There has been a lot of talk about how we should all be eating more plants – something that I wholeheartedly agree with! But much of this message is aimed at adults when in fact, it’s something that applies to the whole family. So when I recently heard that the food awareness organisation ProVeg has launched a campaign called School Plates which aims to get children eating more plants I thought – this is something I could get behind!
Working with schools, local authorities and catering companies, ProVeg UK is calling for five small changes to school menus to increase children’s intake of healthy plant-based foods. Today I have Amy Odene, Campaigns Manager for the project here to talk about why children should be eating more plants:
First off – why should everyone eat more plants?
Why shouldn’t we? There are so many amazing plant based foods to choose from and increasing our fruit and veg intake can only be a good thing. The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation stated that: ‘Research shows that nine or ten servings of fruits and vegetables a day is optimal’. They are an amazing source of vitamins and minerals, fibre and can help to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers. As a plant-based dieter myself I am much more aware of my buying and eating habits and make sure my meals are always contributing to a more healthy balanced diet.
What are the benefits of children and families eating more plants specifically?
The massive thing for me with children is those eating habits, establishing healthier eating patterns and preferences early on in life. The World Health Organisation classes childhood obesity as one of the most serious global health challenges of the 21st century. It says that overweight children are ‘likely to stay obese into adulthood’ and are more likely to develop debilitating and life-threatening conditions as a result.
If we can make small changes to encourage schools to make fruit and vegetables more accessible, more tasty and more readily available, then we can change these eating patterns and make sure we are equipping these students with the information they need about health and nutrition by the time they leave school.
What about at school – are children currently eating enough plants there?
From our research, we would say no. We have done extensive research, across the country, to identify which areas of the country currently have the worst offerings when it comes to plant-based foods. Schools have traditionally meat-heavy menus and aren’t maximising on opportunities to replace meat in dishes with vegetables or legumes. A simple lasagne for example, could be made with chopped up vegetables instead of mince, something that is very high in saturated fat. These simple switches can make a huge difference to the health of the pupils and their perception of food. Not to mention the cost savings… animal produce is some of the most expensive produce we buy, if we can swap meat for vegetables or lentils and the dish still tastes just as good, why wouldn’t we?
I would like to say that we are coming across schools and councils who are making a great deal of effort to train their staff and provide healthy and nutritious meals that are more plant-based, but as the campaign is progressing, we are finding that these are unfortunately in the minority.
Some people thing eating a more plant-based diet is unnatural – what would you say to them?
I would say that we don’t need to consume animal produce to live wholesome, healthy and nutritious lives, so why would we? Research has widely proven that eating a vegan diet is healthy and to me, this is the most natural diet. We can obtain all our bodies need from a plant-based diet and just because something has developed overtime into habit, does not mean it needs to continue into the future.
We live in such an advanced civilisation and moving away form the cave man days of needing to hunt for food are truly over. We can also sustain plant-based food, something we cannot say for the animal agricultural industries as the intensive farming of animals increases, providing devastating consequences on our land and health. I think particularly with children, if you put a child in a room with plant-based food such a fruit or vegetables and a live chicken, there is no way the child would choose to play with the fruit and eat the chicken – to me this is natural.
Can you give some practical examples of how we make some easy swaps to get our children (and us!) eating more plants?
Yes absolutely – I would love to! I myself have a 2 year old and she is absolutely thriving on her plant-based diet which she has consumed since birth. A great example would be Shepherd’s Pie. Replacing beef, pork or lamb mince with soy mince or dried red lentils will save money and reduce your intake of saturated fat. Vegetarian and vegan alternatives are also flying into local supermarkets and so plant-based sausages, burgers and nuggets are making eating plant-based even more accessible.
I would also suggest starting with the vegetables first, so if you fancy pasta or pizza, just thinking initially, what are my favourite vegetables. You could make a mushroom and broccoli bake, vegetable pizza, fajitas, korma and simply replace the meat element with your favourite veggies. Soon enough they become the focus of the meal and while meat would have previous taken precedence, the vegetables take its place.
What are your top tips for eating more plants?
I would say to really consider the meals you are eating and if they need to contain meat. It is so often that we prioritise meat as the main event and it simply doesn’t need to be the case. I would also invest in some quick and easy recipe books that provide simple and quick switches to your traditional dishes. Be creative – try out new vegetables or recipes that you haven’t had before.
I am without a doubt eating the best food of my life because I have invested a bit more time and energy into being excited about cooking and the meals I could create that don’t include meat. At ProVeg, we are all about giving practical advice to those wishing to try plant-based and so following our social channels could give you some insight into how to increase your intake of plant-based foods.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to add that it has never been easier to make the switch. Plant-based foods and recipes are so readily available that there really is no excuse not to give it a go! It is an amazing opportunity to make sure our children establish those long term healthy eating patterns and grow into adulthood with the knowledge and skills to make informed choices about their diets and nutrition.
There is also another element to the School Plates campaign which are worth mentioning. The animal agricultural industries are responsible for the largest percentage of emissions in the world, more than that of all of the worlds transport combined. If you want to make a real impact and reduce your impact on this wonderful planet, then going plant-based is the single biggest impact you can have.
There really are no negatives – improve our health, decrease our impact on the environment, improve the health of our children, save money, spare animal suffering and never sacrifice taste – what’s not to love!
ProVeg UK is currently looking for more schools, teachers, parents, local authorities and catering companies interested in taking part in the School Plates campaign. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to get involved.
Is encouraging our children to eat more plants something you could get behind? Do leave a comment and share.
Picture credit: Designed by Freepik