Five public school districts have earned Golden Carrot Awards from the vegetarian advocacy group Physicians Committee for their plant-based menus.
Tying for the grand prize were Walker Jones Education Campus, a pre-K-8 school that operates within D.C. Public Schools, and The Village School, a K-8 school in Eugene, Ore., and they will each receive $2,015. The three runner-up award winners, each to get a $500 cash prize, were Atlanta Public Schools, Santa Barbara USD in California and Odyssey Charter Schools in Orlando, Fla.
“These schools are paving the way for a bright and healthy future,” said Cameron Wells, MPH, RD, associate director of clinical dietetics for the Physicians Committee in a news release announcing the awards. "Imagine cafeterias brimming with colorful salad bars, fresh, nutrient-packed entrées, and colorful sides of fruit that shape students' pallets so that they reach for that healthful option over their lifetime, knowing that it is not only good for them, but also delicious.”
Walker Jones was the site of a plant-based pilot program for its 400-plus students devised by D.C. Central Kitchen that will see the two most popular entrées from the pilot—a veg-out chili and powered-up pasta with chickpeas—become part of its regular menu.
The Village School offers 200 students vegetarian and vegan entrées five days a week with popular choices including brown rice and black bean bowls with vegan Yumm! Sauce (garbanzo beans, almonds, and nutritional yeast); sushi bowls made with rice, tofu, and seaweed; and chickpea coconut curry. Students stop at the salad bar first, then select a hot entrée, and finally are provided with a selection of salad dressings and toppings. They are also sometimes offered “thank-you bites” as a fun exit ticket from the school lunch line, which ensures that new entrées like quinoa and red beans with dragon sauce are successful while old favorites remain in high demand.
Atlanta Public Schools offers students salad bowl stations and a hot vegetarian entrée as daily options in every school. Older students can become wellness ambassadors and younger peers participate in health events like Fruit and Veggie Land, where they meet local farmers and learn the importance of consuming healthy produce through storybooks, fun activities, and eating a vegetarian school lunch meal. From taste tests with celebrity chefs to the “More Please” campaign that lets 50,000 students take a second trip to the salad bar at no extra cost, Nutrition Services Director Marilyn Hughes, PhD, RD, LD and Wellness Coordinator Kiki Frazier, MS, RD, LD find ways to promote the district’s nutrition and wellness initiatives. In addition, student focus groups have led to such in-demand menu options as spicy black bean vegetable wraps, garden vegetable flatbread sandwiches with hummus and vegetarian chili.
Odyssey daily provides its 1,500 pre-K-10 students with a farm fresh salad bar and made-from-scratch, plant-based options such as veggie burgers, tofu tacos and black bean tinga, a popular dish made with black beans, tomatoes, and chipotle peppers. The school’s Healthy Café breaks even on financing its school lunch program and this school year Founder/CEO Constance Ortiz plans to launch an organic aquaponics and geoponic farm on a 20-acre campus where students can harvest fresh produce, acquire lifelong entrepreneurial skills, put STEM-focused lessons into practice and serve the community with one of its greatest needs: fresh fruits and vegetables.
Santa Barbara USD serves more than 7,000 students daily with meals that include everything from gourmet salads to beet and spinach smoothies. Grilled veggie burgers with hummus, a four-bean chili verde and a veggie pozole made with Napa cabbage earn high marks from students, teachers, and staff. Former restaurateur Nancy Weiss runs the food service program, which serves restaurant-quality meals that earn accolades and ensure a profit for the once-faltering program while science/health teacher Paul Cronshaw, DC helps his high school students form new eating habits by providing plant-based lesson plans during his biology, science, physical education, and health classes and put his “Let food be thy medicine” mantra into practice by sampling his kale smoothies after class before they head out to one of five high school mobile cafés that serve creative and freshly prepared entrées like the Veggie Brown Rice Bowls with Garlic-Jalapeno Pinto Beans.
Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]