Thursday, May 2, 2013

New York City Elementary School Cafeteria Goes Completely Vegetarian

A New York City elementary school became the first public school in the nation to go completely vegetarian when it stopped serving meat in its cafeteria this year.

Flushing’s P.S. 244 consists of about 400 students between kindergarten and third grade. And the staff say that the school lunches — which include options like black bean quesadillas, brown rice, falafel, roasted red potatoes, and tofu — are a hit among those young kids, some of whom have started requesting similar foods at home:

“It’s been a really great response from the kids, but they also understand it’s about what is the healthiest option for them,” principal Bob Groff told “Because we teach them throughout our curriculum to make healthy choices, they understand what is happening and believe in what we’re doing too.”

When the school opened in 2008, they started serving vegetarian meals three days a week. The campus became a vegetarian test kitchen for the city, Groff said. [...]

The recipes were a hit, Groff said, prompting the school to expand its meat-free meals to four days a week and then adopting a 100 percent vegetarian kitchen in January.

“The big thing I would like people to know is, this isn’t just about a vegetarian menu,” Groff said. “It’s about living a healthy lifestyle and educating students on what options are out there.”

When P.S. 224 first opened, school officials noticed many students bringing their own vegetarian lunches from home, inspiring administrators to experiment with some meat-free menus. Now that the cafeteria is totally vegetarian, students are of course still welcome to pack lunches that include meat. The cafeteria food adheres to the USDA’s standards for school lunches, so students receive the recommended levels of nutrients and protein.

School cafeterias have become critical battlegrounds in the fight to address childhood obesity, which has reached epidemic levels in the United States. Encouraging healthy eating habits among younger children has been a particular area of interest for First Lady Michelle Obama and her ongoing “Let’s Move” campaign. But public health policies in this space have been met with significant resistance, both from powerful food corporations and from conservative critics of government overreach. Significantly, however, the cities with the most aggressive nutrition policies are the same ones that have seen the biggest drops in their childhood obesity rates.

Vegetarian options tend to be healthier in part because of the health risks posed by the U.S. meat industry. Over half of the meat sold in this country contains bacteria that can’t be treated with antibiotics. Chicken and ground beef are the two most dangerous types of meat, since they’re most likely to send Americans to the hospital with a food-borne illness.

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