Would your kid eat braised black beans with plantains, a tofu vegetable wrap with cucumber salad, or vegetarian chili served with brown rice? While they were at school and away from parental encouragement?
PS 244 in Flushing, Queens is giving it a try. Last week they became the first public school in a major city to offer an exclusively vegetarian cafeteria menu. The school began serving a vegetarian menu three times a week when it was founded in 2008. The principal, Robert Groff, said they expanded their vegetarian menu because they quickly realized that they couldn’t keep up with demand. “The vegetarian menu fits right in with our mission and we are thrilled that our students in pre-kindergarten all the way up to grade three understand the importance of healthy and nutritious meals.”
Of course, PS 244 is not alone in trying to improve the nutritional value of the cafeteria offerings. Many schools cook with produce grown in school gardens that the children help tend through programs like the Edible Schoolyard Project or Kids Gardening. Others connect with local farms to bring in fresh, local produce. And school menus all over the country are getting more serious about nutrition since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act went into effect at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year. Chicken fried steaks and tater tots are becoming endangered species in school cafeterias.
But cutting meat entirely out of the menu? That, clearly, is not a step many schools are ready or willing to take. What if your child’s school made a move like this? Would you be supportive? Or do you think that having a meat option is always a good idea?
I like the idea of going all-vegetarian. Kids whose families eat meat probably get plenty at home. There are lots of good, nutritious, and cost effective ways to get protein into kids without serving them meat all the time. And it’s a good way to expose kids to foods they might not normally eat in a way that makes it seem “normal” because all their friends are eating it too.
(photo from istockphoto)