Falafel and cucumber salad, kids? How about a tofu vegetable wrap or some vegetarian chili with a side of brown rice?
Those are just a sampling of new menu items at Public School 244’s cafeteria. The public school in Flushing, Queens, has become the first in NYC -- and possibly in the nation, according to animal-welfare group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- to adopt an all-vegetarian menu.
Dennis Walcott, the school’s chancellor, said that he’s proud of the “trailblazing” school, which opened in 2008 and has 400 students in pre-kindergarten through third grade.
Originally, the school offered all-vegetarian meals three times a week, then increased it to four times and now has gone all-vegetarian, all the time since January. The school has only recently gotten recognized for this endeavor when Walcott visited P.S. 244 on Tuesday.
“The founding of our school was based on health and nutrition and teaching kids how to make healthy choices in the belief that they would be more successful academically and in their life," said Principal Robert Groff. "But then we started to watch the kids. One, what they would bring in to school, and two, what they would gravitate towards in the cafeteria."
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The transition wasn’t all that difficult for students, of which 70 percent are Asian and Indian who already brought their own vegetarian meals, according to school administrators.
"Our head cook is also a vegetarian herself and a parent in the school," Groff said.
The meals have the same amount of mandatory USDA protein requirements as the meat ones in other public schools.
"We know that when students eat a healthy diet, they're able to focus better,” said executive director of New York Coalition for Healthy School Food Amie Hamlin. “Their immune systems are stronger, so they're sick less, and then they're in school more and they're able to focus and concentrate better, and therefore learn better. There's research about that.”
And it’s not just lunch.
The school offers all-vegetarian breakfasts as well. Those meals include bagels with cream cheese, whole-grain banana bread, egg and cheese roll-ups, just to name a few.
Although the school’s new initiative isn’t necessarily part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s citywide health efforts, Groff acknowledged the mayor’s hopes for the city.
"We've been watching how the mayor has been responding to something like sugary beverages or the smoking ban, and that was an opportunity for us, because we could see the direction the city is moving. We could move along with it to create the healthiest options for our kids."
Sayonara, faux-chicken nuggets and plastic pizza. Hello, braised black beans and red roasted potatoes!