If you grew up in the US public school system, you surely remember the square pizzas covered in a thick layer of cheese, the perfectly rectangular chicken nuggets, and the nachos covered in orange plastic-like cheese. I’m not going to lie, I was one of those kids who looked forward to pizza Fridays. Clearly, I had great taste in food!
The other day, Vishnu and I took a walk down memory lane after he shared an article with me about a New York City elementary school cafeteria going completely vegetarian. In fact, this is the first public school in the nation to do so. And not only has the menu changed, but school administrators are also beginning to build healthy lifestyle education into the curriculum, teaching their students about what options exist.
Of course, the school is not banning kids from bringing their own non-vegetarian lunches to school. However, instead of meat filled options, kids now purchase things like black bean quesadillas, brown rice, falafel, roasted red potatoes, and tofu. How awesome, right!? And get this, the kids love the new menu so much that they’re even requesting this kind of food at home now.
The new menu still follows the USDA’s standards, so there is no reason to be concerned that students are not receiving adequate nutrients. And even though everything is still in line with government regulations, there are those who still oppose this “revolutionary” way of feeding young kids (ahem, the U.S. meat industry, ahem). However, it should be noted that the cities with the most aggressive nutrition policies are the ones that have seen the biggest drops in childhood obesity rates.
How good does this look?!
Even though this is only one school out of thousands, I’m still excited about the possibilities this opens up. I’m really hoping that other school districts take notice and begin to make responsible decisions about what we are feeding our nation’s kids. And although I am a vegetarian myself, I don’t think that this is the only healthy diet out there. I am a true believer in “different strokes for different folks.” However, I do think that vegetarian foods need to be introduced early and in a fun way, which I think schools can help do. It amazes me when people, both children and adults, don’t know what common fruits and vegetables are.
And just to be clear, I realize that healthy living is a multi-faceted issue. While this is a small step in turning things around, it’s a step. And that is something that gives me hope.
I really want to know – what do you think about public schools offering an entirely vegetarian cafeteria menu?