An elementary school in Queens has become the first school in New York City, and possibly the entire nation to switch student's meal options to healthy and nutritious all-vegetarian fare.
PS 244, the Active Learning Elementary School in Flushing began increasing vegetarian options for its students early this year and since then has slowly but surely transitioned to all-meatless cafeteria meals.
The school partnered with the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, a non-profit organization, to make the shift happen. The Coalition says it is "dedicated to introducing plant-based foods and nutrition education in schools. Also involved in this initiative is the Office of SchoolFood. PS 244 arguably marks these organizations greatest successes to date.
"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...concentrate better, and therefore learn better. There's research about that," Amie Hamlin, executive director of New York Coalition for Healthy School Food told NBC News in an interview.
Although the vegetarian initiative has been in the works for some time now, School Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced it publicly for the first time on Tuesday. In honor of this announcement, Walcott joined the students in the cafeteria to dine with them.
"I am proud of the students and staff for trailblazing this extraordinary path," Walcott said in a statement. "Our school meals program has evolved under the Bloomberg Administration to offer dishes that meet our nutritional standard."
Walcott bonded with students over Tuesday's "Fiesta time" menu, which included black bean and cheddar cheese quesadillas with salsa, red roasted potatoes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese sandwiches and fruit.
According to New York City Department of Education officials, future meal offerings will include roasted chickpeas, braised black beans with plantains, tofu veggie wraps, vegetarian chili with brown rice and toasted tofu with Asian sesame sauce.
"We created PS 244 based on a principle of a healthy lifestyle and academic achievement," Principal Robert Groff said in a statement. "We discovered early on that our kids were gravitating toward our vegetarian offerings, and we kept expanding the program to meet the demand. The vegetarian menu fits right with our mission and we are thrilled that our students in Pre-Kindergarten all the way up to Grade 3 understand the importance of healthy and nutritious meals."