PORTLAND, Maine — There are all sorts of reasons why a child may follow a vegan diet, whether it's a family decision or due to certain food allergies.

The school cafeteria can be one of those challenging places to find vegan options. This school year, however, one district is changing its menu for the elementary schools, a  move that's said to be more inclusive.     

Officials with Portland Public Schools say they are expanding their offerings to provide hot vegan menu items for students in the city's 10 elementary schools.

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That means the traditional cold vegetarian options will be replaced with several hot meal choices, like plant-based burgers, falafel, sloppy joes made with lentils, rice and bean burritos, pizza made with hummus, and chili. 

"It came from a desire to improve our vegetarian options … and to work with vegan parents who have been very vocal," said Food Services Director Jane McLucas.

McLucas also said it will be a huge benefit for students of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds with dietary restrictions.

It's also a benefit for parents like Avery Kamila. Her son Alden is getting ready to start first grade. Last year in kindergarten, he saw his classmates order milk and hot meals from the school lunch menu. 

"Going to school and not having an option for lunch was tough for him because he wanted to do what his friends and the other kids were doing," she said.

Alden said this year he's excited for the new vegan options his school will offer. He's most looking forward to trying the falafel and pizza.

Last school year the district offered vegan chili for the first time, and Jane McLucas said it was a popular choice for students.

We had a wonderful time learning and connecting at our annual ALL ST... AFF meeting yesterday! Things are ramping up here at PPS Food Service and we can't wait to share some delicious food with you in September!

The school district hopes to add more of these vegan dishes to menus at other schools in the future.

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Several other schools in southern Maine, including Kittery and Falmouth, offer vegan lunch options.

The first day of school for students in Portland is Sept. 3.