Fit Kids: Meat-Free School Lunches Really Veg Out

At two public schools in the city, the closest thing to mystery meat one will find on the lunch tray is tofu. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

Kale is cool at the Active Learning Elementary School in Flushing and at the Peck Slip School in Tribecca. So is broccoli, and apple, and tofu. 

"One of the kids is particularly fond of the falafel, he calls them spicy chicken nuggets, and I'm okay with that because he's eating them," said Peck Slip Principal Maggie Siena.

But there isn't any chicken or beef, or pork, or fish. PS 343, known as the Peck Slip School, serves only vegetarian food.

"They get more fiber. They get less cholesterol, less saturated fat and more of the healthy fighter nutrients that come from plants," said Amie Hamlin of Coalition for Healthy School Food.

Meat-free public schools began 18 months ago when PS 244 in Queens, the Active Learning School, switched to a plant-based menu.

"There's been some trial and error, no doubt about it. But working with the Office of School Foods has made it a menu that is ever changing and we find out what the kids like," said PS 244 Principal Bob Groff.

This past September, the Tribeca school banished meat from its lunchline, too.

"Some children bring sandwiches with meat and I know that a lot of the kids with school lunch will go home and have meat in their dinners but one more meat-free meal a day is good for the kids and is good for the environment," Siena said.

At the Active Learning Elementary School, the principal thinks that the vegetarian menu has made a difference when it comes to attendance.

The average attendance citywide is about 90 percent but here it was already much higher - at 96 percent - and after they switched to a vegetarian menu, it's been inching up even more. Now 97 percent of students are showing up every day.  And the alternative menu isn't any more expensive.

"The cost of the meals has to stay the same," Groff noted.

And for the students? The absence of hot dogs and peperoni seems to be working. And at least some of them seem to understand the health benefits.

"I love it," said one student.

"It has proteins, vitamin, grains," said another student.

During the month of February, Time Warner Cable News is committed to informing our viewers of the sometimes alarming trends facing our kids' health as well as provide helpful tips for busy parents.  Get more information on Fit Kids February, including the Fit Kids Challenge, healthy shopping suggestions and ways you can get involved to help make you and your children healthier! 

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