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Bean tamale

LA schools to roll out vegan menu pilot

Vegan chili and tortilla chips, veggie burgers, bean tamales and more will debut the first week of September, with feedback being sought.

The day after Labor Day, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will take the plant-based plunge with a new vegan menu, piloting new menu items at seven high schools.

Through November, students at Banning, Crenshaw, Fairfax, Huntington Park, North Hollywood, Roosevelt and Sylmar high schools will try vegan dishes and report back to the foodservices division with their feedback.

New choices will include veggie burgers, teriyaki veggie patties, bean tamales, Italian “sausage” subs and vegan chili with tortilla chips. Some items, like the veggie burgers and sausage crumbles feature soy protein, while others—the chili and tamales—provide the required protein mainly from beans.

Several LA high schools will serve vegan chili with tortilla chips and veggie burgers.

Student and parent requests for vegan choices, paired with the district’s mission to promote healthy eating choices, led the culinary team to start working on the vegan menu about a year ago.

They tested many vegan products from many vendors to find products and recipes “that meet the requirements and that our students will really like,” according to Ivy Marx, senior nutrition specialist at LAUSD. Marx says vegan meals present a bit more of a challenge because in vegetarian meals, a portion of the protein can come from dairy products.

Marketing materials—created in-house—have been distributed to promote the new lineup, including signage and a digital media campaign.

“We want to stir up interest and excitement so that our students will try a vegan option,” Joseph K. Vaughn, director of foodservices at LAUSD, said in a press release.

While getting students to try plant-based items is one goal of the pilot, another is to get their honest feedback, something Marx says should be no problem, as kids in the district tend to be outspoken about their food. This past week, before the pilot began, staff members visited the high schools with samples of vegan dishes.

Both quantitative and qualitative data will help shape future vegan menus for the whole district.

“We will track how participation is, and how many students choose each dish and then work in small focus groups to see which items they like best,” Marx says.

Working with that knowledge, the culinary team will regroup and hopes to expand the vegan program—with improvements and adjustments.

Early feedback on the Italian sausage sandwiches included one student’s idea of serving the sausage on top of pasta rather than in a sandwich.

Marx says she’s looking forward to more collaboration like that as the pilot continues.

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