New York City has the country’s largest public school system, and Mayor Bill de Blasio recently dictated that Meatless Mondays will be put into effect in the fall of 2019. Kids in public schools will eat vegetarian only lunches on Mondays with the hopes of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving child health. Will the new menu make kids healthier, though?
There is no denying that child obesity rates have grown exponentially over the past 20 years. Climbing obesity rates can be attributed to increased consumption of processed foods, hormone and antibiotic-filled meats and dairy, and refined carbs and sugars. There has not been a lot of focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, which contain essential nutrients that the body needs to function correctly.
De Blasio has argued that Meatless Mondays will improve the health of students in the 1,800 plus public schools in New York City. Consuming a vegetarian diet, however, only has its benefits if the foods that are being consumed are indeed healthy. An early peak at Meatless Monday menu items doesn’t show a healthy future, though. Mozzarella sticks, onion rings, and grilled cheese sandwiches are on the menu. While these are typical kids menu items, Meatless Mondays don’t seem that healthy if those will be the vegetarian options.
According to several studies in different schools, the Meatless Monday concept resulted in more food waste and noncompliance. A few studies revealed 40% more food waste on vegetarian days. Because kids are picky eaters, it can be hard to introduce healthier, vegetarian options. It may be more advantageous to start gardening programs and nutrition classes for kids to understand what a healthy diet consists of. We aren’t saying that the average first grader is going to choose kale over a grilled cheese, but learning about food is never a bad idea.
De Blasio’s idea of instituting Meatless Mondays is not a bad idea, considering 65% of American children between the ages of 12-14 show signs of early cholesterol disease. Is it a solution to the growing child obesity epidemic? Not likely. A better first step might be to eliminate things like mozzarella sticks, fries, grilled cheeses, and onion rings, and replace those with healthier options. Simply cutting meat out is not going to magically make kids healthier. Vegetarians can eat unhealthily too.