‘Sense of perspective’ needed after parents’ reaction to switch to vegan food for school lunches, says principal

ProVeg UK director Jimmy Pierson praised Middlesbrough Council for taking a brave step in introducing more plant-based alternatives. The local authority recently revamped the menus with more vegan and vegetarian options, less sugary foods and more fruit and vegetables.

Not all parents were happy with the changes, however, with some saying the options aren’t kid-friendly while criticizing the small portions and lack of choice. New menu options include Quorn korma, katsu curry, and stir-fry.

Becky Eason, 36, a mother of two, said her eight-year-old daughter repeatedly came home and asked for packed lunches to be prepared instead of school dinners. She added: “Some of the meals on the menu itself didn’t seem very child friendly in my opinion.

ProVeg’s UK manager Jimmy Pierson, who has worked with Middlesbrough Council to help them plan menus, called for a “sense of perspective”.

“It’s not really a choice to give them Quorn chicken curry or vegetable lasagna in one day. I don’t think there are many options for them.

Now Mr Pierson has responded to anger over school lunches and wants children to try the new food options and give menus a chance. ProVeg UK is working with the council to help them plan menus, provide recipes and train catering staff – all free of charge – to encourage children to eat more plant-based foods.

He said: “We know we need to eat less meat and dairy for our health, and especially the health of children, and for the health of the planet. This is a huge step up from Middlesbrough City Council.

“This is a local authority that has not only recognized that plant-based food is one of our solutions to the climate crisis and the childhood obesity crisis, but has had the courage to do something This is a fantastic example of climate leadership and health leadership.

Middlesbrough has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country. Around one in 10 children are obese when they start school in Middlesbrough, and that figure rises to one in five by the time they are in year six. The city has a higher proportion of severely obese, obese and overweight children than the North East and Middle England.

Mr Pierson said: ‘Childhood obesity is a crisis in this country. Most UK children lack fiber and almost a third of children aged five to ten eat less than one serving of vegetables a day.

He went on to add that the plant-based options on the menu are almost always lower in saturated fat, higher in fiber, about equal in protein, and produce on average 27% less carbon emissions than the option. meat. Eating fewer animal products may reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases, including certain types of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Mr Pierson said it was not about greening menus but about giving children the opportunity to eat healthier.

However, Kelly Doolan’s two daughters aren’t a fan of the new options. She said: “They both constantly ask for packed lunches but with four kids I honestly can’t afford it as they all like different things.

“Times are tough like that. It’s the hurting kids they need to bring back the foods they love like nuggets, pizza and fries. They can always add vegetables, salad and fruit.

Mr Pierson said more work needs to be done with parents to educate them about the benefits of plant-based options. The organization’s School Plates project has been running for four years and the next step is to visit schools and talk to children and parents about the benefits of eating less meat and dairy.

He thinks young people appreciate tasty plant-based food, especially when they also learn about its positive impact. According to children’s charity Unicef ​​UK, nine out of 10 children worry about climate change and 89% believe that not enough is being done to tackle the crisis.

The director of ProVeg UK added: “I think we need a bit of a step back. All schools have done is add a few plant-based options that are healthier and more sustainable, nothing has been taken away from children. They can still eat meat four times a week if they want to, that’s the reality of the situation.

He added: “It seems to me like a small number of very vocal parents because we are doing the same thing with 36 other partners and we have not had this type of response.

“The feedback has been very positive and encouraging. We always give kids choices, we just give more sustainable and healthier options and encourage kids to use those options. What we see here is a minor step towards more sustainable meals. It’s nothing radical at all.

At a time when local authorities are being forced to tighten their purse strings, a plant-based menu could save municipalities money. Vegan and vegetarian options are often cheaper, which could mean bigger portions for kids and more food could be purchased locally.

The current price of a primary and nursery school meal is £2.15 a day, although children from low-income families can receive free school meals. All children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 receive free school meals.