Under a new law, children in Illinois will have access to plant-based school lunches for the first time. House Bill 4089, recently signed by Governor JB Pritzer, mandates all Illinois school districts to provide plant-based meals that meet federal nutrition guidelines. Scheduled to take effect on August 23, 2023, the law is expected to set a precedent for other school districts across the US.
Helping students thrive
Sponsored by State Representative Cyril Nichols of Chicago and State Senator Dave Koehler, HB 4089 requires schools to offer plant-based meals on request, and accommodate other religious dietary restrictions, such as kosher and halal. According to its sponsors, the legislation aims to ensure students have access to healthy and affordable meals.
“Well-rounded, nutritious parts of all kinds are vital to students’ ability to learn and succeed,” said Nichols, House sponsor of the legislation. “Offering more healthy lunch options in our schools helps our students thrive.”
A growing trend
Despite the changes, US national school lunch programs still require the inclusion of dairy milk to receive federal funding. Current regulations state that subsidized school districts and food providers “cannot discriminate against the drinking of cow’s milk before school, after school, on school grounds, or at any school-sponsored event.” Illinois’s and other pending legislation would directly challenge that requirement.
In New York state, State Senator Robert Jackson is introducing a similar bill, the Making Equitable and Alternative Lunches (MEAL) Act, which would provide plant-based meal options to students at no additional cost. In February, New York City began serving vegan meals to nearly 1 million students through Vegan Fridays, a healthy eating initiative promoted by NYC Mayor Eric Adams. Illinois hopes to offer children similar diversity in their food options.
“Whether a student’s dietary needs are rooted in religious, health-related or other, personal reasons, offering a plant-based meal option would satisfy a variety of requirements,” Koehler commented. “Providing a secondary healthy lunch option in our schools is a win all-around.”