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Surrey Schools Could Have ‘Meat-free Mondays’ If Strategy Adopted

Published on: 2 May, 2024
Updated on: 3 May, 2024

A meat-free roasted pepper meal

By Emily Dalton

local democracy reporter

Meat-free and plant-based options could be mandated across Surrey schools every Monday according to new proposed council guidance.

Only some Surrey schools currently participate in a form of “meat-free Monday” so the new food strategy, expected to be put to the full county council in July, would expand its remit.

The new policy forms part of the so-called Surrey Healthy Schools initiative. The initiatives aim to address food insecurity, reduce climate impact of the local food system and support the local population to keep a healthy weight by improving the accessibility and affordability of nutritious food.

Cllr Marisa Heath

Speaking at a Surrey County Council (SCC) meeting on April 29, County Cllr Marisa Heath (Con, Englefield Green), the Cabinet member for Environment, said: “I don’t think meat-free Mondays is too much to ask for one day a week. We’re still giving six days a week for people to make other choices so I don’t think it is draconian or heavy-handed.”

Council officers said the preferred menu would prioritise fruit, vegetables and legumes rather than processed, plant-based meat alternatives. Only schools signed up to the Surrey Healthy Schools will be part of the initiative, including all SCC state schools and some private schools.

Cllr Mark Nuti

Framing the programme as being to “educate and not dictate”, Cllr Mark Nuti (Con, Chertsey) said the policy is empowering individuals and families to make informed and healthy food choices.

The committee discussed the importance of sustainable and locally sourced farming, as well as cutting meat to decrease carbon emissions and environmental resources. It was noted that ‘plant-based’ food was not always “nutritional”, but that children needed fibre from fruit and vegetables.

The new strategy aims to increase children’s nutrition and combat obesity, as well as increasing sustainability and environmentally conscious eating. Around 1,210 of 9,355   Year 6 pupils (13 per cent) measured in Surrey were classed as obese or severely obese in 2022-23, NHS figures show.

Healthy food, such as fruit and vegetables, are often out of reach for many parents on low incomes who prioritise affordability over nutrition. The amount of vegetables being purchased in the UK has fallen to its lowest level in 50 years, according to The Food Foundation.

“Levelling up is not just about buildings, it’s about people,” Officer Marisa said. “It’s about their wellbeing, mental and physical, and allowing them to reach their [potential].”

Councillors argued the strategy must be adaptable to children who may suffer with eating disorders, have neurodiversity requirements or medical issues, and not be able to eat (or do not want to eat) plant-based food.

Cllr Trefor Hogg

In a heated debate, concerns were raised about the policy going “too far”. Cllr Trefor Hogg (Con, Camberley East) said an extension to adults and elderly people with dementia could mean “being confronted with things they just can’t cope with”.

He added: “My particular concern of those who are in any form of social care have had their liberties and freedom restricted to some degree. It’s very very important that they have a full choice. This is particularly important where there are neurodiverse and mental health issues as well.

“I think we should be very explicit on the subject. I would be very concerned about the adults and the elderly…”.

Council papers for the meeting stated the eating environment should be inclusive and social as restricting to plant-based only options may make some feel excluded.

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Responses to Surrey Schools Could Have ‘Meat-free Mondays’ If Strategy Adopted

  1. Sara Tokunaga Reply

    May 3, 2024 at 6:43 pm

    This is not educating, it is dictating. Vegetarian options are already available in schools. Freedom of choice should have been more carefully considered. Teach the children about vegetarianism during their cookery classes.

    • Vat Smith Reply

      May 4, 2024 at 1:46 pm

      It’s nothing to do with vegetarianism, it’s just a way of educating youngsters to understand that they don’t need to eat meat every day. It would be even better if the schools also had gardens where the children could grow their own food and kitchens where they could see how it’s cooked. (A school pig could be very instructive but is probably too much to ask these days).

  2. Valerie Thompson Reply

    May 7, 2024 at 5:07 pm

    A balanced diet includes fish or meat. Primitive humans ate whatever was available and developed a metabolism which could deal with plants, and animal protein.

    It is not good to deprive children of proper meals, which include fats, protein, carbohydrates and plants. I would object to my children or grandchildren being dictated to in this arbitrary manner.

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