School Lunches. Not Great—but more good news than bad.


PS 244 in Queens—Nation’s First Vegetarian Public School

Public School 244, above, partnered with nonprofit New York Coalition for Healthy School Food to design vegetarian recipes.

Public School 244 partnered with nonprofit New York Coalition for Healthy School Food to design vegetarian recipes

This recent story has been picked up by newspapers all across the country (See links below). The good news is that there is progress being made. The bad news is that we’re a very long way from getting cow’s milk and cheese off the so-called “vegetarian” menu.

Not only at PS 244 in Queens but also at the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London, CT, where I spoke to the entire 6th grade during the first week of April.

First — The Good News. The food at PS 244 in Queens

Crystal Gu, schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Arianna Francisco enjoy a vegetarian lunch. Walcott says the all-vegetarian food system should be replicated at schools across the city and nation.

Crystal Gu, schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Arianna Francisco enjoy a vegetarian lunch. Walcott says the all-vegetarian food system should be replicated at schools across the city and nation.

Next — The Bad News. Cow’s milk & cheese were invited to the party.

Federal intervention will probably be necessary to get dairy off the menu---and that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

Federal intervention will probably be necessary to get dairy off the menu—and that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

From the first article referenced below:

Public School 244 in Flushing is the first public school in the nation to serve all-vegetarian meals for breakfast and lunch, according to city education officials. A-rated PS 244 partnered with nonprofit New York Coalition for Healthy School Food to design recipes for appetizing plant-based grub.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who often crows about maintaining a fit lifestyle, said the launch of the vegetarian food-fest should be duplicated in schools across the city and country.

“I don’t eat fried foods. I don’t drink soda. I try not to have sweets too often,” said Walcott, who tested the veggie victuals. “And that’s what we want for our students … to make sure they eat healthy both at home and school.”

It will take an act of Congress to get dairy out of our schools

It will take an act of Congress to get dairy out of our schools.

Yogurt in the smoothie? Meanwhile back at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London, CT. Earlier this week, the sixth grade teacher who sponsored my April presentations at the school (Ms. Suellen Hampton), invited me to join about one hundred of the 6th graders as they prepared and consumed some fairly healthy fruit and veggie smoothies.

I say “fairly” healthy because in addition to the kale, carrots and berries—each of the smoothies contained a hefty load of some not-so-healthy ingredients: added sugar and Nonfat Yogurt, shown at right. Apparently the food management team at the school would not participate in the preparation of any smoothies that didn’t contain dairy.

Good news outweighs the bad. Even though both PS 244 and Bennie Dover Jackson are both still serving dairy everyday to every student, progress is being made as students are learning that every meal doesn’t have to contain animal products. In the picture below, the students at Bennie Dover Jackson enjoyed their smoothies. About one third of them raised their hands when asked if they’d started eating more fruits and vegetables since attending my presentation during the first week of April.

Unfortunately, the last image shows what is the probably the most prominent picture in every public school cafeteria in America. I snapped this photo at Bennie Dover Jackson after the kids went back to class. It’s almost like the dairy industry OWNS our public schools.

100 of the 6th graders at Bennie Dover Jackson enjoying their fruit & veggie smoothies.

100 of the 6th graders at Bennie Dover Jackson working on a healthy eating exercise as their smoothies were prepared.

Finally a message from your Dairy Industry

Large "Got Milk?" poster in the lunchroom of the Bennie Dover Jackson middle school in New London, CT

Large “Got Milk?” poster in the lunchroom of the Bennie Dover Jackson middle school in New London, CT

In addition to the source articles, I have included links below to several of my earlier blogs about dairy and school lunches.

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For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page or some great recipes at Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

Got a question? Let me hear from you at jmorrishicks@me.com. Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

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—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. Leveraging his expertise in making complex things simple, he is now seeking corporate clients who are interested in slashing their cost of health care. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from eCornell and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation, where he also sits on the board of directors.
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6 Responses to School Lunches. Not Great—but more good news than bad.

  1. Lisa says:

    Congrats on making an impression on the students enough to have 1/3 increase their fruit and veggie intake! That’s impressive.

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Joanne Irwin says:

    This paradigm shift is creeping along at a snail’s pace, but the good news is it’s moving!!
    In talking with my daughter this morning, she told me that her son’s first grade class picture was telling. Half the students were overweight and some would be diagnosed as obese. And these are 1st graders! On a sunny note, a good friend told me that her daughter-in-law, her son, and other siblings watched Forks Over Knives. The result – they’re all moving into the plant based column, and her son recently lost 20 pounds.
    To the schools – the dairy industry is tethered to education financially. What will it take to put Elsie to pasture??
    Let’s all hang on to this……Whatever we believe and can conceive, we can achieve. Together – writing, sharing, teaching, being living proof of the benefits of this way of life – will make an impact.

  3. Sal Liggieri says:

    Jim,

    Your optimism is always impressive.

    One school in NYC out of how many?

    I read the menu and they have a long, long way to go. I doubt that school lunches will ever give up the dairy products.

    America is sure making progress towards plant based foods. Notice any fast food restaurants going out of business lately?

  4. MikeR says:

    I believe (I don’t have the facts at my disposal) the USDA probably requires that dairy be served as part of the school lunch program, which started as a way to distribute excess commodities. As long as USDA sees its mission as encouraging dairy consumption, milk and other unhealthy “foods” will be served. I think T. Colin Campbell wrote about USDA’s milk mandare in The China Study, and Michelle Simon did too in her book Appetite for Profit.

  5. km says:

    Los Angeles public schools have also recently approved a “Meatless Monday” program. Again, not a perfect solution but it’s a great start considering the # of kids it will impact (more than 650,000 meals daily) & planting the seed for change.

    http://www.meatlessmonday.com/los-angeles-public-schools-implement-meatless-mondays-for-student-health/

  6. In a 65-year long study that followed children from the age of 5 until they were 70, it was found that people who consume 2 or more servings of dairy products daily have a three times greater risk of developing Colorectal cancer, [which kills more Americans than any other type of cancer] compared to people who have consumed little or no dairy products. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition ( 86: 17 22-1729)

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