Your ears are assaulted by screams. you stumble as someone pushes past you. Finally, you find a spot in line and guard it with your life. Around you, soggy food is sitting under heating lamps - hamburgers, spaghetti, nachos. a brown landscape devoid of fruits or vegetables. You wonder when the horror will end; you're not dreaming you are in the school cafeteria.
According to the CDC, only 9% of high schoolers eat the recommended amount of fruit per day and only 2% eat the recommended amount of vegetables. The schools do enforce the rules by making sure everyone takes one fruit or vegetable. But they never make you eat it - my school has a bin called the “Share Bin” for uneaten unopened food. By the end of the lunch period, it’s brimming with fresh fruit and veggies. There are multiple solutions to this problem, but I think the best solution is to bring fruits and vegetables off the sidelines and make them the main course!
In New York City a program called “Meatless Monday” was introduced to all public schools during the 2019-2020 school year. This program, announced by NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, offers students a fully vegetarian breakfast and lunch. de Blasio said, “Cutting back on meat a little will improve New Yorkers' health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” New York isn’t the only place following this trend, in Washington DC, a food service provider called DC Central Kitchen that makes food for 15 different schools, is experimenting with healthier options, too. They tested 6 different vegetarian main courses at the Walker Jones Education Campus. They added the most popular entrées to the main menu, including chickpea pasta, tofu bites, and veggie burgers.
Eating fruits and vegetables can be really good for your health, according to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Health. Fruits and veggies can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower the risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect on your blood sugar. Adding healthy food to kids’ diets increases their energy and focus in class which can greatly boost their grades. Apart from the health benefits, eating fruits and vegetables can show students the wonder of fresh food and the excitement of growing your own. Feeding kids fresh fruits and veggies even once could inspire a lifetime of healthy eating.
A vegetarian diet is helpful for the planet as well as your health; according to the UN, 18% of all carbon emissions are from livestock. Animals contribute to climate change not only because of the methane they produce but also through the deforestation that occurs to create more room for grazing, half of which is for cattle and sheep. By reducing the amount of meat we eat, we create space that can be used for growing trees and other carbon-reducing plants. Along with meat, food waste is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Excess food can be donated to charity, turned into animal feed, or composted. Door Dash started a program called project DASH; they are using the infrastructure they already have in place to deliver excess food from restaurants to food banks and charities. This system is already in place in cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and San Jose.
By simply teaching our kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, we are taking one small step toward healthier lifestyles and helping the planet in the process. We could live happy lives for years to come and solve the problems of a new generation.