Impossible Burger Is Coming to School Lunch—Here Are the Nutrition Facts Parents Need to Know
The mock-meat burger gets the OK to be served in K-12 cafeterias. But are Impossible Burgers healthy for kids? A dietitian breaks down what they're made of and how they fit into a nutritious diet.
Faux meats are popular for families looking to eat more plant-based meals. Now some kids will have that option in their school cafeteria too.
Impossible Foods received the USDA's Child Nutrition label for its Impossible Burger. That's a voluntary statement on the product showing it meets requirements for main dish items in school lunch. With a lot of nutrition-related rules around what can be served, that makes it easier for schools to know that the product works for school lunch.
As part of a pilot program, districts in Washington, Oklahoma, and California are receiving free cases of Impossible burgers and a bulk "ground" product to prepare and serve items like Impossible Frito Pie, Impossible Street Tacos, and Spaghetti with Impossible Meat Sauce. Impossible is offering free products for other school districts that want to test it out as well.
"We're hoping it attracts more students to school lunch and shifts how kids feel about school lunch," says Jessica Appelgren, vice president of communications for Impossible Foods. "Kids care about climate change. It's a way for them to have an immediate impact."
In a survey of 1,200 K-12 students, Impossible Foods found the vast majority of kids were aware of climate change and that 7 in 10 kids felt they had the power to make a difference. Appelgren says Impossible is also creating an unbranded curriculum program for schools to get kids engaged in the science of food and understand how diet relates to climate change.
Impossible Burger Nutrition and Ingredients
Because mock meats like these are engineered to mimic the taste, texture, and appearance of meat, they're pretty convincing stand-ins, even for finicky kids. But are these burgers better for kids than meat? In my opinion as a dietitian, there's not a clear-cut answer.
On the upside, Impossible burgers don't contain cholesterol like beef does (and unlike meat, has some fiber too). These burgers are similar to beef in terms of protein, fat, and calories, and both are good sources of iron and zinc. But even though they're "plant-based,' Impossible burgers are still a fairly processed product, with a base of soy protein combined with ingredients like binders, oils, flavorings, and (natural) colorings.
The Environmental Link
In terms of environmental impact, these kinds of products do require fewer resources like land and water to produce than meat. And raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases, the kind that cause global warming. But while U.S. beef production accounts for about 3 percent of the country's emissions, transportation and electricity together account for 56 percent. So if kids are learning about climate change, it's important for them to know that food is just one piece of the puzzle.
The Bottom Line
In our house, we eat both beef and vegetarian meat substitutes, and I think they can co-exist on a cafeteria menu too. Choice and variety are good things! And hopefully kids who are open to eating the Impossible burger at school will be open to eating other plant-based meals around whole foods like beans and lentils too.