New York City’s adoption of plant-forward menus in hospitals and schools offer insight to replicability for the rest of the country
“The public is embracing plant-based meals, and the impacts on health have far-reaching positive implications,” a spokesperson for New York City Hall told FoodNavigator-USA.
NYC City Hall maintains that while “the effects of public health [on plant-based diets] are still being evaluated,” 90% of individuals reported satisfaction in eating the default plant-based options in hospitals and schools.
Plant-based menus in NYC schools
Meatless Mondays and Plant-Powered Fridays launched in New York City public schools in 2019 and 2022, respectively, although it appears there’s more room for improvement. Critics reported that while the plant-based strategy is on the right track to improve students’ health, the meals themselves were unappetizing or non-vegan.
The current NYC school menus for high school students on Mondays and Fridays include a mix of vegan and vegetarian option like bagels and cream cheese, season fruit, yogurt and banana muffins. According to the site, all menus are pork-free and devoid of fried food, artificial colors, sweeteners and flavors. The current cost per school meal, City Hall reported, is $2.56 per child for breakfast and $4.94 per child for lunch.
“Cost per meal is a difficult obstacle every city faces with low federal reimbursement, but NYC continues to offer school meals to ensure our children are well nourished to excel at the highest level,” City Hall stated.
‘Leveraging the power of how we purchase food’ and developing replicability across the nation
In September 2021, the city published its initial report, “Good Food Purchasing,” which Adams said “leverages the power of how we purchase food.”
The Department of Education, the report notes, is the city’s largest procurer of food, driving overall procurement results for FY 2019. The report proposed a strategy for departments (like Education and Health and Human Services) across the city to procure food from contractors aligned with animal and labor welfare, environmental sustainability and supply chain transparency by 2031.
The Good Food Purchasing program is arguably one strategy to implement a national nutrition agenda in schools and healthcare facilities.
NYC and Los Angeles’ plant-based food programs offered insight to how cities can replicate these strategies into public institutions, according to an article in The Counter.
Both cities, according to the story, adopted a “five-pronged framework for food buying institutions” created by the Center Good Food Purchasing. These standards “support smaller farms within local economies; source from producers who use sustainable methods and are committed to fair and safe working conditions, including humane animal treatment when applicable; and center nutritious whole foods over processed and plant-based over meat.”
“These programs should extend far beyond my administration and the city of New York. We want to inspire other large cities to adopt NYC food programs and policies to build healthier communities nationwide,” City Hall explained.
“These programs should extend far beyond my administration and the city of New York. We want to inspire other large cities to adopt NYC food programs and policies to build healthier communities nationwide. NYC will use 2019 as baseline to measure success for reducing diet-related diseases, increasing access to affordable healthy foods, and meeting the city’s goal to reduce food-based carbon emissions by 33% by 2030,” City Hall added.
NYC partners with C-40 to 'present best practices for implementing plant-based meals in hospitals'
In 2022, Mayor Adams announced NYC’s participation in the C-40 Good Food Cities Declaration, along with 14 other cities around the world “to increase access to plant-forward and nutritious food for city residents and halve their city’s respective food waste.”
At the beginning of May, NYC City Hall announced a partnership with the city’s health and hospital programs with C-40 to “present best practices for implementing plant-based meals in hospitals.”
Additionally, NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) launched its Eat More Plants marketing campaign to “help share important information about the benefits of plant-based diets and the resources available to start, maintain and sustain those healthy eating habits.”
Kate MacKenzie, MS, RD, executive director, NYC Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, mentioned the city’s launch of Groceries to Go, during the CSPI Sugar Reduction Summit in early May. The program offers monthly credits to SNAP recipients to purchase groceries for delivery or pickup. Participants can use their credits to receive 50% off fresh fruits and vegetables and pay for service fees, tips and delivery.
Further, NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently filed a petition with CSPI to set voluntary targets for reducing added sugars from food and beverages, as part of the city’s 10-year Food Forward Program.