By SEAN PATRICK QUIGLEY
The big bespectacled man in the dark suit stood in the school cafeteria and asked, “Who loves the salad bar?”
Every little hand in the cafeteria shot into the air. One girl exclaimed, “I get the salads every day!” near jumping from her seat, as another boy talked casually about his passion for baby carrots.
This was the enthusiastic response to the question posed by Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott to the students of PS244 of Flushing as they sat down for lunch without a sliver of mystery meat in sight.
These kids of the Active Learning School have become what officials believe to be consumers of the first exclusively vegetarian school lunches in the nation. Exuberant about healthy eating and healthy living the school serves vegetarian dishes five times a week.
Sitting down on plastic chairs with the pre K to 3rd graders Walcott apologized for holding up their lunch. He asked the kids to name some of their favorite menu Items.
One boy cried out, “My favorite meal is ranch with the salad bar!” Another added, “Mine is tofu with Chinese noodles.”
Walcott.shook his head in surprise.“Who would ever have thought a they would hear a third grader say their favorite meal is tofu and Chinese noodles?”
The school started serving vegetarian options at their opening in 2008, roshe run hyp qs offering them three times a week. Noticing more and more kids were leaning towards the vegetarian choices, the school increased it to four times a week and now, five times a week, exclusively
Today’s lunch was black beans and cheddar quesadillas, served with salsa and roasted red potatoes. But all week long the menu serves such items as chickpeas, tofu vegetable wraps , vegetarian chili and falafels.
Walcott said student focus groups prompted the decision to adopt the,. vegetarian menu, so that it’s “not just the adults deciding.”
Principal and school co-founder Robert Groff said, “ We created PS 244 on a principle of healthy lifestyle and academic achievement. If we help kids make healthy decisions it will help them grow not only as students, but as people.
Executive Director of the NY Coalition for Healthy School Food, Amie Hamlin added, “Plant based, nutrient dense options help students do better in school and reduce global warming.”
She and the Chancellor also voiced the hope that every school in New York would have salad bars sooner or later.
However, vegetarianism is not the only choice schools will have if partnered with the coalition. Walcott said the mission was to “provide healthy food to schools, vegetarian or not,” emphasizing the vast array of menu choices any school can adopt, to best reflect the needs and desires of the population.
“I am proud of the students and staff for trailblazing this extraordinary path,” said Walcott. “Our meals program has evolved under the Bloomberg Administration to offer dishes that meet our nutritional standards.”