San Diego school cafeterias' new plant-based meals are a planet-saving tasty treat

NEWS // September 9, 2019

San Diego school cafeterias' new plant-based meals are a planet-saving tasty treat

Tara McNamara, Marketing Coordinator, San Diego Unified School District, Food & Nutrition Services

The school cafeteria was buzzing as dozens of students lined up for their first lunch of the 2019-20 school year. Kiara, a third grader, perused the variety of foods on display before selecting something she hadn’t tried before – a three-bean chili. A few moments later, the verdict was in. “It’s really good!”

The savory three-bean chili she had chosen for lunch was one of the latest plant-based meals being rolled out this year at schools in the San Diego Unified School District, expanding on the district’s already-successful Meatless Mondays commitment. In addition to being tasty, the new plant-based meals make a big impact far outside the cafeteria: providing healthy alternatives to meat products may just help save the planet. Research shows that cutting back on meat consumption is an effective way Americans can reduce carbon dioxide emissions and save water as well.

In San Diego County and globally, plant-based meals are a growing trend for many reasons - nutritional benefits, dietary restrictions, and the environmental impact. Gary Petill, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for San Diego Unified, says the district is adopting plant-based foods for all of these reasons.

“We are cooking up change and trending with our students. By placing these plant-based options on the menu, we are giving students nutritious options they want, while also helping to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s a win-win” shared Petill.

In addition to the delicious three-bean chili, this year’s plant-based options include a black bean veggie burger and marinara pasta with Italian bean salad. Principal Liz Sloan says students at E.B. Scripps Elementary are fans of the variety. “Our students love Meatless Monday, especially when one of the choices is cheese pizza!”

San Diego Unified cafés have long been ahead of the curve when it comes to school food. Every day, students have access to fresh, organic produce from local San Diego County farmers on the more than 350 salad bars throughout the district. On California Thursdays, students can enjoy meals made entirely from California grown, raised and produced foods, featuring Mary’s free-range, antibiotic-free chicken drumsticks.

To top it off, the district works with Feeding San Diego to reduce food waste on a massive scale. To date, The Love Food Not Waste program has kept more than 200,000 pounds of prepared food out of landfills, provided in excess of 169,120 meals to the hungry, reduced food costs, and eliminated more than 110,107 pounds of carbon dioxide gas emissions.

Meat-lovers need not worry, as traditional protein-rich meals are still available at all schools. Families can learn more about the district’s food and nutrition programs online.

This story has been modified for brevity, the original story can be found here: