School lunches in Germany are changing. From traditional meat-heavy meals, students are being served a more expansive selection of vegetarian options. The idea is simple: getting kids eat healthier and more sustainable meals while reducing carbon footprints of the schools’ food services.

In Germany, a country that is facing increased child obesity, selling the new diet to children was a challenge. But the results have been impressive. So far, 23,000 students across Germany are receiving “sustainable” meals through the Aktion Pflanzen-Power (Plant-Powered Pupils) and KEEKS (Climate and Energy Efficient Kitchens in Schools) projects.

Driving this program are vegan nonprofit ProVeg International and IZT (Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment), which are working together “to provide healthy, climate-friendly meals” in schools.

“We promote individual health by teaching children how to prepare sustainable and healthy meals,” Sebastian Joy, Chief Executive Officer of Proveg International, said, adding that: “We also work on planetary health by training chefs and cooks in school canteens.”

The organizations estimate that by serving plant-based lunches once a week for a year in schools, children can potentially reduce their combined carbon footprint by 1,076,400 kg. By reducing climate inefficient food and promoting energy efficient behavior in kitchens, greenhouse gases could be reduced by as much as 40 per cent.

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the global food system contributes up to 30 per cent of the world’s carbon footprint. Half of it comes from meat production and animal agriculture, surpassing CO2 emissions from the entire global transport sector, including cars, ships and planes combined.

The shift to vegetarian school lunches is part of a broader effort to help the government meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2020. The project has analyzed and quantified 22 different measures that could reduce greenhouse gases.

The projects provide trainings to kitchen staff and caterers so that they can prepare sustainable, low-cost, and healthy meals in public schools.

Dr. Michael Scharp, Head of Research and Sustainability at IZT, said: “We have shown how emissions could be reduced by several measures to serve healthy and inexpensive and climate-efficient meals.”

The Paris Agreement calls for food consumption based on less meat and more plant. Similarly, researchers at the University of Oxford stress that switching to diets that rely on fruits and vegetables could lead to significant results in the fight against climate change.

Selected from a pool of over 560 applications, KEEKS and Aktion Pflanzen-Power were recognized as winners of the United Nations ‘Momentum for Change” climate action award.

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