Hot vegan options for Portland school lunches

Alden practicing his letters/ vegan hot lunch
Alden working on his penmanship for first grade

Avery Yale Kamila’s son Alden has been eating a plant-based diet forever. Avery, who has been a vegan since college, writes a column for the Portland Press Herald called Vegan Kitchen. She’s also co-founder of Portland Protectors, a non-profit group committed to ending the use and sale of synthetic lawncare pesticides and fertilizers in Portland.

As you might imagine, she’s a good cook and is always coming up with new and delicious meals. That includes school lunches. While his mom’s lunches might have been great, when Alden was in kindergarten last year, he noticed that some kids got hot lunches in the cafeteria. He couldn’t because there wasn’t anything vegan on the menu.

Avery decided things would be different when he went into first grade. She decided to petition the Portland (Maine) Public School District to add vegan hot lunches to its daily menu. With about 7000 students, including Alden, Portland Public Schools is the largest district in the state and provides a daily lunch to 3500 students.

More than 400 people signed Avery’s online petition.

As I and many others were advocating for the addition of vegan hot lunch, we discovered that this move isn’t just supported by vegan students and parents. Many others support the addition of vegan meals. This includes students who are allergic to dairy or eggs. Students who eat halal or kosher. Students whose religion includes periodic days when they eat vegetarian or vegan. And students who eat meat, but only eat organic meat.

Avery Yale Kamila

To be fair, the district offered some vegetarian options and did have one highly rated vegan hot meal on the menu— chili. Food Services posted this picture and comment on its Facebook page last January.

We are cooking up homemade chili at Central Kitchen! Thanks to our dedicated kitchen staff this vegan lunch is made from scratch and incorporates three bean varieties. Look out Friday for this meal that has been deemed “mind blowing” by some!

Portland Public Schools Food Service/January 17, 2019

Thanks to Alden’s mom and lots of other parents and to Portland Public School’s Food Service Director Jane McLucas and her staff, when he starts first grade on September 3rd, vegan meals will be on the menu.

Beginning with the 2019-2020 school year, the district has updated its vegetarian menu and added a vegan option for elementary students every day of the school week. The plan is to add the most popular dishes to the middle and high school menus at a later date.

Vegan hot meal menu Portland Schools

Avery says Alden is looking forward to eating hot lunch with his friends every day. And she couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

I’m thrilled with and impressed by the Portland Public Schools’ decision to add daily vegan hot lunch options at all the elementary schools. This marks the district as a leader in serving climate-friendly meals that meet the needs of many more students.

Avery

I’m curious. Does your child or grandchild attend school? Are there any vegan options on the lunch menu? My two grandchildren eat a vegan diet but they’re not old enough to attend school yet, so school lunches aren’t an issue. I remember though, how intimidated I used to be about preparing meals for them. I thought it would be a hassle, but it isn’t at all. In fact, there are so many good and easy recipes, trying to decide which ones to make is the real challenge. I’ve even made them vegan cookies and apple crisp. Isn’t that what Nanas are supposed to do?

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.