Plant Forward

More Plants Please!

About More Plants Please!

Chef Ann Foundation programming centers on supporting schools in developing and sustaining school food operations that serve healthy, fresh food made from scratch. More Plants Please! offers recipes, promotional materials, and resources designed to encourage plant-based proteins in schools. Plant-based proteins like beans, tofu, soy yogurt, and tempeh are all creditable in the USDA meal pattern, and are nutritious and delicious additions to school food menus. 

Why Have More Plant Forward Meals in Schools?

In the United States, more than 30 million students eat lunch every day. If schools incorporated plant forward meals into their operations, the impact on the environment, student health, and school food finances could be huge. Because schools serve such a large population, serving a vegetarian or plant-based entree once a week or once a month is still beneficial. Plant forward meals focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and reduced meat proteins to introduce students to a healthy diet at a young age. A diet focused on plants is also better for the environment, as plants take fewer resources to produce than meat.

To support schools in offering more plant-based, scratch-cooked options we developed new recipes that fit USDA meal requirements and have been tested in school kitchens and taste-tested by students. We also developed educational and eye-catching marketing materials to show why plant forward is so important and the impact on both the environment and student health. Plant forward does not mean changing an entire meal program, but rather including plant forward options that can have big results.

Getting Started

Check out the recipes, share the educational marketing materials, and get the facts on why more plants are healthier for our bodies, our planet, and our school food operations. You can also watch the recorded session of our webinar here.

Special Thanks to Friends of the Earth and Novato Unified School District for their support of More Plants Please!

How It Works

Plant Forward Continuum

Schools can start slowly: begin by reflecting on the current menu, then strategically add or adjust recipes that move the overall menu along the continuum. Schools can find recipes that fall along each point of the continuum in the recipe section of The Lunch Box. 

How to Get More Plants into Your School

More Plants Please! consists of two main resources for school districts: Recipes and Marketing & Promotional Materials. Together, these recipes, marketing materials, and resources can help any school district take the first steps towards a healthier student population and a healthier planet. 

Recipes and Menu Cycles 

We consider a recipe to be plant forward if it appllies to one of the following:

  • Is free of animal protein 
  • Is vegetarian 
  • Is a traditional meat-based recipe where some of the meat has been replaced with plant-based proteins that credit to the meal pattern

We’ve compiled a complete list of the new recipes developed specifically for More Plants Please! (in addition to existing plant forward recipes) on the Recipes tab. These recipes include dishes like Chickpea Masala, Zucchini Boats, and Quinoa Burgers to introduce children to new and delicious menu items that help establish healthy eating habits with a positive environmental impact. These recipes are also combined to create six one-week plant forward menu cycles that still offer meat-based options but are focused on incorporating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and plant-based proteins into meal programs. 

Promotional Materials: 

To encourage students to eat more plants and try more plant-based meals, download and print large (24 in x 36 in) wall posters to hang in classrooms, hallways, and the lunchroom. These posters highlight both the health benefits and the positive environmental impacts of eating more plant forward meals.

To cultivate a plant forward community in and out of school, you can download and print two flyers that explain what plant forward means, why it’s healthier, and how to eat more plant-based meals. The take-home flyer for families includes ideas for making one-bowl plant forward dinners to encourage the whole family to eat less meat and more vegetables, and the flyer for staff encourages plant forward appreciation, action, and support amongst your school faculty and staff members.

We’ve also compiled an annotated list of links to research and news articles here.

Tools and Resources

Posters and Flyers 

You can download and print these files, or share with your local print shop for larger formats. Marketing materials can an easy way to promote the health and environmental benefits, as well as an easy introduction to plant forward meals.

Water Consumption Impact

This poster is designed to show students how much water it takes to produce a meat-based lunch versus a plant forward one.

Can You Grow It? 

Encourage students to try foods at lunch that grow on a vine, tree, or in the ground.

Water Consumption Impact

This poster is designed to show students how much water it takes to produce a plant forward lunch versus a meat-based lunch.

Meat Production Impact on Air Quality

This poster is designed to show students the impact that meat production has on air quality.

Eat Plants & Stay Healthy

This poster encourages students to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins.

How Much Water?

Use this poster to help explain the amount of water different sources of protein take to produce.

Now Serving: Plant Forward Meals

Use this flyer to help explain the importance of eating plant forward meals to staff.

Eat Plant Forward at Home!

Send this flyer home with students to show families easy ways to eat plant forward at home.

Research, Articles, and News

  • Meat of the Matter: Learn why institutions could have a significant environmental impact by serving more plant-based meals (and how to do so!) in this report from Friends of the Earth.
  • Value of Water Report 47: The Green, Grey, and Blue Water Footprint of Crops and Derived Crop Products: This precursory report provides the findings from investigating the water required to produce a variety of crops. Wheat and rice rank highest and are mostly grown in India, China, and the U.S. Complementary to Report 48 listed below.
  • Value of Water Report 48: The Green, Grey, and Blue Water Footprint of Farm Animals and Animal Products: The authors of this report from the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education traced the water footprints of raising animals for food, from the feed they eat to the resources needed to process and package them. It then provides a comparison to other crops. The researchers conclude that if you are going to eat meat, it's best for the environment, particularly our water supply, to eat animals raised on grazing methods (as opposed to industrialized meat raising operations) because they require less feed, and therefore less water, to be raised.
  • Scaling up Healthy, Climate-Friendly School Food: Strategies for Success: Based on interviews with 33 school food professionals, this report from Friends of the Earth provides resources and numerous examples from 18 public school districts showcasing the benefits and strategies that school food visionaries are successfully using to serve more plant-forward foods.
  • Scaling up Healthy, Climate-Friendly School Food Webinar: This webinar will give you a deeper understanding of the importance of climate-friendly school foods on the menu. The webinar covers the following learning objectives: 1. Define climate-friendly food (what, why, how) 2. Understand how climate-friendly food can be applied in different school contexts' and 3. Understand viable policy actions.

Plant Forward Recipes

Plant Forward Recipes

We test all recipes on The Lunch Box in school kitchens and lunchrooms. Students have tasted and approved these recipes, so you can feel confident serving them in your schools.

Scroll down to see the More Plants Please! recipes in addition to recipes already on The Lunch Box that fit one of the plant forward criteria: free of animal protein, vegetarian, or a portion of the meat is replaced with plant-based proteins that credit to the meal pattern.

You can use the recipes individually or together in menu cycles that have already been built out. 

How to Use

  • Each recipe has been analyzed for the USDA meal components; information can be found on the “Food Groups/Meal Patterns” tab.
  • From each recipe page you can scale the recipe, save it as either a pdf or an Excel file to your computer, and view and save the nutrient analysis and the costing. The costing is an estimate based on Boulder Valley School District's procurement since they developed the recipes. Recipe costs will vary from district to district. 
  • To scale the recipe, change the “Standard Yield” number and click the “Scale” button. To return to the default standard batch size, click the “Reset” button.
  • Ingredient yield factors, where applicable, can be found at the top of the Recipe Instructions tab in “Pre-Preparation Instruction” fields.
  • The recipes default to tested batch sizes. Although they are regularly used for meal counts in excess of 2,000, we recommend scaling batch sizes to be compatible with your equipment. Since seasonings are particularly affected by increased scaling, we suggest taste testing as you increase quantities.

More Plants Please! Recipes

Check out three of our favorite plant forward recipes. Click here to see more in the recipe section.

Bi Bim Bap Bowl K-8

Bi Bim Bap Bowl 9-12

Quinoa Burger 

Vegetable Lasagna K-8

Vegetable Lasagna 9-12

Healthy Kids Collaborative

What happens when the Culinary Institute of America brings school nutrition professionals, chefs, non-profit leaders and healthy food companies together to think about what is needed to create school food that better meets students’ appetites? They pilot a three-year project dedicated to creating culinary inspired, USDA compliant, plant forward recipes for school meals nationwide. The CIA’s Healthy Kids Collaborative, with support from Whole Kids Foundation, is excited to bring you the first 30 of 100 recipes.

Chefs Tested:

Chefs from school districts across the country came together to plan and work on the creation of culinary inspired plant forward recipes that are compliant for the National School Lunch Program. Over a one-year period, each chef worked to develop healthy and delicious recipes, testing them in their home districts.

Chefs Collaborated:

In May 2019, the chefs gathered at Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD) in California for the final stages of recipe development. Shifting from each individual school district and coming together to strategize, plan and problem solve was a luxury that school chefs don’t always have.

Chefs Created:

Coming together in one kitchen to prepare the recipes to scale really allowed the development process to flourish. It brought years of experienced chefs together from all parts of the country, each representing their own unique community. It allowed for shared knowledge, culinary problem solving and increased passion for this work.

Kids Tested:

A team of local parent volunteers, the chefs and non-profit representatives split up into groups to visit 10 schools throughout the district and tested 3-4 recipes in each school during lunch. Through the tastings, students had the opportunity to try some unfamiliar items such as tofu and quinoa.

Kids Voted:

In each school, volunteers solicited feedback from the kids, asked them to vote for their favorite dishes and captured their comments. Some recipes were clear favorites, like the Amazing Lo-mein and Mango and Black Bean Quinoa Salad. Roger, a third-grade student, remarked, “I’ve never had quinoa. This tastes like lemon—sweet and tasty.” Some of the most amazing responses came from the cafeteria staff, who initially didn’t think the kids would take the samples—but were amazed to see students’ excitement around the new dishes.

Recipes Finalized:

Based on feedback, the chefs modified some of the recipes and adjusted some production methods. They were then finalized and ready for crediting. After a thorough development and testing process, we are excited to offer over 30 culinary-inspired, plant-forward recipes to all schools nationwide!

Learnings from the Field

For fruit and vegetable nutrition education activities check out the Learnings from the Field section of The Lunch Box! 

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