I get excited when I learn about people making positive changes even when it seems impossible. Nutrition is so important for avoiding physical and mental illness, not just during June as we observe National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month, but always.
ForksOverKnives.com reported that a public school in Flushing, Queens, New York became the first public non-charter school in America to offer students an all-vegetarian menu in 2013. I found this out during my usual methods of research.
Way to go, PS244Q! The program was launched thanks to the support of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food (NYCHSF), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to introduce plant-based foods and nutrition education in schools to educate the whole school community. They formed in 2004 by writing and getting passed unanimously a New York State Legislative Resolution - Assembly or Senate - which asked schools to offer plant-based entrees as a healthy option, provide nutrition education that includes information on multi-cultural and plant-based eating patterns, promote farm to school programs, and more. This year, NYCHSF also helped a second school, the Peck Slip School in lower Manhattan (New York), become a meat-free school. I am singing Hallelujah at this point, though I wish more schools would jump onboard.
The reasons stretch way beyond the nutritional, every day-bodily-function aspects of the carnivorous vs. vegetarian equation. Healthy children are more likely to grow up to be healthy adults. Amie Hamlin, the executive director of the Coalition, has all good things to say about the difference the menu has on students’ attitude and academic performance. The most obvious is attendance, which improved with students’ overall health.
“The school’s standardized test scores were #11 in the state,” says Hamlin as reported on the Forks Over Knives website. “All the other schools with higher test scores have no English language learners, and they all have gifted programs. PS244Q does not have a gifted program and does have English language learners, so it was an incredible achievement. I am so proud of the kids and the school. Though there is no cause and effect proof, we like to think it is a result of the healthier menu.”
I’m very happy for the Big Apple in their attention to such a fundamental matter as it relates to school children. It also makes me wonder what the Garden State is waiting for! Of course, there are ways to make this happen anywhere to naturally increase our intake of fruits and vegetables. Hamlin, who began as a parent who wanted to see change in her step-son’s school, volunteered to head the PTA Nutrition Committee. After all, what parent doesn’t want her children to learn healthy eating habits? What good is teaching health without leading by example?
The Mental Health Foundation reports that the role of nutrition as one of the most obvious yet under-recognized factors in the development of major trends in mental health. The website says, “The body of evidence linking diet and mental health is growing at a rapid pace. As well as its impact on short and long-term mental health, the evidence indicates that food plays an important contributing role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Nearly two thirds of those who do not report daily mental health problems eat fresh fruit or fruit juice every day, compared with less than half of those who do report daily mental health problems. This pattern is similar for fresh vegetables and salad. Those who report some level of mental health problems also eat fewer healthy foods (fresh fruit and vegetables, organic foods and meals made from scratch) and more unhealthy foods (chips and crisps, chocolate, ready meals and takeaways).” The world would be a more manageable place if children were taught about mindful eating in school and practice what they learn at lunchtime.