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New York Elementary School Swaps Hot Dogs for Hummus

School cafeterias have the power to not only improve students’ test scores, attention, and mental focus—but also students’ overall health and well-being. Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee, applauds New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley for the city’s most recent public health initiative: meatless meals in New York City Public School 244. All schools should follow the Active Learning Elementary School’s lead in combating lifestyle disease with nutritious plant-based entrees. Here is the letter she sent to Commissioner Farley urging him to promote the program in other city schools:

May 6, 2013

Thomas Farley, M.D., M.P.H.
Commissioner of Health
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
125 Worth St.
New York, NY 10013

Dear Dr. Farley:

Thank you for launching nutrition initiatives in New York City’s food establishments—from calorie labels and trans fat limits to sodium reduction pledges—that promote health and longevity. Perhaps the most serious, but more mundane threat of our time is what is being served in the lunch line.

The Active Learning Elementary School, Public School 244, and the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, is taking your lead by purging meat and dishing out healthful plant-based menu options in school lunch lines. As a dietitian, I’m delighted to hear the news. I’m also cautiously optimistic about the future of school lunches.

Science shows fiber-rich, plant-based foods are an integral part of combating obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and various forms of cancer. According to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in four New York adults consumes the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Introducing vegetarian options to city residents at a young age promotes healthful habits that last a lifetime—and influence generations to come.

The shift toward healthful school lunches may be the driving force that is helping to curb childhood obesity rates; let’s be sure these rates continue to decline. Clinicians at the nonprofit Physicians Committee hope to make an even bigger dent in years to come but look to city officials and influential leaders, like you, to spread the word. Resources for parents, food service directors, and principals are enclosed.

This information has proved helpful to others, and we hope you not only share it with schools and institutions in your city, but encourage schools to follow the lead of PS 244. Please let me know if you would like us to create custom meal plans and educational components to advance healthful nutrition in New York City Public Schools.


Susan Levin, M.S., R.D.
Director of Nutrition Education
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine


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