Do you know that many vegetarian children cannot get lunch at school? At a time when American children need more vegetarian meals, the National School Lunch Program does not include any provision for plant-based foods. In order to change that, the U.S. Department of Agriculture needs to hear from you today.
The Child Nutrition Act includes legislation for the National School Lunch Program, which provides federal assistance for school lunches. This act is being reauthorized in 2009, and the USDA would like your input on what needs to change. Submit your recommendations for improving vegetarian options by fax at 703-305-2879, or online. They are accepting comments until October 15, 2008. Let me offer below a few comments you may wish to consider.
PCRM asks the USDA to Improve Vegetarian Options in Schools
Many children do not consume animal products due to ethical, cultural, and religious practices, as well as food allergies and intolerances. An increasing number of students cannot take full advantage of federal nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program, because plant-based options are not always available. PCRM is asking the USDA to include these items when the Child Nutrition Act is reauthorized next year:
- Nondairy beverage alternatives should be available and reimbursable without a note wherever cow’s milk is provided. Offering all students a nutritious nondairy beverage will reduce saturated fat consumption and increase overall program participation. The USDA should appropriately increase reimbursement for nondairy alternatives so that providing these options will not be more costly to schools.
- Plant-based meal options should be available every day, as trailblazing states such as California, Florida, Hawaii, and New York have already required. Whether a student consumes a vegetarian diet or chooses an occasional vegetarian meal, experts agree that plant-based foods are healthy choices for all children.
- Plant-based commodity foods should be readily available to schools. The USDA should provide schools with more fresh fruits and vegetables and plant-based entrees to help meet the demand for these healthful foods. The USDA and Congress should shift federal subsidies so that they support child health rather than agricultural interests.
PCRM joins the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association in asking the USDA to provide healthful vegetarian foods including vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, and nutritious nondairy beverages in schools. Increasing access to low-fat, cholesterol-free vegetarian foods will help mitigate the rising prevalence of obesity and other chronic diseases.
Thank you for taking action on this important issue. If you have any questions, please contact Kathryn Strong, PCRM nutrition coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neal Barnard, M.D.