Schools need plant-based day

Schools need plant-based day

The Soil Association is calling for the government to update “weak” school meal rules and bring in a mandatory meat-free, ‘plant-based protein day’ each week to tackle the climate change and obesity crises.

The Department for Education (DfE) is reviewing its School Food Standards - rules all state funded schools must follow – and the Soil Association is urging government to make a meat-free day with meals based around beans and pulses compulsory each week.

school girl with brocolli and rice

We need to eat less, but better, meat

There is overwhelming agreement that we need to reduce meat consumption to halt climate change, with both the recent EAT-Lancet and UK Climate Change Committee reports highlighting the need for dietary change including a shift towards less but better meat.

Currently the School Food Standards only include a non-mandatory recommendation to include a weekly meat-free day. Few schools are doing it and, when it does take place, options are often restricted to less healthy options like cheese laden pasta or pizza.

With the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) warning that we have only 10 years to make the changes needed and record numbers of pupils are striking over climate action, schools need more support and instruction to deliver sustainable meals.

As part of the review, the DfE is set to consider recommendations that children should eat more beans and pulses to bring the standards in line with the latest evidence on too little fibre in our diets.

Mandatory meat-free day

The Soil Association is calling for this to be accepted and a mandatory plant-based protein day each week implemented to make menus more climate friendly while also tackling poor diets and obesity by increasing fibre intake.

Rob Percival, Head of Policy for Food & Health at the Soil Association, said:

“The updated School Food Standards should require that all schools serve a plant-based protein day each week. The current, non-compulsory advice for a meat-free day is too weak. We know children would benefit nutritionally from eating more beans, pulses, and plant-based proteins and the climate would also benefit – we should all be eating less and better meat. Leading Food for Life schools are already showing that it is possible to serve children healthy plant-based meals, with the cost saving used to ‘trade-up’ to higher-welfare and more sustainable meat for the rest of the week. It’s time the government caught up.”

Change IS possible

Park Community School holds a Gold award with Food for Life, the Soil Association’s scheme to improve school meals, is already showing this approach with less but better can be possible and enjoyable for children. Pupils raise and eat their own pigs and the menu often includes up to two meat free days per week.

Steve Cross, head chef at Park Community School, said:

“We know that we all need to eat less meat if we are going to face climate change - and that is going to need to start in schools so I think we do need a meat free day. Pulses like lentils and chick peas are very cheap and you can get a lot out of them, and using more of these ingredients plus fruit and vegetables we can afford higher quality meat the rest of the time. It’s about being clever with your ingredients and cooking to get the most out of a variety of healthy ingredients. We live by the field to fork approach – we want the children to have a good understanding of where their food comes and educate them into eating things that are healthier and more sustainable."

The DfE has convened an expert panel to review the School Food Standards update. The panel, which includes Public Health England, is expected to meet throughout the year, beginning on 7 May 2019.