Meat’s been expelled from New York City schools on Mondays. But the substitute might not be much better.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that all New York City public schools will have Meatless Mondays — meaning that cafeterias would serve only vegetarian meals on the first day of the week — starting this fall. De Blasio debuted the news by proudly digging into a grilled cheese and a pile of baked beans at PS 130 in Kensington, one of the 15 Brooklyn schools that participated in a Meatless Monday pilot program starting in spring 2018. Officials say they were successful in getting kids to actually eat and enjoy the meatless options — which include vegetarian tacos, chili and, yes, grilled cheese — so they decided to expand the program to the rest of the city’s 1,800 schools.
De Blasio and school officials are patting themselves on the back for the move, which they say is good for kids’ and the planet’s health. They point out that using less meat will cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and one in five NYC kindergartners is obese.
But meatless doesn’t always mean better for you, according to health experts.
“There’s a very easy way to be less healthy by going meatless,” says Amy Shapiro, a registered dietitian, and nutritionist based in Noho who has three kids in the NYC public school system. “My kids might get a big pretzel or garlic bread at school — I don’t know where the nutrients are, but I know it’s meatless.”
Robin Barrie, a nutritionist who specializes in kids’ eating, agrees — and doesn’t think de Blasio should look so smug about that cheesy sandwich.
“Grilled cheese as part of a healthy balanced diet is fine,” says Barrie. “But I don’t consider it healthy on its own. The saturated fat in a grilled cheese is almost the same as the saturated fat in red meat.”
Plus, the one-day-a-week shift will have a limited impact if the rest of the week’s menu isn’t nutritious, says Barrie, who has worked with schools, including PS 6 on the Upper East Side, on their menus. At PS 130, where de Blasio announced the plan, vegetarian chili and veggie tacos are on the menu for the next two Mondays, but the following Tuesdays bring hamburgers and cheeseburgers — not exactly a dietary win.
And the kids are savvy to the fact that their “healthy” day goes by quickly. When asked about whether her classmates were annoyed by Meatless Mondays, 14-year-old Ella Rindler of PS 130 told CBS New York, “Some people say, ‘I want my chicken nuggets,’ but they serve that on other days.”
That’s why selling kids on healthy meatless meals is going to be such a challenge for New York City cafeterias, says Emily Burson, founder of California-based school-menu consulting company School Nutrition Plus.
“The [meals] with cheese are the biggest hits because it’s familiar to them,” Burson says. “That’s what they see on kids’ menus at restaurants, which are generally processed food high in fat and sodium. So we’re really fighting against those kids’ menus at restaurants.”
‘Grilled cheese as part of a healthy balanced diet is fine. But I don’t consider it healthy on its own.’
So, sure, kids will chow down on grilled cheese, but “it’s a little harder” to convince kids to eat vegetarian meals that are also legitimately healthy, she says.
Meatless dishes developed by her company generally have a lower success rate when they test them in schools — Burson estimates about half of their meatless dishes are flops among kids, compared to about 75 percent of the dishes with meat in them.
“They don’t want to see big chunks of tofu,” she says. “We have to crumble it up and make it look like meat,” like they did with their “Sloppy Jane” sandwich that has seasoned tofu crumbles instead of the beef of a Sloppy Joe.
And tastier meat substitutes, such as seitan, tend to be expensive for schools, so it may be more cost-effective to rely on alternatives including cheese, which is high in saturated fat and lacks the iron that meat has, and beans. The school district’s menu designers aim to make their meatless program cost-neutral, officials say, and sample menus appear to rely mostly on beans and cheese.
Plus, kids tend to not like trying new things, Burson says. When her company was developing a chili made with walnuts instead of meat and tested the dish on an all-girls middle school, it was a “hard sell,” she says.
“It took getting the most popular girl to try it for the rest of the girls to try it out,” Burson says with a laugh.
Nutritionists, such as Barrie, say that done right, the program’s main benefit will be exposing kids to a greater variety of foods.
“Familiarity breeds liking, so it might take a kid 50 exposures to one food to develop a liking for it,” Barrie says.
But only if it’s done correctly. “It’s pointless if their options are going to be meatless, but white flour- and sat-fat-laden,” she says.
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Join us virtually from ANYWHERE in the world! All you need is an email address, Facebook account, and access to a scale and measuring tape!
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Report your beginning weight and measurements to Robin (instructions will be provided for self-measurement). You can do your own at home or come for a quick visit during Week 1, if you are local to Westport, CT. This will be repeated during the end of Months 1, 2, and 3 (depending on which months you sign up for). **For those of you desiring increased accountability, weekly weigh-ins is also an options.
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I make some version of this sauce at least once a week-it’s really pretty easy and quick. Sometimes I use ground turkey, sometimes chicken and different veggies end up in the pot. Traditional Bolognese often has carrots, mushrooms, red wine, tomato paste, but I often use what I have on hand and what is quickest. This meal is FULL of veggies (think tons of #antioxidants and #fiber .) The #lycopene – great for skin, bone, and heart health – in the tomatoes is made more bioavailable (meaning it works better in the body) by being cooked with olive oil, since it’s fat-soluble.
Tag me if you try and ENJOY!
Don’t forget to make extra for leftovers. The sauce is even better the next day!
1 medium sweet onion chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound ground chicken breast
1 bottle Rao’s Tomato Basil sauce (24-ounce size)
3 cups baby spinach leaves
1 Tbsp oregano
1 tsp chili flakes (or to taste)
1 cup cauliflower rice (I used frozen organic from @traderjoes
1/2 cup steamed broccoli 🥦 (see my blog for the best way to cook!)
- Pour olive oil into large pot/saucepan on medium heat. Sauté onions until they are browned. (I love the caramelized onion flavor so I cook them awhile!)
- Add ground chicken and break apart/cook until all pink is gone and it is just about cooked through (about 4-5 mins if fresh, longer if you start with frozen, which I often do.)
- Add in the sauce.
- Add in spinach and stir until it wilts into the sauce.
- Add oregano and chili flakes to taste.
- Simmer on low for at least 20 minutes ( I sometimes do 30-40 minutes or make earlier in the day then reheat for dinner. This blends all the flavors together and helps develop a richer taste as some of the water evaporates.)
- In a separate pot or pan warm up or cook cauliflower rice. I use olive oil spray so it doesn’t stick. Both fresh and frozen only need 3-5 minutes to cook.
- Steam broccoli. (Recipe on my blog under “Simple Solutions”.)
- Layer sauce and broccoli over cauliflower rice and enjoy! Top with grated Parmesan as desired. (My husband enjoyed his over whole wheat pasta. You can use zoodles too!)
Yield: Serves 8
- 12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries
- 2 medium pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch chunks
- 3/4 cup coconut sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 tablespoons agave
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine cranberries, pears, coconut sugar, water, agave, orange juice, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally until berries start to pop, about 5 minutes. Press berries against side of pan with wooden spoon and continue to cook until berries have broken down and sauce thickens to a jam-like consistency, about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and let cool for 30 minutes. Adjust consistency with water as needed. Stir in crystallized ginger.
Serve immediately or place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Can be served cold or reheated.