Vegan nuggets, beans and potato chips. Baked potato, bread and salad. Even a meatless sausage roll.
These are just some of the dreary-looking vegan school dinners that have been served to kids over the past few years.
But leading nutritionists and nutritionists have warned that the environmentally conscious push for meat-free diets could come with a price.
Instead of giving the kids a roast with carrots and broccoli, they instead risk giving them food Ultra-processed foods.
Experts said these items, which can include meat substitutes, can contain poor-quality ingredients and lack vital nutrients and vitamins.
They told MailOnline the perfect school dinner has to include High quality protein, healthy fats and a variety of vegetables or salad.
Leading dieticians and nutritionists told MailOnline the ideal school dinner should include high-quality protein, healthy fats and a variety of vegetables or salad. This example could include shepherd’s pie, which consists of a hearty meal of potatoes, vegetables, and lamb. It can be supplemented with an apple to bring kids closer to five a day
Adults have shared pictures of vegan meals served at schools, as farmers fight against ‘vegan’ options being forced on children (pictured are vegan chicken nuggets, beans and chips served at school)
This example could include shepherd’s pie, which consists of a hearty meal of potatoes, vegetables, and lamb.
Overall, a filling dish will come in at about 580 calories, filling kids up and keeping them from snacking on chips and chocolate as their school day draws to a close.
They can be supplemented with a banana and an apple in order to get kids closer to five a day, according to Harley Street nutritionist Kim Pearson.
Another expert suggested meat-free peppers as a vegetarian option.
Last week parents shared pictures of their children’s meat-free school dinners with MailOnline.
Examples include two stalks of broccoli, a nice portion of carrots, two roast potatoes, a sausage, and a scoop of what appears to be mashed potatoes, along with a fuzzy white mass.
Although vegan food can be healthy, nutrition experts warn that without proper planning, food can lack vital nutrients.
Ms Pearson said: “Processed vegan meat alternatives are not something I would recommend to anyone.
Whether it is processed meats or processed vegan alternatives, they are of no benefit to children’s health.
They often contain poor quality ingredients and a long list of additives.
“Unfortunately, much of what children eat in school meals is highly processed, based on refined and nutrient-dense carbohydrates, fried or high in sugar.”
While some vegan meals can contain a range of nutrients and be balanced, experts warn that this may require planning.
Schools need to ensure that vegan meals contain all essential amino acids and fatty acids, vitamins including D and B12 and nutrients including iodine and iron, claims registered dietitian Dr Duane Mellor of Aston University.
It can also be difficult to meet a range of nutritional requirements when introducing a vegan diet, as it becomes more difficult to remove gluten, Dr. Mellor said.
“Unfortunately, it may be easier to try replacing meat with plant-based alternatives, sometimes called meat analogs, such as vegan burgers and sausages, which can be higher in salt than the meat-based version,” he said.
Dr. Mellor suggests that a mild lentil and vegetable or bean pancake with potatoes or rice would be an ideal kid-friendly vegetarian dinner.
It is possible, but perhaps not naturally child-friendly at first glance, to have healthy, easy-to-prepare plant-based foods using beans, peas and lentils, he said.
“Nuts are great too, although concerns about allergies may limit their use in school kitchens.”
However, if meat is on the menu, Dr. Mellor says a bolognese or chili packed with lots of hidden vegetables would be good choices.
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Two schoolchildren insert vegan sausage rolls in a new initiative criticized by farmers
By some council ordinances, schools would have one meat-free day per week
He described the move towards vegetarian school meals as a “slap in the face to British farmers”.
“The ideal school dinner consists of dishes made from whole foods,” says Miss Pearson.
It will include high-quality protein, healthy fats, and a variety of vegetables or salad.
She suggests that this perfect dinner could look like shepherd’s pie with lots of veggies.
She said: ‘A meal like a shepherd’s pie provides high-quality protein, fat, and fiber from vegetables as well as essential micronutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin C, and B vitamins.
“In dishes like these, you can use cheaper cuts of meat which means they can be made more affordably without relying on freezer-to-fryer processing options.”
Other options Miss Pearson suggests include casseroles or stews, fish or pulses cooked in tomato-onion sauce or bread, with steamed or grilled vegetables or salads.
It is not only the processed nuggets and chips that Miss Pearson has trouble eating but also the amount of sugar that is given to children as candy.
“Kids don’t really need to eat sweets that are high in sugar like cookies and processed yogurt,” she said. If schools want to serve dessert, they should choose fresh fruit.
What should a balanced diet look like?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains, according to the NHS.
Eat at least 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. Fresh, frozen, dried, and canned fruits and vegetables all count
Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains
¿30 grams of fiber per day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-grain crackers, 2 thick slices of whole-wheat bread and a large baked potato with the skin on
Get some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soy drinks) and choose options that are lower in fat and lower in sugar
Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including two servings of fish each week, one of which should be fatty)
Choose unsaturated oils and fats and consume them in small quantities
Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water daily
Adults should eat less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men per day.
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide