Public school systems seek to keep children safe, healthy, and informed, but most school systems fall short in teaching kids about implementing healthy and environmentally-friendly eating habits. California Governor Gavin Newson wants to change that, approving a $700 million investment to improve cafeteria food service infrastructure with $100 million dedicated to expanding the plant-based and sustainable food options with the help of Impossible Foods, which just launched two new meatless options specifically for students. The additional $600 million will be allocated to compensating workers, increasing food budgets, and upgrading kitchen appliances.

Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian (D-Van Nuys) worked for years to sponsor this bill, a program (AB 588) that will help incentivize California public schools to improve their plant-based infrastructure. Participating public schools will receive reimbursement funding for their efforts in expanding the plant-based and sustainable food offerings.

“I am very excited to see plant-based school meals included in this year’s budget. Having this optional program for schools, in addition to their existing meat and dairy menus, will allow for an inclusive selection for our students,” Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian (D-Van Nuys) said in a statement. “Many school districts across our state have a sizable student population that requires or wants plant-based or restricted diet options and cannot afford the sometimes-higher prices. This year’s budget is a sizable step towards empowering schools to respond to their students’ needs.”

With the new budget, California will become the first state to invest public funds into a plant-based meal program. The budget will allow schools to better cater to plant-based students as well as adapt to other dietary restrictions. This program will give students an opportunity to learn about healthier eating at a younger age.

“A huge thank you to Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian for his persistence in championing the budget proposal to include funding for plant-based school meals and milks,” Founder and President of Social Compassion in Legislation a co-sponsor of AB 558, Judie Mancuso said in a statement. “This has been [a] four-year effort by the Assemblymember, our cosponsoring organizations, and the thousands of supporters throughout California who made their voices heard.”

Impossible Foods is Providing Schools Vegan Options

Soon after California passed this investment, Impossible Foods announced that it would launch new selections developed for school lunch menus. Impossible made the announcement at the School Nutrition Association Annual Conference in Florida this week.

The food tech brand – which acquired Child Nutrition [CN] certification last year for the Impossible Burger and Sausage – unveiled a fully cooked Impossible Burger Patty that can be easily reheated by standard cafeteria kitchen appliances. The kid-friendly patty promises a completely balanced nutritional profile and earned a CN label from the US Department of Agriculture.

In addition, the brand will provide new whole grain Impossible Chicken Nuggets, slated to become available in by the end of 2022. The new plant-based nuggets will contain five more grams of fiber, 13 grams of protein per serving, and 40 percent less saturated fat than conventional chicken nuggets.

Improving the Health of School Children

With new plant-based options, students will be introduced to healthier, more sustainable foods at an earlier age. Most children do not have access to vegan foods with low accessibility and food deserts around the United States. California’s new plant-based investment will provide students that align with ethical choices, sustainability standards, and dietary preferences. For the first time in the United States, a statewide public school system will take measures to fight the climate crisis with sustainable food and education.

“California’s historic investment in plant-based school meals will reduce the carbon footprint of public school food and expand access to healthy, culturally appropriate meals for millions of children,” Deputy Director of Food and Agriculture at Friends of the Earth Kari Hamerschlag said in a statement. “We are enormously grateful to Assemblymembers Nazarian and Kalra, Senator Skinner, and the many other legislators who have championed a school meal program that will build a healthy and just food system for this and future generations.”

Some parents feel reluctant to introduce plant-based eating to their children believing that a vegetarian diet will not provide enough nutrients. Recent research has disproved these myths, finding that vegetarian children are just as healthy as meat-eaters. Other studies have even claimed that a plant-forward diet earlier in life can lower health risks including heart disease more than 30 years later. To ensure that younger children can benefit from plant-based diets, healthy eating habits should be encouraged earlier in life.

“Bringing plant-based meals to schools will help students establish healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime,” President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, another co-sponsor of AB 558, Neal Barnard, MD said in a statement. “Not only do these foods help students stay focused and energized in the classroom today, but they also reduce long-term risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases.”

Plant-Based School Lunches Nationwide

Before California’s statewide plant-based program was signed into law, several smaller-scale campaigns have helped bring plant-based meals to kids nationwide. This February, New York City public schools initiated the “Vegan Fridays” project to help introduce students to healthier, more eco-friendly meal options. Catering to all 1 million students in the NYC public school system, the new program led by vegan Mayor Eric Adams will help provide students with plant-based meals that would otherwise have low access to these foods.

This May, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker technically beat California to the punch. Despite its smaller scale, the governor signed a bill into law that will mandate plant-based school lunches statewide. The bill will not go into effect until August 1, 2023, but the program will provide vegan meals to 2 million students enrolled in the Illinois public school system. The law intends to help provide students with affordable lunch options, guaranteeing that the meal options will meet federal nutrition standards.

Several companies have also started helping provide plant-based alternatives to schools nationwide. Last September, Seattle-based Rebellyous Foods help provide six school districts with vegan chicken nuggets for their menus. MorningStar Farms launched a similar program that teamed up with over 3,000 schools and hospitals to provide meatless Incogmeato burgers to patients and students that otherwise had limited access to plant-based options.

For more plant-based happenings, visit The Beet's News articles

The Top 20 Veggies with the Most Protein

Everyone who contemplates going plant-based has the same question: where do I get my protein? Simple answer: Vegetables! Contrary to the popular belief that you have to eat animal protein to get enough into your diet, one of the best ways to get protein is by eating vegetables. Animals provide protein because they're fed a diet of plants that are high in protein, so if you cut out the middleman -- or middle cow or middle chicken in this case -- you can get the same protein just by going direct-to-the-source.

More From The Beet