No more mystery meat -- or any meat -- for the kids at PS 244 in Flushing.
After incorporating vegetarian meals into its weekly lunch rotation for the past five years, the elementary school last week became the first public school in New York City, and likely in the country, according to city officials, to adopt an all-vegetarian cafeteria menu.
Feeling bad for the cheeseburger-deprived? Consider the school’s menu one day last week: black bean and Cheddar quesadillas with salsa and roasted red potatoes.
While that sounds like a tasty choice, news of the progressive change begs the question: is a vegetarian lifestyle safe for growing children?
Amie Hamlin, executive director of the nonprofit New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, which has worked with PS 244 in developing its menu since the school opened in 2008, says the simple answer is "yes."
She said the goal is a diet of plant-based, whole foods that are lower in cholesterol and saturated fats and high in fiber.
“These diets offer many benefits over the standard American diet,” she said, adding that the PS 244 menu also strictly adheres to federal school nutrition guidelines (which recently accepted tofu as a source of protein).
Hamlin also turned to the research. She said the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly called the American Dietetic Association, has published a physician’s report encouraging a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle for people “at all stages of the life cycle,” Hamlin said.
Before they are published, the reports are made accessible to all registered dietitians around the country to review for errors.
“They are heavily scrutinized by many registered dietitians, including many who work for animal products industry,” Hamlin said. “As a result only statements that are just wholly proven by science make it into the paper.”
In other words, the tofu checks out.
And Hamlin says it’s catching on. Since news of the PS 244 menu has spread, she’s received calls from parents and teachers at several schools interested in making the change.
“I think we are all realizing this is the healthier way to eat,” she said.