One of my clearest memories of grade school, besides that awkward clique dynamic and the boys from AP History (hello, handsome!), are the school lunches. Believe it or not, this child would complain to my parents about the frequent pizza days, “taco” Thursday (shell and brown meat paste — no lettuce, tomato, or cheese), and those days after third lunch period when the lunch ladies would offer “fry lunches” because they had too many French fries left over and didn’t want to throw them out.
Needless to say, I brought my lunch to school. I was that kid with the healthy lunch of a chicken sandwich, baby carrots, and yogurt. My dad also drew a cartoon on my brown lunch bag each day, so what?
I think we all have horrible memories of those lunches, unless, of course, your school valued school nutrition. At the time I was in school, my mother was actually working for a school food service company who would offer districts slightly more expensive lunch bids each year in order to cover the costs of more healthy choices like a full taco bar with healthy add-ons and even made-from-scratch options that mimicked home cooking. Sadly, my school never picked up her company, but I bet that’s why I had such strong feelings about our food’s nutrition — or lack thereof.
Considering my memories of school nutrition struggles, I was elated to hear about the New York City school in Queens that had officially switched over to offering only vegetarian options in their cafeteria. I was even more excited to hear that it was an elementary school. Get ‘em started early! Hooray!
Anyone who knows me understands that I am by no means a vegetarian. I could absolutely not live without chicken or ham. Nor do I believe that vegetarian is the blanket answer to every school’s lunch nutrition problem, but I do see it as a healthy place to start. If parents are unhappy with the school’s new vegetarian-only options, school administrators encourage them to send their child to school with a bag lunch. Problem solved!
The healthier aspect of this new menu is undeniable, but it’s also great that these small kids are being exposed to foods that they may never have had the option to try at home like tofu and falafel. They’re also being treated to some of their favorite dishes, just without the meat — cheddar and black bean quesadillas, vegetarian chili, and pizza without the pepperoni.
"We know that when students eat a healthy diet, they're able to focus better,” Amie Hamlin, the executive director of New York Coalition for Healthy School Food. “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.”
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