(VEGETARIAN/GREEN) Just say no! To sloppy joes and chicken nuggets, that is! This is what students in Queens, New York are doing since their school decided the carnivorous options their city provided weren’t healthy enough. Public School 244 in Flushing is now serving vegetarian-only foods like roasted tofu and braised black beans, and the kids are thriving because of it.
Since switching over in January, the students reportedly have longer attention spans, better academic scores, and according to the principal, the number of overweight and obese students has dropped two percent in just one semester. Not everyone has to veg-out though. Students are welcome to bring their own meat-friendly lunches from home, but only a small percent are opting to brown-bag it.
So it looks like kids will eat their vegetables! All they need is a menu more creative than just plain peas and broccoli. If all schools did this kids would not only be more fit, but they’d also learn healthy eating habits that could stay with them for the rest of their lives. To create a similar meal plan in your school click here to go to the New York Coalition For Healthy School Food website, and for more on P.S. 244 read below and hear what some of the kids had to say about their delicious new plant-based diet. — Global Animal
New York Daily News, Clare Trapasso
Their school swapped sloppy joes and fried chicken for organic roasted tofu and braised black beans, and these kids ain’t complaining. Students at the top-rated Public School 244, in Flushing, have longer attention spans and better academic scores since the school went vegetarian, school officials said.
The school was recognized Tuesday by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that promotes plant-based diets, for becoming the country’s first public school to serve vegetarian-only meals in its cafeteria.
“We believe that [students] achieve better when they have healthier food choices and are educated about those food choices,” said Bob Groff, principal of the pre-k through grade 3 school that went veggie in January.
Groff said the school went vegetarian because the plant-based choices were better than the carnivorous ones offered by the city.
“I’ve never been presented with an option that’s ‘organic lean chicken,’” he said.
Students are permitted to bring their own carnivorous lunches to six-year-old school, but about 90% of them opt for vegetable-rich cafeteria meals.
Kids also attend weekly nutrition classes where they learn about making smart food choices, he said. And when their energy lags, the kids get “energy breaks” that allow them to get up for a minute and be active.
After one semester, the number of students at the school who were classified as overweight and obese dropped 2%, Groff said. He believes that number is down even more this year.
Much of the food — minus the veggie wraps — has become popular with the students. Third-grader Thomas Gafaro, 8, of Flushing, said he’s a big fan of the school’s falafel.
“They sometimes look like chicken nuggets,” said Gafaro, who was introduced to the baked chickpea patties in his cafeteria. “I love the taste.”
The children are also bringing their good eating habits home.
Third-grader Manasvini Chitharanjan, 8, of Flushing, said her family switched nutrient-rich brown rice, leaving white rice behind after she complained.
“I feel much more healthier,” she said.
Vegetarian diets have been proven to decrease the risk of heart disease, some forms of cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, said registered dietitian Martha McKittrick.
“It’s great that they’re starting kids young and teaching them healthy habits,” she said. “Unhealthy eating habits for kids usually turns into unhealthy eating habits for adults.”
It’s also a big plus that the school doesn’t have any vending machines — which are usually stocked with calorie-laden sodas and chips, McKittrick said.
“By avoiding junk food . . . you’re going to help decrease blood sugar spikes and then crashes,” she said.
PS 244 created with the help of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food.
“The food in their cafeteria is the envy of many,” said Coalition Executive Director Amie Hamlin, who has been fielding calls from other schools interested in creating healthier meal plans. “The children are getting the nutrients their bodies and brains need to function at their optimal levels.”