We all know that the kids stereotype is that children will not ‘eat their greens’ whilst the reality is that most children will in fact enjoy several familiar vegetables, but would you have the nerve – or the capability – to make your school restaurant completely vegetarian?
In the USA, the country’s (perhaps) first ever all vegetarian menu served in a public school has been officially recognised in Queens, New York.
The Active Learning Elementary School serves more than 400 primary children – from nursery age to third grade – with breakfast and lunch every day. They had gradually been reducing the number of meat-based meals they were providing, serving a vegetarian lunch initially three and then four days a week; but from January this year they switched to 100% vegetarian.
Principal Robert Groff who co-founded the school in 2008 said, “The founding of our school was based on health and nutrition and teaching kids how to make healthy choices in the belief that they would be more successful academically and in their life.”
Now a typical menu will include vegetarian chilli, falafel with cucumber salad, a tofu (roasted in sesame sauce) wrap with plantains, or a black bean and cheese quesadilla served with salsa and roast potatoes. On Fridays the children still get to eat a (vegetarian) pizza.
The move came about partly because the school has about 70% Indian and Asian students. Groff said, “We started to watch the kids. One, what they would bring in to school, and two, what they would gravitate towards in the cafeteria.” Observing a higher number of vegetarian choices, the school partnered with the not-for-profit organisation New York Coalition for Healthy School Food to help them make the change, assisted by the fact that the school’s head cook is also vegetarian.
All the meals meet the same mandatory USDA protein requirements as a meat dish would.
Echoing research done by the Children’s Food Trust, the executive director of New York Coalition for Healthy School Food – Amie Hamlin – said, “We know that when students eat a healthy diet, they’re able to focus better. Their immune systems are stronger, so they’re sick less, and then they’re in school more and they’re able to focus and concentrate better, and therefore learn better.”
Most parents have apparently received the changes well, and for those who are less keen Groff encourages them to send their own lunches in. The kids themselves all seem to really enjoy the food, which may be interesting for many school chefs to note.
As mum to a daughter who doesn’t eat meat (we eat fish but not meat) I am frequently perplexed by the options she has for her school meal, and nonplussed by the way she is often treated by the system, and I am far from convinced that the vegetarian dishes she is given have enough (if any) protein in them. So this story is especially interesting to me. Do you think your school would ever be able to serve an all vegetarian menu – even for just a week?