New program brings plant-based lunch options to Shelton schools

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — Local students now have an expanded menu of dining options — all thanks to a pilot program.

Whitsons Culinary Group, the district’s food provider, has partnered with the Humane Society of the United States to increase healthy, sustainable plant‐based menu offerings to K‐12 school districts through a program called Veggabóls.

Shelton public schools are one of 12 districts offering Veggabóls, which is the first 100 percent plant‐based K‐12 concept in the country, according to the company. As a U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champion, Veggabóls is a signature step in Whitsons’ goal of providing at least 10 percent plant‐based menu offerings by 2024.

Superintendent Ken Saranich praised Whitsons for pushing the pilot program, which he said answers a desire from students for healthier choices among the school system’s menu selection options.

“Students were definitely interested in this type of change,” Saranich said. “Students are more conscious about what they eat, and these plant-based choices are popular now.”

Saranich said he hoped that these options are made available again in the fall, but no formal plans are in place yet.

The new offerings became part of the Shelton school menu, across K to 12, on April 20. The pilot program runs through next week.

And the food has received rave reviews, according to Whitsons’ Shelton schools General Manager Rich Sandmann.

Sandmann said, on the first day of the program the staff rolled out the BBQ chickpea rice bowl at Shelton High School, with 22 students grabbing the new offering.

He said that was “a great start.”

Sandmann said participation grew each day, and on April 28, 90 students opted for the rice bowl lunch.

“(Veggabóls) perfectly complements our philosophy of promoting wholesome foods, a healthy environment, and balanced diets,” said Whitsons CEO Kelly Friend. “We started on our plant‐based journey several years ago, with the Meatless Monday campaign. And now, with the support of (the Humane Society), we are continuing to add to our menu offerings with these delicious and healthy new plant‐based recipes that our student customers are sure to enjoy.”

The Veggabóls pilot offers 10 new plant‐based recipes developed by a team of Humane Society chefs, who modified several of Whitsons’ top school menu options as plant‐based recipes. They also developed new proprietary recipes such as the fiesta rice and beans and the BBQ chickpea and rice.

All new recipes are being piloted across 12 school districts this spring. The program also includes training for Whitsons’ pilot leads at all 12 school districts.

The 10 plant-based entrees that will be available on menus for Shelton Public Schools students throughout the program include the lo‐mein chickpea noodle bowl; edamame and chickpea bowl; rainbow hummus bowl, with brown rice and spinach and served with pita triangles; bibimbap tofu bowl; enchilada bean chili bowl; quinoa pinto beans & guacamole bowl; teriyaki tofu stir‐fry bowl; fiesta rice & beans bowl; black bean taco bowl; and the BBQ chickpea salad bowl.

In addition to the culinary training, new marketing materials are being tested, student customer feedback is being gathered and greenhouse gas savings are being calculated, according to the company. Based on the success of the pilot program, Whitsons intends to expand the program across all school nutrition locations in fall 2022.

“Whitsons has already laid a terrific foundation across their school menus through their participation in Meatless Mondays and their innovative Veggie Table program,” said Kate Watts, manager of food service innovation with the Humane Society of the United States.

“We are thrilled to help them increase their impact and achieve what their core philosophy states as their ‘commitment to helping people to live healthier lives by moving food in a more nourishing and natural direction,’” Watts added.