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New research reveals insights into parents' and teachers' support for plant-based eating in schools

The study by the Sustainmeals team found that social and motivation factors may help explain parents’ and teachers’ support for plant-forward initiatives in schools.




Increasing plant-based eating and reducing consumption of animal-sourced products has been put forward as a promising pathway to tackle current sustainability challenges. However, bringing plant-based alternatives to the school plate is often met with reluctance from actors in the field. A new study by the Sustainmeals team focused on the determinants of parents’ and teachers’ support for plant-forward initiatives in the school context.


“Parents and teachers have a strong influence on students’ eating practices. But importantly, they are members of the school community with power to influence the policies that regulate what happens in school canteens” – explains João Graça, one of the authors of the study. Despite the potential of school canteens to contribute to a better current food system, implementing a plant-forward transition may be challenging in heavily meat-centric countries like Portugal. “Portugal is among the world's top meat-eating countries. Thus, understanding what determines stakeholders’ support for plant-forward initiatives is crucial to help the country reach its health and sustainability goals” – the researcher concludes.


According to the findings now published in the journal Appetite, there are several factors linked with support to policies aiming at increased plant-based eating. Overall, teachers were more supportive of implementing measures to the school context, such as, providing information (e.g., posters) about the environmental impact of school meals or increasing the number of vegetarian meal options in the school canteen.


Variables like teachers’ attitudes toward vegetarian meals or their attachment to meat consumption were linked with their support of these policies. Having more favorable views of vegetarian meals and believing that plant-based meals should be eaten regularly in schools were associated with higher support for specific plant-forward measures.


Economic factors were relevant for explaining parents’ policy support. In particular, parents who perceived vegetarian meals as more expensive were more supportive of the proposed measures, which included increasing availability of plant-based foods in schools.


The paper concludes that social and motivation factors are key to understanding the current eating practices and to inform future policies to promote dietary transitions in schools. The full article is available in open access at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2023.106511

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