In a country where pizza can be considered a vegetable, french fries are still a school menu staple and chocolate milk is a creditable way to ensure a child gets enough dairy during the school day, it comes as no surprise that we at Red Rabbit field many calls from parents and school officials alike that children “just don’t like vegetables.”
Marketing and legislation tends not to be on the side of veggies, either: of the companies spending the most on lobbying each year, none of them were representing the interests of produce farmers. Industry lobbyists continue to assert that the advertising and marketing of processed, sugar-laden food to young children cannot be proven as a cause of obesity, and moreover, increasing regulations on salt, sugar and fat would be stepping on their First Amendment rights. When the amount of money spent on advertising “junk” foods dwarfs that of vegetables, when Congress is pressured by the dairy and livestock lobbies, again it’s no surprise that children prefer what they are exposed to the most often.
The disproportionate amount of money spent to ensure children get their meat, dairy and nutrient-poor food is one reason why Red Rabbit places an enthusiastic emphasis on eating vegetables! We take great care to provide only fresh produce in our lunches - no canned fruits or veggies from us! - because we know our parents and school partners share our concerns about eating the most nutritionally balanced meals possible.
One of the best ways we can gently introduce more plants into our diets is by hopping aboard the Meatless Mondays bandwagon! Believe it or not, going meatless for one day each week isn’t as 21st century an idea as it might seem: the federal government first started urging citizens to go meatless one day per week as part of an effort to conserve food during World War I. It’s been a recurring theme in the decades since, was reinvigorated in 2003 with the launch of a national campaign coordinated by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Center for a Livable Future, and spiked in popularity and practice when Oprah explored the benefits of a meatless diet on her program, and subsequently instituted Meatless Mondays at her studio’s cafe.
Why Meatless Mondays now? Can forgoing meat one day each week really make a difference in our health?
The consensus is yes, it can. In an MRFIT trial, it was noted in participants following a meatless meal plan that consisted of 4-5 meatless meals per week (approximating an entire day devoted to meatless eating), there was a drop in serum cholesterol of 2.6% and a mean weight loss of 3 lbs during the 3-month duration of the trial. Scientific research credits a balanced, plant-based diet for carrying such benefits as reducing risk for chronic, degenerative disease. This has led to the shift from thinking that a well-balanced, meatless diet would leave people more prone to disease, to the understanding that it in fact can affect quite the opposite - particularly compared to a meat-centered one.
In our meat-heavy, dairy-heavy, junk-food-heavy culture, it can be tough for anyone - let alone kids! - to adjust to a diet that doesn’t include much from those groups. This is why the Meatless Mondays campaign has proven so popular - it’s a great way to create excitement in our kids to consider an alternative way of eating that will only benefit them in the long run.
Letting the kids research and pick their own meatless meals any day of the week (with parental guidance and veto power, of course!) gives them a sense of empowerment and just enough autonomy that it can be something they look forward to doing every week. Our Pinterest boards and Twitter feed all sway meatless because we want to advocate for eating fresh fruits, veggies and whole grains as much as possible, and are a rich resource for families seeking some of the tastiest, easiest meatless recipes out there!
Here are a few easy tips for making sure mealtime favorites are meatless and just as nutritious:
- At breakfast, try fortified soy milk in place of cow's milk in your cereal.
- At lunch, skip the ham sandwich and add nuts to a salad for a nutritionally-balanced lunch.
- At dinner, use beans in place of beef, poultry and fish in popular recipes.
Trying a new meatless recipe every week can be a fantastic conversation starter about how veggies are important and delicious on their own! It all comes down to making fresh produce and whole grains as attractive and desirable as the slick commercials do to make french fries, pizza and sugary snacks look so appealing. Hopefully, learning about meatless eating even for just one day per week will ultimately leave kids wanting to make more educated, healthier choices every day, and - as is Red Rabbit’s aim - on into adulthood!