Go to content Go to the main menu Go to search
vegetarian options being served in a restaraurant


Veganuary in primary schools

Health, climate change and animal welfare – there are plenty of reasons why people choose a plant-based diet or opt for meat free days, with British children going vegan at twice the rate of adults*. Sodexo and AiP teams at over 500 schools know that young people are aware, and often passionate, about these issues. 

YouGov research conducted in schools showed that almost two-thirds of 11 to 18-year-olds thought the environment and climate change was one of the most important issues facing the country. But while almost a third said they wanted to eat less meat, it remained on the menu at least three times a week for 84 per cent of them, suggesting there is still work to be done in understanding and providing the options young people look for in their school menus. 

High-profile events like Veganuary – where people sign up to a vegan diet during January – have played a part in raising awareness of veganism, particularly among the older generation. Importantly, this is encouraging parents and teachers to be more in tune with the eating preferences of the food-adventurous environmentally-conscious Generation Z**.  

Let’s Take A Look At The Facts 

Last January, a quarter of a million people committed to a plant-based diet for the month with 47 per cent intending to stay on it and 77 per cent of the rest saying they would probably try it again in future. While vegan sausage rolls were the headline story of 2019 (did you know we offer a lentil and vegetable version in our primary schools?), more than 200 different plant-based products and menus were launched, with supermarkets vastly increasing their ranges.

Sodexo has been gathering insight into these changing dietary choices for a number of years and back in 2018 introduced plant-based dishes to our primary and secondary school pupils as part of our Food & Co offer. Pupils in primary schools can enjoy recognisable family favourites without the meat – with main courses such as a beetroot and carrot burger, lentil and vegetable cottage pie and courgette spaghetti with tomato and butterbeans proving a hit with diners. These are regulars now on Sodexo primary school menus as part of Planet Earth Day – one of five themed Foodie Days each week – whilst in secondary schools plant-based dishes are offered as part of every menu. 

All plant-based dishes use top-quality ingredients and are part of carefully-considered menus designed to appeal to young people while meeting the Government School Food Standards and other nutritional benchmarks. We’ve created these options to appeal to young people who want creative, sustainable and healthy alternatives to meat, which don’t compromise on taste or nutrition in any way.

Sodexo’s Food & Co Offer

Sodexo developed its Food & Co offer following extensive insight and research into what under-18s really want to eat. It found almost three-quarters of 7 to 15 years olds want to try new foods and 68 per cent would like to eat dishes they’ve seen in adverts and on the high street. It’s not all about novelty: a third told us they read food labels and look for healthier choices, and over 90 per cent think it’s important to have a healthy diet and go for nutritious food. 

We are continually looking to raise the numbers of children eating school meals which we know are healthy and which can encourage good eating habits into adulthood. As Public Health England says: “Pupils with better health and wellbeing are likely to achieve better academically. So, helping children achieve and maintain a healthier lifestyle remains a key foundation for promoting a better diet.” 

Interestingly, we’re finding the children can be more adventurous than their parents, who often remember their own school meals and assume they’re still the same. “This is lovely, but mummy won’t let me have it because she doesn’t like it,” one primary school child told us of the Quorn dish she enjoyed one lunchtime. 

Of course, we don’t expect everyone to embrace meat free days and that’s why Five Foodie Days primary school menus continue to offer a mixture of traditional meat favourites, vegetarian and plant-based dishes. In secondaries, our offer is based on a buzzing high street food concept with a mix of traditional favourites like Shepherd’s Pie intermixed with chicken jalfrezi or vegetable chilli burritos. 

Encouraging children to try new foods 

Chefs and staff share our passion: at a school in Bristol for example – where 40 per cent of children are eligible for free school meals – our catering manager creates display plates so pupils can see dishes they’ve never tried before, and has encouraged children to try samples of unfamiliar food as they queue for lunch

Chefs and staff working share our passion: at a school in Bristol for example – where 40 per cent of children are eligible for free school meals – our catering manager creates display plates so pupils can see dishes they’ve never tried before, and has encouraged children to try samples of unfamiliar food as they queue for lunch.

Veganuary itself is also likely to encourage children and their parents to be more curious about Planet Earth Day dishes. Parents who might not offer plant-based dishes at home could be open to trying new dishes – they are concerned about their children’s diets in general, with almost 40 per cent worried that they don’t eat enough vegetables, and a third that they don’t eat enough fruit.

Our plant-based dishes are insight-led and carefully balanced to provide nutritious dishes that are filling and tasty, ideal for fuelling young minds and bodies. We’re also keen to help dishes feel ‘familiar’, offering non-meat versions of the dishes that children recognise and love, including sausage roll, cottage pie and macaroni cheese – making it likelier that they’ll clear their plates.

And that’s always our goal – providing nutritional and tasty food which children really want to eat. 

We are delighted with the stories starting to come back to us from schools of increased sales and positive responses to the new menus. One catering manager said: “My Principal commented very positively on the current menu cycle, saying he has heard good feedback from children and parents – and we have managed to convert some of the loyal packed lunch brigade.”  

Happy Veganuary! 

To find out more contact our Schools business development team or click here to find out about our offers to Schools.

*Source: Research conducted by Linda McCartney Foods. 
**Generation Z are defined as those turning 18 years old between 2013 and 2027; (born 1995-2009). One in five Generation Z consumers identified themselves as being vegan, vegetarian or a flexitarian in 2018. 


January 23, 2020

Back to the list

How can we help?