Tag Archives: healthy eating

There will be a (vegan) revolution in the new year … and … 3 so-easy veggie pasta dishes by Chef Joey

By Heather Moore

It’s time for a vegan revolution!

I mean … resolution. Each new year, countless people resolve to lose weight and eat healthfully, but many find themselves no thinner—or healthier—in July than they were in January. Perhaps this year, everyone should put some stock in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ (AND) new position paper on vegetarian and vegan eating and resolve to ditch meat, eggs and dairy foods.

The updated AND paper, which was published in December, confirms that wholesome vegan foods “are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” It specifically points out that people who eat plant-based meals are less likely to suffer from obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.

According to the authors, people who go vegan reduce their risk of developing diabetes by a whopping 62 percent, of being hospitalized for a heart attack by 33 percent, of suffering from heart disease by 29 percent and of succumbing to any form of cancer by 18 percent. Men can reduce their chance of developing prostate cancer by 35 percent just by eating vegan.

And in case you weren’t listening the first time they said it, the AND reiterated its assertion that a vegan lifestyle is suitable—even beneficial—for everyone, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, babies, children, adults, athletes and your third cousin, twice removed.

And that’s not to mention anyone who professes to care about animals or the environment.

The report even includes information on the environmental aspects of eating vegan. Susan Levin, one of the report’s authors, acknowledges that the AND’s expertise is in nutrition but says that it’s impossible to ignore the evidence proving that plant-based foods are better for the planet. Research has shown that if everyone ate a plant-based diet, it would cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent and save 8 million human lives by 2050.

Going vegan spares countless animals, too, so it’s the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint. And not to sound like a teenager, but everyone is doing it. According to a Harris Interactive study, there are nearly 4 million adult vegans in the U.S. alone (and even more vegetarians). More and more companies now offer plant-based options in order to meet the growing demand. Ben & Jerry’s, for example, introduced four vegan ice cream flavors in 2016, and Unilever, maker of Hellmann’s and Best Foods, recently introduced its own nondairy mayo spread—after previously suing another company that makes vegan mayonnaise for alleged false advertising, because it argued at the time that mayonnaise must contain eggs.

In late 2016, Tyson Foods, Inc.—the largest U.S. meat company by sales—invested in Beyond Meat, a company that makes vegan meats. It was a smart move: The vegan-meat market is projected to reach $5.2 billion globally by 2020.

So, yeah, I guess a vegan revolution is taking place—an innovative one at that. A few months ago, a meat-free gastropub opened in Miami, and the city is getting a vegan butcher in early 2017. It won’t even be the nation’s first—The Herbivorous Butcher opened in Minneapolis in January 2016. A popular Mexican restaurant in Dallas made news when it switched to serving all-vegan fare, and North Dakota recently got its first vegan restaurant.

Out with the old and in with the new, as they say. If you want to turn over a new leaf, resolve to go vegan in 2017. And if you need help—and extra inspiration—check out Jackie Day’s new book, The Vegan Way. It includes 21 days’ worth of tips and encouragement that will help you be a happy, healthy vegan.

“recipes,” photos and cutlines by Chef Joey

Three vegetarian pasta dishes

Butter and mushrooms on spinach pasta

Tomatoes and mushrooms on spinach pasta

Butter, mushrooms and sage on gluten-free noodles

Worcester Public Schools offering FREE lunches and breakfasts to all students! … and Chef Joey: healthy bagged school lunches in a snap!


Your Child Can Eat Breakfast and Lunch for FREE at the Worcester Public Schools!!

Q. & A.

As part of the 2010 Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act, Worcester, along with other districts, will begin offering free meals to all students this school year. For parents, that means no more forms to fill out, no online meal account to remember, no last minute scramble for change before the bus, and no more lunchboxes to pack. All students can eat for free!

What do we need to do to get a breakfast or lunch at school?

For those schools that are providing breakfast directly in the classroom, your child can simply take the breakfast items that are offered. For other schools, the child can simply go to the cafeteria in the morning and eat breakfast. For lunch at the elementary level, classroom teachers will ask students if they wish to have a school lunch that day, and they’ll send the counts to the cafeteria so enough meals can be prepared. At secondary schools, the student can simply enter the lunch line and take a meal. All students will still need to have their meals recorded at the register.

What is served at breakfast and lunch? What are my child’s choices?

During breakfast we offer two grains (or one grain and one protein), two fruits, and a milk. All your child needs to do is take at least 3 menu items (with one being a fruit) to be considered a free meal. During lunch we serve a grain, protein, vegetable, fruit, and milk. All your child needs to do is take at least 3 different items offered (one being a fruit or a vegetable) to be considered a free meal. Check the newspaper or our website for daily meal choices.

What if my child only wants a milk or a single item?

We are only reimbursed by the USDA for complete meals. If you child only wants a milk or a single menu items then those items are available for cash purchase on an individual basis; for example, milk costs 50 cents. In order to be free, your child must take a complete meal consisting of three different items (one being a fruit or vegetable).

What does a school meal look like today?

We provide fresh fruits and vegetables every day at every meal; we serve only whole-grain breads, low fat and fat free milk, minimally processed foods; and we use locally sourced food whenever available. We never serve fried foods. We provide salad and vegetarian offerings at the middle and high schools. We have been state and nationally recognized for our farm-to-school program and menu offerings. We recently hired a professional chef to continuously improve and expand the menu options for students.

What if I still have money on account?

All students with money remaining in their account will be sent a form for a full refund; you may however keep the funds on account for the purchase of individual items.


Your building principal or your school’s Nutrition Manager are a great start. You can also contact the Worcester Public Schools Child Nutrition Office at 508-799-3132 or email us at WPSNutrition@worc.k12.ma.us. Your feedback is always welcome!

For more information please visit http://worcesterschools.org/school-nutrition.


ICT_Yum Yums-edited
Chef Joey is in France where they serve INCREDIBLE SCHOOL LUNCHES to ALL their students!

Always include a yummy fruit in your kid’s lunch sack!  (pic – R.T.)


By Chef Joey

Well, it’s that time of year again, sort of like January 2, when students are off their winter break and parents are jumping for joy.  Yes, the anticipated “Back to School” and all those pencil and clothes ads.  The mumbles of “we used to go back in September” and “why August?” are heard among the crowds.  It does not really matter the start date because the length of the school term is the same.

So we know that Education has been around for years. During the early beginnings the settlers would designate someone to teach but it was all focused more on the survival techniques. It wasn’t until after the American Revolution, between 1750 and 1870, that parochial schools appeared; thanks to the efforts by parishes. Generally, these “parochial” schools were just for the elementary grades.  Open to all children in the parish, being of course mainly Catholics, but also Lutherans, Calvinists and Orthodox Jews. “Nonsectarian Common schools”  started opening  thanks to the former Massachusetts Sate Rep Horace Mann.  His basis for school  was: “universal public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens.” The principle was to teach the 3 “R’s”:  Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic, but with a side serving of geography and history.

The first American Normal school began in 1823. Reverend Samuel Read Hall founded the first one named the “Columbian School” in New England, of course,  located in Concord, Vermont.  Its purpose was to to improve the quality of common schools by creating qualified teachers.

Massachusetts was the first state to pass a law making education mandatory in 1852.

It wasn’t until 1917, in Mississippi, that  a second state passed a similar law!

In the 1890’s, high schools were starting to emerge, and, by 1910, more than three quarters of American children were in schools.  During this time is when was the proving ground was established, thanks to the teacher accreditation and creating standards for exams and course requirements that are still prevalent today.

Moving closer to 1930, there was 100% enrollment in schools, except for disabled or medically challenged children.  Then there was a plunge due to World War II.

Post-WW II is where the food aspect of schools came in to play.  The National School Lunch Act was created in 1946 to provided low-cost or free school lunches to students via subsidies for the “full stomach” idea.

The tragic part about all this was in some states, this was not offered to African Americans, and they were literally banned from the lunch programs!

It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that things started to change – great strides.  We are fortunate enough to have coalitions for just about everyone/everything, but we still as educated adults tend to fight the road to the future … but that’s another article.

School lunches have come full circle to nutritious well-balanced and ethnic pleasing menus.  But there are still those who like to bring their own lunches, and in today’s world of ready-to-go food, lunches are a breeze to put together.

Here are a few ideas to spruce up your child’s lunch:

Cold Pizza – wrapped in foil it warms up by lunch time and who doesn’t like cold pizza?

No pizza? Pizza wraps!

Fast and easy and you can add all kinds of toppings!

Take 2 tortilla wraps and spray with vegetable spray on both sides and place on a cookie sheet.

Place in preheated 400 degree oven, toast for 5 minutes; remove and top with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and whatever else you want: olives, peppers, pepperoni etc. Put back in the oven and bake 5-8 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly.

Remove from oven and, using a spatula, flip over each side making an envelope of sorts. Let cool, wrap in foil and refrigerate.

Place in fridge and place in the lunch bag the next day. Easy to make, inexpensive and fun to eat.

Hummus Lunch! Lots of protein!

Veggie sticks and some fresh fruit – buy a small container of hummus , carrots and celery, and a small bag with fruit for dessert, cherries, plums apples  – Yummy and Fun!

Yoghurts are a great protein and don’t necessarily need to be refrigerated,.as it is already cultured. Two containers is plenty of protein and with the fruit, it’s like a dessert!

Try and stay away from pre-processed meats and lunches – the sodium alone is brutal!

Get back to basics with salads with berries, nuts, citrus slices and cheeses, chick peas, or beans for protein once a week  to break it up!

You know your child better than anyone – take their favorite foods and make them portable!

Wanna lose the fat? Feel healthier? Go veggie! Within a year you’ll lose 20 pounds – without even trying!

And you’ll be oh so proud of yourself knowing you’re not part of the factory farm hell where animals live in tortuous conditions, before being slaughtered. Why kill all those animals just to clog up your arteries and raise your cholesterol level? Why induce all that SUFFERING when there are so many protein-rich foods to put on your plate?!

Here’s a two-week veggie starter plan for you! Click on the days of the week in the blue bars and the blue words to see the yummy recipes and learn more!

And if you can’t make a 100% commitment, CUT BACK on your meat/ poultry consumption!  Every good deed counts/saves an animal!


– R. T.


Two-Week Vegan Meal Plan

Do you consider yourself “culinarily challenged”? Well, no worries! Our Two-Week Sample Vegan Menus below are designed for new vegans who are not sure what to eat and for longtime vegans who are looking to shake up their current diet and try something new. The recommendations focus on two types of dishes: easy-to-prepare meals with a balance of fresh ingredients and tasty heat-and-serve options.

Week 1



Oatmeal with walnuts and raisins (most commercial oatmeal is vegan)
Fresh fruit


Avocado Reuben
Sumptuous Spinach Salad With Orange-Sesame Dressing


Tofu-Spinach Lasagne
Fresh tossed salad







Week 2

Print the Two-Week Sample Vegan Menus.

Want more options? Check out these resources from PETA:

How to Go Vegan

Accidentally Vegan

Our Favorite Products

Making the Transition



Try these delicious vegan options or check out our shopping guide for other great suggestions.


I love cheesecake! How about you?!

Some heavenly vegan cheesecake recipes for you! From PETA.ORG.  Click on the blue to see recipes! – R.T.

Don’t let the “cheese” in the word “cheesecake” fool you. These 10 cheesecakes are dairy-free and better than traditional cheesecakes. Vegan cheesecakes come in many variations, such as gluten-free, raw, no-bake, and more. Check out these recipes to find your favorite:

1. White-Chocolate Lemon Cheesecake

This white-chocolate cheesecake has a touch of lemon flavoring. It’s also gluten-free.

2. Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake Slice from Above

This cheesecake uses vegan cream cheese as the filling to get that perfect cheesecake consistency.

3. Orange Chocolate Cheesecake

Orange extract gives this decadent chocolate cheesecake a citrusy, tropical flavor.

4. Cookie Cheesecake Cupcakes

cookie cheesecakes peta2

COOKIE cheesecake—two desserts combined in one! Do I really need to say more?

5. Cinnamon Swirl Cheesecake

This beautiful cheesecake is super-easy to make and tastes superb, thanks to an extra ingredient: applesauce.

6. Strawberry Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake

This beautiful red, white, and blue cheesecake isn’t just pretty to look at—it tastes delish, too. Use raw tahini to make it raw.

7. Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

My two favorite things, chocolate and peanut butter, are brought together to create this delicious no-bake cheesecake.

8. Key Lime Cheesecake

You can’t go wrong with this classic cheesecake flavor. Substitute agave nectar for coconut sugar to make this cheesecake 100 percent raw.

9. Blueberry Cheesecake

blueberry cheesecake vegan richa

From Mass Farm to School …

Submit your Recipe for Farm to School Success!

Do you have a great idea for farm to school success?

We want to hear it!

Mass. Farm to School is excited to announce the Farm to School Recipe for Success contest. 

The contest is sponsored by Northeast Regional Steering Committee of the National Farm to School Network and is designed to find and share the most innovative projects and ideas in Northeast Farm to School programs. We’re not looking for cooking recipes, but for great activities, lessons, strategies and projects that improve food and farm education, school meal programs, farm to school connections and more.

Enter your recipe by March 2 for a chance at $500 in cash prizes, free registrations to the Northeast Farm to Institution Summit, and a chance to present and share your great work.

CLICK HERE for more information! 



The Farm to Institution Summit is a first-year conference that will bring together leaders from the Northeast who are working to get more local and regional food into schools, colleges, health care and other institutions.

Please join us — and up to 800 other farm to institution advocates — for three exciting days of learning, sharing, exploring and connecting.

The Farm to Institution Summit will be held at UMass Amherst in Amherst, Massachusetts on April 7-9, 2015. Learn more and register at www.farmtoinstitution.org/summit.

The Summit is hosted by Farm to Institution New England in collaboration with the National Farm to School Network, Health Care Without Harm, Farm to Institution New York State and other partners.

Scholarships available!  Scholarship applications will be accepted until March 2.

Please visit the conference website as they add more info about the programming — keynotes, workshop descriptions, and more: www.farmtoinstitution.org/summit.

InCity Yum Yums: Christmas cookin’!

CAM00454Chef Joey: a self-taught chef, with years in the culinary biz, wants to get us all cooking healthy and tasty  – for not a lot of “dough”!

By Chef Joey

Holiday! Celebrate! Madonna had us singing that tune, but let’s face it: holidays can be stressful! Who came up with the idea that we had to buy gifts for everyone AND entertain, making a dent in our savings?

When I was a kid, my mother used to tell us: “When Christmas came we got an orange.” Well, it was World War II, and they did move all the way from Europe … . But I was a kid and the neighbors had virtual Egyptian pyramids of gifts!!  So the point was not coming across!  My cousins and I would discuss the various items we received that were all going to be items we would use during the year: pajamas, stationery, pens – you get the point.

However, my mother did take us out shopping after Christmas and bought us things that were on sale.  She was all about the spirit of the holiday season, NOT the commercialization that starts in October with decorated pine trees in mega superstores.  

As I got older, I realized she was a forerunner for my frugal view of the holidays, so I stopped buying gifts for adults.  Instead, I started making donations to food banks, homeless shelters, and I requested letters for the donations and I handed them out as gifts.  It helps the community and eliminated the need to re-gift or become a closet hoarder!

Little kids, on the other hand, are the exception. And college-bound youths get the necessary items that I received, and those with a driver’s license get gas cards.

Now that I explained the gifting part – there is the food! In my last column I explained how to make nutritious and delicious meals for a low cost.  Like the guy in poltergeist, “I’m BAAAAACK!” 

Turkey is a staple for the holidays, and it is affordable: usually on sale for $.89 to $1.50 a pound.  To quote Nike “Just do it!”  Pork roasts are also a great way to go and are often less than $2 a pound.

Veggies … Load up on your vegetables and you will have a sure fire holiday.  feeding up to 20 people for less than $50.  Price it out: a 20 pound turkey at $.99 is $10.  Butternut squash unpeeled is $.99 a pound. Roughly you’ll need 5 pounds so we are at $15 now. A 10 pound bag of potatoes is $3.99 so we are at $19. Add another veggie – and go frozen here – lots of nutrition – and it is already clean. Store brands are packaged by major companies and usually the store brand is $2 a bag so let’s get 4.  Now we hit the $27 mark and we have $23 to go.

Dessert comes to mind … I am going to give you a cake recipe that costs under $2 that you will pass down for generations to your family.  You will never buy a cake mix again!

The other recipe is a rub you can use on your roasts that seal in the juices and makes your meal perfect.

The cake recipe is so simple:

2 ½ cups sifted flour

2 cups sifted sugar

2 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

Mix together – it will be kind of like a paste.  Add ½ teaspoon of salt,  2 teaspoons of vanilla and sprinkle 2 teaspoons of baking POWDER on top.

Now add ¼ teaspoon of baking SODA and pour 2 cups of HOT WATER on top,  and the foaming begins.

Whisk together until it all comes to a creamy consistency with no lumps.

Pour into either two 9” cake pans or a rectangle sheet pan that is greased, floured and has a greased and floured wax or parchment paper lining in it.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes –  depending on your oven, test with a toothpick for doneness.

When done, let cool slightly. Take it out of the pan and when it is cool – cover it in whipped cream.

This is your $2.59 cake topping: Get a pint of heavy or whipping cream. Whip it up, add vanilla and a couple tablespoons of sugar … and there you have it!  Fewer calories than frosting and nature’s goodness.

To add dimension to your cake, you can add 6 tablespoons of cocoa to the dry flour when sifting  for chocolate cake … or ¼ cup orange juice and reduce water to 1 ¾ cup and add zested orange to your cake – or add lemon or lime or even coconut – your choices are endless!

Now that rub

¼ -1/2 cup brown sugar or regular sugar

depending on the size of your roast, 1 cup oil

pinch of salt

¼ cup parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Rub your ROOM-TEMPERATURE roast and there you have it!

No matter what your holiday traditions, have a safe, healthy and delicious holiday season!

Upcoming food events … including the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit, May 21, in our lovely Worcester!

We hope to see you at one of these upcoming events!

Project Bread’s The Walk for Hunger, May 4, Boston. Join us (and thousands of others) in this fantastic event to raise awareness and money to end hunger in Massachusetts.

MASBO (Mass. Assn. of School Business Officials) Annual Institute  May 14-16, Brewster. Mass. Farm to School’s Simca Horwitz will present to school administrators about the opportunities and challenges of instituting or growing farm to school programs.

Plant Something MA, May 15. Massachusetts cities and towns are invited to Plant Something together on this day sponsored by the Mass. Flower Grower’s Assn. and Mass. Nursery and Landscape Assn.

Farm 2 School/PreSchool: Raising the Stakes, May 20, Canterbury, NH. Join NH Farm to School at Canterbury Shaker Village for a day-long conference featuring workshops on everything from procurement to composting, school gardens, and grant writing.

Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit, May 21, WorcesterSpace is still available at this annual gathering of school nutrition directors, managers, and business managers from across the Commonwealth sponsored by MDESE, in cooperation with the John C. Stalker Institute and SNA Mass.  Get a jump on new school food regulations for the 2014-2015 school year and more!

Revisioning Sustainability Conference, June 22-25, UMass Amherst.Make a difference on your campus and in your community!  Share ideas and learn from leaders from all corners of the food sustainability universe.

SNA National Conference July 13 – 16, Boston. Save the date, thenational gathering of School Nutrition Association members is coming to our state.


Harvest of the Month – 6 month success! News from Farm to School!!!

Even as the streets of Boston were covered in winter’s snow and ice, students at Boston University were enjoying farm fresh foods thanks to the creative chefs at BU Dining andHarvest of the Month, an initiative of Mass. Farm to School. Harvest of the Month is a statewide local foods campaign encouraging schools and other institutions in the Commonwealth to feature a different locally grown crop on their cafeteria menus each month.

This was the pilot year of Harvest of the Month, which ran from September 2013 through February 2014. Mass. Farm to School supported 117 public school districts, plus 11 independent schools and 9 universities in implementing the program this school year.  Participating institutions committed to locally sourcing and menuing the featured crop at least twice during the month.  Mass. Farm to School provided promotional materials and resources to link the cafeteria meals to other areas of the school, such as the classroom and school garden, with activities and local food, nutrition, and farming curriculum.  Mass. Farm to School also shared recipes for use in school meals and at home.

Featured local foods were chosen carefully, keeping in mind their nutritional value, tastiness, availability, volume required to serve so many eaters, and for flexibility in school meals.  Some, like apples and tomatoes are familiar to just about everyone, while others were less familiar, especially to young students. (Kale salad for school lunch? Why not!).

Read more…

Partnerships make it work
A few Harvest of the Month participants were surprised to see carrots as the featured crop in February.  Carrots are a good storage crop, meaning that they can be kept fresh long after the fall harvest.  And, thanks to an innovative program of the Greenfield, MA-based Western Mass. Food Processing Center, chefs aren’t limited by the short New England growing season.  The Food Processing Center freezes locally grown crops at the peak of the season for use in institutional kitchens year-round.  The Processing Center and Mass. Farm to School work together to make sure that school food chefs across the state can access this unique local product.

The Western Mass. Processing Center froze almost 5000 pounds of locally grown vegetables in 2013 and has plans for expansion in 2014.  “We are creating a year-round market for Massachusetts farmers and helping shorten the distance that food travels from field to plate no matter what time of year,” noted Food Processing Center Director, John Waite.  Food service management company Chartwells, purchased 1,820 pounds of frozen carrots for its 60 Massachusetts K-12 schools.  Anther 2,140 pounds went to 71 Chartwells schools in RI, CT, NY, and NH.

Click here to read Harvest of the Month stories from Boston University and Farmington River Regional School in Otis.

Good news for those looking for more Harvest of the Month!

Harvest of the Month is part of a broader strategy to get kids eating healthier foods all while supporting local farmers.  Michael DeChiara, Executive Director of Mass. Farm to School explains, “Harvest of the Month is a tool for celebrating healthy foods and the dedicated farmers in Massachusetts who are committed to nourishing our communities.  When young people know where there food comes from, they are more willing to try new foods and develop healthy eating habits.  Harvest of the Month is helping cultivate the next generation of local foods enthusiasts who will ensure that Massachusetts agriculture continues to thrive.”

Mass. Farm to School plans to expand Harvest of the Month to a 12-month program beginning in September 2014, allowing students across the state to experience the delicious bounty and diversity of Massachusetts agriculture in every season.  Stay tuned for registration information coming this spring.


In Other News

Kudos! Mass. Farm to School’s Worcester Kindergarten Initiative program is receiving Community Harvest Project’s Educational Partner Award.  The award will be given at an event at the CHP farm later in April.

Wholesale Success workshop wrap up. Mass. Farm to School, along with
the Western MA Food Processing Center and Farm to Institution New England recently hosted a workshop for New England farmers interested in selling to the wholesale market.  The workshop was funded by the USDA and the “Wholesale Success” curriculum was provided by trainer Atina Diffley of FamilyFarmed.org, a national organization committed to expanding the production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food.  In addition to the workshop, at lunch, the 47 growers networked with representatives from 9 wholesale distribution and purchasing companies serving the region.  We were happy to be a part of this farm business and food safety training, and to provide an engaging opportunity for business relationships to develop. The feedback we received has encouraged us to host more events like this in the future


More on school lunches …

Food for thought about school lunches

By Heather Moore

Each new school year, it seems, brings another school-lunch controversy. What will it be this year? Last year, it was “pink slime,” the bright pink ammonia-treated meat that was deemed a “high-risk product” by scientists and rejected by fast-food restaurants. Schools can still serve it, though. That’s not exactly surprising when you consider that schools are also permitted to serve irradiated meat and count pizza as a vegetable if it contains at least two tablespoons of tomato paste.

I wonder whether government officials have plans to classify cherry soda and strawberry-glazed donuts as fruit, too. Seriously, it’s not the “lunch ladies” that kids should be afraid of-it’s the mystery meats and other unappetizing, and potentially harmful, fare that passes as lunch in many school cafeterias.

Canned tuna remains on the menu in many schools, even though a 2012 Mercury Policy Project report indicates that it may contain unsafe mercury levels. Many other cafeteria staples, including the aforementioned mystery meats as well as chicken nuggets and cheese-pizza boats, are high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Kids may like Gummy Boogers and candy bugs, but that doesn’t mean that schools should serve gross, unhealthy foods. They can best help keep our kids lean and healthy by serving them vegan meals and teaching them why it’s important to eat plant-based foods.

Vegan foods are cholesterol-free and generally low in saturated fat and calories. Many are packed with protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates and other essential nutrients. Children who eat plant-based foods rather than animal-derived ones are less likely to develop weight problems, diabetes and cancer. According to the American Heart Association, there is evidence that atherosclerosis-hardening of the arteries-begins in childhood and progresses into adulthood, at which point it leads to coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

Although we can’t expect young children to understand the ABCs of heart disease or the complex role of cancer-fighting antioxidants, we can teach them that meat, eggs and dairy products contribute to serious health problems, while plant foods help prevent-and sometimes even reverse-them.

Unfortunately, according to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, elementary-school students in the U.S. receive only about 3.4 hours of food education every year.

The good news is that some organizations are working to change this situation. The Sustainable Food Center in Austin, Texas, for example, has a farm-to-school program, Sprouting Healthy Kids, that helps school-lunch administrators obtain seasonal, locally grown produce. The center offers classroom lessons to introduce students to healthy food and an after-school gardening and cooking program. Katchkie Farm, an organic vegetable farm in Kinderhook, N.Y., also offers after-school programs to teach students how to cook simple plant-based meals.

In May, the Active Learning Elementary School in Queens, N.Y., became the first all-vegetarian school in the nation, and hundreds of public schools across the country now observe “Meatless Mondays.”

Several public schools, including those in Pinellas County, Fla.; Howard County, Md.; Knox County, Tenn.; Omaha, Neb.; and Atlanta, scored high marks on the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s 2012 School Lunch Report Card for regularly serving healthy plant-based dishes, such as vegetarian chili and pasta e fagioli.

Not every school in every state has healthful options, but parents can still help their kids develop a taste for wholesome foods by packing them tasty vegan lunches, featuring kid-friendly favorites, such as peanut, almond or cashew butter; apple slices or bananas; hummus; a thermos full of vegetable or faux-chicken noodle soup; or Tofurky and soy-cheese roll-ups. Then kids will be able to spend more time in the classroom-and on the playground-than at the doctor’s office.