New York City public school students will soon be saying goodbye to chicken nuggets and hello to zucchini parmigiana—at least on Mondays. The local public school system recently announced that all of its schools will serve an all-vegetarian menu on Mondays beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.
“Cutting back on meat a little will improve New Yorkers’ health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We’re expanding Meatless Mondays to all public schools to keep our lunch and planet green for generations to come.”
The decision to go meatless on Mondays came after the NYC Department of Education (DOE) reviewed feedback from a pilot program that began testing the Meatless Mondays program in 15 Brooklyn public schools in the spring of 2018.
“I stood beside Mayor de Blasio and then-Chancellor Fariña in 2017 to announce that 15 schools in Brooklyn were undertaking Meatless Mondays. In less than 18 months, we can announce that Meatless Mondays has spread to more than one million children at every school across the city, putting us on the path to make our kids, communities and planet healthier,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
While New York City is far from the first school district to implement meatless meals (there are at least 263 school districts in the U.S. that already have meatless programs according to the Humane Society of the United States), it is the biggest. Serving more than 1 million students in more than 1,700 schools, the NYC public school system is the largest in the world. In participating in Meatless Mondays the school system also joins other NYC public institutions, including the city public health system, which recently launched a Meatless Mondays initiative at all its hospitals in an effort to expand plant-based menu options and improve patient health.
“Meatless Mondays gives our patients—and now every Department of Education student—the option of a healthier meal choice,” said Mitchell Katz, MD, president and chief executive officer of NYC Health + Hospitals.
On Mondays, schools will serve a variety of meatless options, which during the pilot program included spinach wraps, vegetarian chili, roasted chickpea tagine, black bean quesadillas, crispy tofu, margherita pizza and more for breakfast and lunch.
As with the pilot program, the DOE says the expansion of the vegetarian menus comes at no additional cost to the city with all sourcing for the meals coming through existing contracts. According to the DOE, the program fits into the city’s overall efforts to ensure students receive high-quality, healthy lunch in a sustainable way.
This past school year, the DOE began providing free school lunch to all public school students, and schools also serve locally sourced or produced foods as part of “NY Thursdays.” The district has also increased recycling efforts by serving meals on compostable plates and providing schools with more discarded waste options. Since the 2011-2012 school year, 761 schools have participated in the city’s organic collection program and 108 of those schools are Zero Waste schools.
According to the DOE, students will be able to provide feedback to help determine the vegetarian options before the fall menus are set.