Steering clear of chronic diseases: how to create healthier school menus
February 2, 2024
We’re all familiar with the term “plant-based” by now. As more research continues to emerge on the health and environmental benefits of plant-powered diets, more and more people across the globe are reducing their consumption of animal products. In our recent blog, we explained how plant-based meals can promote better health in school children as well. The earlier we encourage children to make smarter food choices, the more benefits they will reap in the long-term. This is why it’s important our school menus are as healthy and sustainable as possible.
While there is far greater awareness of healthy eating in UK schools than there was 20 years ago, there are more steps we can take to promote better food choices in schools. For instance, did you know that some meats are classed as carcinogenic, linked directly to several types of cancer? Alternatively, many plant-based foods are scientifically-proven to reduce the risk of developing cancer. That’s why it’s so important that we include more plant-based options on school menus and promote healthier eating habits from an early age.
Red meat: is it healthy?
Beef, pork and other red meats are listed as a Group 2A Carcinogen by the World Health Organisation, meaning they are probable causes of cancer. Several studies have linked high consumption of red meat to the development of colorectal cancers. Even the NHS recommends that those who eat lots of red or processed meats cut back to reduce their risk of contracting bowel cancer.
While red meats contain some essential nutrients like vitamin B12 and iron, it’s important to remember that you can get these nutrients from more healthier sources that also have a much smaller carbon footprint. Plant-based foods like lentils and spinach are rich in iron, while you find vitamin B12 supplements in most health food stores.
Sausages and cigarettes
Processed meats like sausages, bacon and pepperoni are linked to a range of chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease. They’re listed as Group 1 carcinogens, with multiple studies confirming these foods as definite causes of cancer. For context, other Group 1 carcinogens include asbestos, alcohol and tobacco, so it’s important to consider the impacts these foods may have on our bodies, particularly for children.
There are plenty of plant-based alternatives to processed meats that have not been shown to cause cancer. In fact, multiple studies state that plant-based foods can actually reduce your risk of developing cancer, as well as other chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. We’ve got some wonderful recipes designed especially for school children that can replace processed meats in meals. You can get the recipes below.
- Planet-friendly cheese burger (ve)
- Spaghetti with homemade plant-powered balls (ve)
- Toad-in-the-hole (ve)
- Smoky sausage and mushroom goulash (ve)
Are all processed foods unhealthy?
Processed foods have a bad reputation, although it’s not always warranted. While many “ultra-processed” foods like chicken nuggets and burgers can lead to health complications, other ‘processed’ foods like tofu and tinned tomatoes can add nutritional value to our diets. Tofu is one of the most nutrient-dense sources of protein available on a plant-based diet, yet it is classed as a processed food.
It’s important to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy processed foods. Take a look at the diagram below to give you a better idea of just how many foods are classed as ‘processed’.
A plant-forward solution
By increasing the amount of nutritious plant-based offerings on school menus, caterers can protect children’s health and the health of our planet simultaneously. ProVeg UK’s plant-based school meals contain, on average, 87% less saturated fat than meat-based school dinners and more than double the fibre content. Plant-based school meals also have a far smaller carbon footprint, and are much more affordable than animal-based dishes.
As we strive to create food systems that benefit people and the planet, we cannot ignore the value of plant-based meals. If you are a school caterer looking for more advice or training on plant-based food, please get in touch with our team at [email protected] for more information.