A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey shows that 1 in 200 American children (about 360,000 kids) are vegetarian. Other studies indicate that this rate may be as much as four to six times higher among older teens who have more control over what they eat. Schools should support vegetarian children—and help other kids embrace vegetarianism—by serving more plant-based meals. Young people who develop a taste for wholesome vegetarian foods are more likely to stay slim and healthy for life.
Unlike mystery meat, chicken nuggets, and cheese pizza, vegan foods are cholesterol free, low in fat and calories, and rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates. In his best-selling book, Baby and Child Care, the late pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock, wrote, “Children who grow up getting their nutrition from plant foods rather than meats have a tremendous health advantage. They are less likely to develop weight problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer.”
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has urged school lunch programs to offer fewer animal fats so that children aren’t exposed to so many dioxins—cancer-causing toxins found in meat and milk.
The school lunch line should be a source of nourishment, not disease. If we feed our children fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, soy products, and other nutritious vegan foods, they can spend more time in the classroom—and on the playground—than in the doctor’s office racking up medical bills. New York Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli recently initiated statewide audits of school lunch services and physical education programs, claiming that childhood obesity is a financial issue as well as a health problem. Putting children on the path to good health, said DiNapoli, could save millions of tax dollars in the long run.
According to Jennifer K. Reilly, a senior nutritionist for the Cancer Project, “researchers have found that vegetarian adolescents eat more fruits, vegetables and fiber and have lower intakes of cholesterol and saturated fat than their nonvegetarian peers.” One study—published in the January 2009 issue of The Journal of Nutrition—showed that restricting the availability of unhealthy snacks in elementary schools led to a small yet significant increase in fruit and vegetable consumption.
Concerned parents can help convince schools to offer healthy meatless meals. Speak to school officials, circulate a petition among students and parents to show that there is a demand for vegetarian meals, and cite examples of other schools that successfully serve vegetarian food—like Gwinnett County public schools in Atlanta, which offer tofu-based corn dogs and chicken, fresh fruit, soy milk and other vegetarian options
Visit www.NoJunkFood.org, a site run by Jackie Domac, a former teacher and health department chairwomen at Venice High School in California, to find out how other parents and teachers have helped get healthier foods in schools. (Jackie was instrumental in getting Venice High to serve vegetarian options and to replace the sugary drinks in the school vending machine with healthy beverages. Venice High was even the first high school in the nation to get an organic soy milk vending machine. Jackie also helped pass the Los Angeles Unified School District Obesity Prevention Resolution, which encourages all area schools to provide students with healthy vegetarian options.)
All children should have wholesome, humane options at school. Until that time, parents can check out the vegan lunch box blogspot for creative lunch ideas that kids will love.
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