Remember the pink slime scandal? Parents across the country were horrified to learn that most school cafeterias serve students the lowest possible quality of meat: beef by-products treated with ammonium hydroxide.
In response, most states started shelling out the extra couple of cents for 100 percent lean beef that hadn’t taken an ammonia bath before landing on the plate. (Incredibly, some schools have switched back after students complained that the meat looked and tasted too meat-like. Yeah, wrap your head around that one.)
A public school in Queens, N.Y., decided to take it one step further. The school, P.S. 244, is the first in the nation to offer a 100 percent vegetarian lunch menu. That’s right, no more sloppy joes or scary meatloaf. Instead 400 students in grades pre-K through 3 choose from options like organic roasted tofu, braised black beans and falafel.
Before you get upset about the school forcing kids to eat vegetarian, know that students are still allowed to bring any lunch item from home that they want, including meat. The funny, and truly awesome part is, about 90 percent of the students voluntarily choose the veggie-based cafeteria food. And the results have been phenomenal.
After one semester, the number of students at the school who were classified as overweight and obese dropped 2 percent and is still falling, according to school officials. They’ve also documented improved attendance, higher test scores and better attention spans in the wake of the change.
“Students also attend weekly nutrition classes where they learn about making smart food choices,” reports EcoWatch. Teachers also let students whose energy is lagging to take breaks that allow them to get up for a minute and be active.”
How were they able to make the switch to all-vegetarian food? Well, geography and demographics certainly helped. “About 70 percent of the students at P.S. 244 have families with Asian or Indian roots; this veggie-friendly cultural background may have played a role in the smoothness of the transition and the popularity of the program with the school’s parents and students,” continues EcoWatch.
How sad that such a change might not have even been possible in Texas or Wyoming, where eating meat is considered a god-given right. Sad because kids all over America are suffering: they’re overweight, under-exercised and hopped up on all manner of prescription drugs just to keep them in their seats.
Something as simple as teaching kids how and why to eat salad could address all of these problems and more. Just offering a healthy lunch, rather than the cheapest possible option, could actually help improve test scores in a time when those numbers are hitting rock bottom.
Adults like to claim that the kids would never stand for it, but P.S. 244 shows that that’s not the case. Kids are willing to try new things; it’s us grown-ups that are standing in the way.
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