Feeding a million students who are enrolled in New York City public schools is a tough job, especially when you consider that one-in-four children across the five boroughs is facing food insecurity. Enter Rachel Ray, TV chef and talk show personality, to bring awareness and promote plant-based meals to help alleviate the situation. It's the lates step by the city and Mayor Eric Adams, a self-defined vegan, to help make New York the healthiest city in the nation.

This week, New York City announced its first-ever Chefs Council –– an initiative devoted to providing freshly cooked, plant-based, and culturally relevant recipes for the city's school systems. The Chef Council is led by celebrity chef Rachel Ray, who will help the organization provide training for chefs of the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services (OFNS).

Celebrity chefs, food activists, and culinary industry professionals will join Ray in assisting the Chefs Council's mission. The nutrition-inspired program was created in partnership with Wellness in the Schools (WITS), an organization dedicated to improving nutrition standards and education in school districts. The Chefs Council aims to test 100 plant-based recipes across New York City during the 2022-2023 school year.

“Teaching students at a young age to eat healthy, nutritious meals is critical to setting them up for success,” Eric Adams, NYC Mayor said in a statement. “The new Chefs Council will develop delicious, nutritious, culturally relevant meals for schools with direct input from students and parents. Through this partnership with WITS and our tremendous staff of school food workers, we will take school meals to the next level.”

The initiative aims to perfect the recipes based on student and parent feedback over the next year. Subsequently, the chef-based program will begin implementing the recipes at all public school locations across the five boroughs.

Several major faces in the food world will assist Ray on the Chefs Council including celebrity chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson, chef Anita Lo, television personality Grace Ramirez, and Anthony T. Solano, founder of the Afro-Latino vegan restaurant ZoJu.

"Healthy and nourishing meals are essential in ensuring our students can succeed both inside and outside the classroom," Schools Chancellor David Banks said. "This initiative will help to expand our menus while making sure they follow our strict health standards and are reflective of the cultures and communities we serve."

Healthy School Lunch and “Vegan Fridays”

This year, WITS meal programs have already assisted over 86,000 students in 200 schools nationwide. Currently, New York City schools have partnered with WITS at 38 schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx.

“As the parent of two elementary school children, I know firsthand that providing healthier food choices is only half the battle,” Kate MacKenzie, executive director, Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, said in a statement. “Convincing [children] to try something new is the real challenge, and I look forward to student feedback on the new recipes this incredible group of chefs will be cooking up,”

Mayor Adams consistently advocates for a healthy, mostly plant-based future for New York City, especially when discussing younger generations. In 2019, the plant-based politician worked with former NYC mayor Bill de Blasio to launch the Meatless Mondays program at 1,700 NYC public schools.

This February, Adams extended this policy once he was elected mayor, establishing the "Vegan Fridays" project. The plant-based meal program provides vegan meals to every NYC public school system student with healthy, plant-based meals every Friday.

Eric Adams’ (Mostly) Vegan Administration

This week, Eric Adams and New York City Health + Hospitals (H+H) CEO Dr. Mitchell H. Katz announced that plant-based meals are now the primary dinner options for inpatients at H+H/Lincoln, Metropolitan, and Woodhull Hospitals. The dinner program follows the successful launch of the plant-based lunch program, which holds a 95 percent satisfaction rate.

“When it comes to preventing diet-related chronic disease, there is a growing recognition that it’s not our DNA – it’s our dinner,” Adams said. “Since January, we have introduced Plant-Powered Fridays into schools, introduced fresh produce into the nation’s only municipal emergency food system, and expanded Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Clinics to public hospitals across all five boroughs. Now, we are proud to announce the successful rollout and expansion of default plant-based lunch and dinner options at all H+H sites.

"This transformative program is already changing lives, empowering patients to take control of their own health and further cementing New York City as a leader in preventive medicine.”

Adams teamed up with the JIVINTI coalition in 2021 to implore the Biden-Harris Administration present plant-based solutions to racial and financial disparities nationwide. He advocates that the federal government must take action to tackle food deserts and replace them with “food oases.” The mayor frequently voices how plant-based programs can help fight food insecurity nationwide. This week, President Joe Biden hosted the first-ever White House conference on nutrition and food security

Despite his consistent plant-based advocacy, Adams faced controversy when he admitted ate fish in February. He claims that "changing to a plant-based diet saved my life, and I aspire to be plant-based 100 percent of the time," but occasionally he is "imperfect."

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

The 13 Best Foods to Boost Your Immune System to Fight Off COVID-19 Symptoms

Here are the best foods to eat on repeat, to boost immunity and fight inflammation. And stay off the red meat.

More From The Beet