NEW YORK -- Forget mystery meat or cheese pizza. Instead, chickpea wraps and veggie tacos will be on the menu for New York City public school students as the nation's largest school district shifts to “Vegan Fridays” in school cafeterias.
The move was pushed by the city's new Mayor Eric Adams, who follows and promotes a plant-based diet that he credits for improving his health.
“I can’t tell people what to put on their grills on the weekend. But darn it, we should not be feeding the health care crisis in our prisons, our hospitals, and most importantly, in our schools, so we want to go in a more healthy direction,” Adams said in an interview on WNBC-TV on Friday.
Vegan options are already available in all of the city's public schools every day, but starting Friday and continuing weekly, the lunch offering will be vegan. Students can still request a non-vegan option, according to the city’s Department of Education, and milk, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hummus and pretzels will always be available to students.
New York City public schools, which have about 938,000 students, have been offering Meatless Mondays since 2019 and Meatless Fridays since April. Around the country, 14% of school districts offered vegan meals and 56% offered vegetarian meals in at least one of their schools, according to a 2018 survey from the School Nutrition Association, a trade group representing school nutrition programs and workers.
It's unclear whether any other districts around the country plan to go vegan one day a week like New York City schools.
New York City schools says its vegan meals have been tested and approved by small groups of students.
Friday's menu included “vegan veggie tacos,” with a tortilla and salsa, with broccoli, and a carrot and lemon salad on the side. Other planned offerings this month include a Mediterranean chickpea dish with rice or pasta, and a black bean and plantain rice bowl.
Adams, a former New York City police captain, has said he traded in a lifestyle with junk food for a plant-based diet that helped him overcome diabetes. He wrote a book about his diet, “Healthy at Last.”
Nearly 40% of New York City public school children in grades K-8 were overweight or obese, according to data cited by the city in 2019.
Angela Odoms-Young, an associate professor in the nutritional sciences division at Cornell University who helped develop the nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program, said the shift in New York City schools is “innovative and exciting.”
Odoms-Young said adding in plant-based meals can help ensure students are getting the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, expose them to foods they might not normally consume and reinforce lifelong healthy habits. She also said it could dispel the notion of children being resistant to eating vegetables.
“It doesn’t just have to be broccoli,” Odoms-Young said. “It can just be a whole host of things that maybe kids would eat — particularly if it’s prepared in different ways.”