Public School 244, in Flushing, Queens replaced sloppy joes and chicken nuggets with organic roasted tofu and braised black beans back in January. Not only are the kids liking the food, but school officials are also reporting longer attention spans and better test scores since the school went vegetarian.
“We believe that [students] achieve better when they have healthier food choices and are educated about those food choices,” said Bob Groff, school principal.
Groff said the school chose to switch to vegetarian-only offerings because they were better than the carnivorous options currently offered by the city. “I’ve never been presented with an option that’s ‘organic lean chicken,’” he explained.
P.S. 244 was recognized on Tuesday by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a research advocacy group that promotes the prevention of disease through plant-based diets, for becoming the first public school in the United States to serve vegetarian-only meals.
Although the kids are allowed to bring their own meals from home, about 90% of them choose to eat the cafeteria food.
Third-grader Thomas Gafaro may have discovered his new favorite food – the school’s falafel. “They sometimes look like chicken nuggets,” he said. “I love the taste.”
The students don’t just eat healthy food. They also take part in nutrition classes each week where they learn how to make smart food choices. The kids then bring the habits they form at school home to their parents.
Manasvini Chitharanjan, also a third-grader at P.S. 244, said her family switched from white rice to brown after she explained that brown rice contains more nutrients than its counterpart. “I feel much more healthier,” she said.
“It’s great that they’re starting kids young and teaching them healthy habits,” said registered dietitian Martha McKittrick. “Unhealthy eating habits for kids usually turns into unhealthy eating habits for adults.”
Also a contributing factor to the success of the program – the absence of vending machines, which are usually filled with high-calorie sodas and chips, she said. “By avoiding junk food . . . you’re going to help decrease blood sugar spikes and then crashes.”
When their energy dips during the day, the kids get “energy breaks,” which allow them to get up from their desks for a short time and be active.
The school’s cafeteria program was created with the help of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food.
“The food in their cafeteria is the envy of many,” said Executive Director Amie Hamlin, who has received calls from many other schools interested in creating similar meal plans. “The children are getting the nutrients their bodies and brains need to function at their optimal levels.”
Groff was happy to report that after one semester, the number of students at the school who were classified as overweight or obese dropped by 2%. He believes the number has decreased even further since then.
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Source: NY Daily News