Manatee County School District in Florida has recently introduced plant-based lunch options in several of its schools. As reported by Your Observer, this initiative encompasses two high schools and three middle schools, where students now have access to plant-based items such as Impossible Burgers and plant-based chicken nuggets.
“It’s truly about making sure we have some choices for all of our students to be able to participate in our program”
The schools involved in this rollout include Mona Jain Middle, R. Dan Nolan, Buffalo Creek middle schools, as well as Braden River, Lakewood Ranch, and Parrish Community High Schools as part of the district’s goal to stay current with food trends and address the growing interest in plant-based diets among students.
Skye Grundy, a registered dietitian and supervisor of student nutrition for the School District of Manatee County, emphasized the importance of meeting student demands and staying abreast of food trends and explained that the introduction of the Impossible Burger was seen as an opportunity by the food services department to innovate the school menu.
For the current school year, the district is conducting a trial run in select schools, serving items like Impossible Burgers, plant-based nuggets, and bean and chili burritos. The selection of these schools was based on existing requests for plant-based options. Grundy noted the importance of starting with a few schools to gauge response before expanding the program district-wide. Notably, plant-based nuggets have emerged as a particularly popular choice among students.
Similarly, last year Kristie Middleton, VP, Business Development at Rebellyous Foods spoke to vegconomist about students’ preference for plant-based nuggets after sampling its products at the Annual National Conference of the School Nutrition Association.
The importance of effective marketing strategies has been underscored in motivating students to sample and buy plant-based products. Grundy highlighted in her interview with Your Observer that students often hesitate to select foods marked as vegan, perceiving them as exclusive to those who follow a vegan lifestyle. To counter this, she says it’s essential to promote plant-based options as universally appealing choices suitable for all dietary preferences.
Plant-based options in US schools
This initiative by Manatee County School District reflects a broader trend in US schools towards embracing plant-based food options. National food service provider Chartwells K12’s report showed the popularity of plant-forward meals like Homemade Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese and Spicy Basil Tofu Stir Fry among K-12 students underscores this shift. Additionally, initiatives like Meatless Mondays in New York and mandated plant-based meal options in Illinois schools highlight the growing focus on plant-based diets in educational settings. Impossible Foods has also responded to this trend by creating kid-sized patties and whole-grain nuggets, specifically designed for school lunches.
While vegan options are not a widespread demand across the district, according to Grundy, the goal is to provide a variety of choices to ensure all students feel included and welcome in the cafeteria. She told Your Observer, “Vegan is not a huge request or demand across the district. It’s very pocketed and not in huge groups anywhere. It’s truly about making sure we have some choices for all of our students to be able to participate in our program and feel welcome in the cafeteria.”