Richfield High School commits to offering more plant-based protein meals

Richfield High School is the first high school in the country to sign the Forward Food pledge committing to increasing its plant-based options, the Humane Society of the United States announced Thursday. 

By the end of 2024, 20% of the menu items offered to students will be plant-based. The school will update the Humane Society of the United States, a collaborator with Forward Food, to track its progress on reaching that goal.

"Students and their families have been asking for healthy, plant-based, and culturally appropriate meal options, and we are very excited to be able to deliver," Michael Manning, director of food and nutrition services at Richfield Public Schools, said in a statement. 

Manning told FOX 9 that the high school kitchen is making new plant-based recipes, provided by the HSUS as part of the pledge, and serving them in the mainline once per week. So far this school year, students have tried two plant-based entrees – a Lo Mein noodle dish and a black bean burrito bowl. Students also have the options of getting food from the grill, soup/sandwich, and salad lines if they preferred.

The kitchen will make each recipe at least twice to gauge if students like them. The recipes that are well-received will eventually be integrated into the lunch menus at the middle and elementary schools in the Richfield district, Manning said.

"For so many years, school lunch has been the same. So it's fun seeing (the cooks) try new recipes in the kitchen," Manning said.

Manning said the high school's Green Team encouraged him to add more plant-based options. The student-run club also advocated for composting waste in the cafeteria and kitchen, which the school began doing this week.

"The student body is very health conscious and environmentally plugged in," Manning said.

The pledge was introduced to Manning through staff at Wholesome Minnesota, a Minneapolis-based program dedicated to increasing the consumption of plant-based foods across Minnesotan schools. Plant-based foods improve heart health and reduce type 2 diabetes and cancer and are less environmentally intensive and cheaper than meat-based options, according to Wholesome Minnesota.