New York’s PS 244 Introduces Nation’s First All-Vegetarian School Cafeteria Menu
An elementary school in New York City has eliminated all meat from its cafeteria menu, becoming what may be the first public school in the nation to go completely vegetarian.
PS 244 in Flushing, Queens, the Active Learning Elementary School, has been gradually transitioning to an all-vegetarian menu since opening in 2008. Partnering with the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, PS 244 chefs replaced traditional cafeteria mainstays like burgers and chicken nuggets with innovative and healthy veggie dishes like black bean and cheese quesadillas, falafel, vegetarian chili with brown rice, and tofu in sesame sauce. Pizza Fridays survived the change– sans pepperoni.
Apparently, the kids aren’t missing the ‘mystery meat’ at all.
“This is so good!” 9-year-old Marian Satti told a reporter from the New York Daily News as she scarfed down her black bean quesadilla during a recent lunch period. “I’m enjoying that it didn’t have a lot of salt in it,” she added.
“It’s been a really great response from the kids, but they also understand it’s about what is the healthiest option for them,” PS 244 Principal Bob Groff told ABC News. “Because we teach them throughout our curriculum to make healthy choices, they understand what is happening and believe in what we’re doing too.”
“I don’t eat fried foods. I don’t drink soda. I try not to have sweets too often,” NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott told the Daily News. “And that’s what we want for our students… to make sure they eat healthy both at home and at school.”
The transition to a vegetarian menu was made easier by the fact that around 70 percent of PS 244 students are Asian, including many traditionally vegetarian Indians.
“Our head cook is also a vegetarian herself and a parent in the school,” Groff told NBC News.
In addition to lunch, PS 244 also serves up vegetarian breakfasts each day, with menu items including bagels and cream cheese, whole-grain banana bread and egg and cheese roll-ups. It’s an important kick-start to students’ school days.
“We know that when students eat a healthy diet, they’re able to focus better,” Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, told NBC News. “Their immune systems are stronger, so they’re less sick, and then they’re in school more and they’re able… to learn better.”
Students who don’t wish to eat vegetarian meals have the option of bringing their own lunches to school.
The Daily News reports that PS 244’s move is part of a wider trend toward healthier school meals that has been a hallmark of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure. Salad bars have now been installed in 1,000 city schools; they’ll be in every school by the end of the next academic year.
“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,” Goff told NBC News. “We could move along with it to create the healthiest options for our kids.”
PS 244 SAMPLE MENUS:
Whole-grain sunrise carrot bread with hot cereal choice
Fluffy egg omelet with melted cheese in a New York-style bagel
Waffles with warm syrup and
mozzarella string cheese
Black bean and cheddar quesadilla served with salsa, red roasted
potatoes and broccoli
Roasted organic tofu with cacciatore sauce, whole-grain pasta and roasted zucchini
“Superhero” spinach wrap with cucumber salad
Chickpea falafel in a soft wheat wrap with chopped romaine, fresh diced tomatoes and cucumber salad
(Source: City Department of Education)