour- and sat-fat-laden." Robin Barrie, Registered Dietitian

So will New York's decision cause the movement to spread to other school districts?

Experts aren't sure.

The Meatless Monday website says hundreds of public and private schools already participate (click here for their list). In Pennsylvania, Meatless Monday says the Philadelphia and York districts are among the largest. In Pittsburgh, at least two private schools, Shady Side Academy and Winchester Thurston, participate.

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