By Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta
New York City mayor Eric Adams eats mostly vegan meals. He recently stated to the press, "The more plant-based meals you eat, the healthier you will be."
Inspired by his own success of eating better, he began a new policy, Vegan Fridays, which introduced vegan meals to NYC schools. Many schools in New York City already had hummus on their menus and participated in Meatless Mondays. But his initiative took it a bit further, with a goal to improve the quality of life for thousands of students in NYC.
Adams stated, “Plant-based meals are delicious and nutritious, which is why I previously called for vegetarian and vegan options in schools. I’m thrilled to see that all students will now have access to healthy foods that will prevent debilitating health conditions.” Adams credits veganism with reversal of his Type 2 diabetes. He switched to a vegan diet in 2016, and in 2020 published a book called Healthy at Last: A Plant-Based Approach to Preventing and Reversing Diabetes and Other Chronic Illnesses.
When Adams spoke on Good Day New York last week, he said, “I love healthy food, and I love life, and our children should not continually be fed food that’s causing their healthcare crises: childhood obesity, childhood diabetes, asthma…We should not be feeding the crises.”
Focusing on health and fitness, Adams’ goal was to remove processed meats such as bologna and pepperoni from the school lunch menus, as well as mac and cheese, and replace them with healthier meals. While his intentions were good, children and their parents had mixed feeling about the meals served.
Mixed Reviews from Parents and Students
According to a news source, a burrito of black beans, tomato, and corn was one of two options served on Vegan Friday. The other was a burrito—which wasn’t vegan at all. A Manhattan 7th grader noticed the ingredients on the label. The burrito contained both cheese and milk. Not vegan cheese. And not soy or almond milk.
NYC parents weren’t too happy about the meals and vented on Twitter. One angry mom posted that her child skipped the meal and just ate the accompanying cookies, which, by the way, were not vegan. And a NYC dad said his vegan daughter called Vegan Fridays “a failure” for serving cheese burritos.
Perhaps the first go ‘round wasn’t successful, but a bit of tweaking can make the idea more of a success. Future Vegan Friday meals will include items like a Mediterranean chickpea dish with rice or pasta, and a black bean and plantain rice bowls. Peanut butter and jelly, hummus, and pretzels will be available too. And students can still request a non-vegan meal.
Non-Profit Offers Healthy Solutions That Taste Better
The Coalition for Healthy School Food is a non-profit organization that introduces plant-based foods and nutrition education in schools. They believe that all children should have the option of a plant-based entry and have publicly thanked Mayor Adams for his efforts on their Twitter page.
With an advisory board that includes vegan chefs and registered dietitians, The Coalition for Healthy School Food exposed enjoyable vegan meals to many NYC schools. Their healthier vegan menu meets all nutritional requirements for calories, protein, and other nutrients. It also costs less than the standard school lunch menu and tastes great. One of the well-balanced plates included a slice of vegan pizza, steamed kale, rice and herbs, chickpeas with mixed vegetables, and an orange. It’s a dish that children love.
This is proof that healthy doesn’t have to mean horrible. If NYC schools continue with Vegan Fridays, let’s hope each school takes the constructive criticism from students and parents and moves forward with presenting better options.
Or vegan children can just brown bag it. After all, nothing beats a home-prepped meal.
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