Lunch at many public schools across New York City means chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks and mystery meat sandwiches. But at P.S. 244, The Active Learning Elementary School, in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, the menu sounds like this: Roasted Organic Tofu with Sweet Curry Sauce, Braised Black Beans with Plantains and Herbed Rice Pilaf, Chickpea Falafel with Creamy Tofu Dressing, Lettuce and Tomato and Loco Bread, and Mexican Bean Chili. In April, it became the first public school in the nation to become 100-percent vegetarian. But there’s more. To drink, there’s low-fat milk and water. No juice, no soda. And the salad bar looks like something from a very expensive day spa, not the 24-hour corner mart.
For Bob Groff, a co-founder and the principal of P.S. 244, and the man who turned his menu meatless, the need for better food was obvious. Kids were drinking neon sugary drinks, eating cheese puffs, losing focus and gaining weight. His students were not alone. Nationwide, one in three children and adolescents is obese or overweight, and childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. “There is a strong correlation between academic achievement and student health and nutrition,” said Groff. “I wanted to prove that better nutrition could make a difference to students’ lives.”