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Long Island School District Embraces Meatless Mondays

WYANDANCH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The concept of Meatless Monday has spread to 30 countries, with hospitals, military groups and restaurants taking part.

As CBS 2's Jennifer McLogan reported, this year, 1 million U.S. schoolchildren are participating, and the latest to join is in Wyandanch, Long Island.

Students in Wyandanch schools have said goodbye to chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers, and even oily French fries on Mondays – and hello to tofu.

"It tastes really good actually," said Wyandanch High School senior Lincoln Buchanan. "I thought it would have been, like, a little off, because it's tofu, but actually it tastes kind of like chicken."

The Meatless Mondays movement dates back nearly a century to World War I, when the government urged meat cutbacks to aid in the allies' efforts abroad.

In the 2014 version, soy and pea proteins have been brought in as substitutes for meat.

School lunch manager Pamela Usher said there is a high rate of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure within the community and the district is trying to teach students the health benefits of a more plant-based diet.

"Going meatless was a good way to start teaching our students how to do several things like reducing the carbon footprint, saving the precious resources -- like our water and our fossil fuel, and the health and the environmental benefits of this whole process," Usher told 1010 WINS.

Some of the meatless options include "a soy product that's like a chicken strip and we also have a ground beef product that's made from a soy protein," Usher said, adding that students and staff are adjusting to the change.

"We're introducing products that some students never tried before, so it's all a learning process for the students and as well as the staff because the staff as well is learning how to prepare this product that they've never prepared before," Usher said.

A new chili recipe is also being perfected by school cook Earnest Mays.

"You want to dice it up pretty small -- red and green peppers -- give them a nice chop like this. And as you add them to the oil you hear them sizzle, and then add dry ingredients -- garlic, cayenne pepper, basil-oregano mix, fajita seasoning, paprika. You smell it, don't you?" Mays said. "The students actually don't even realize that there's no meat in this until they see the signs that we have posted."

Students are discussing and learning from the initiative, said Wyandanch High School principal Paul Sibblies.

"This initiative, when we started the Meatless Monday, it brought about a conversation which evolved into something special," Sibblies said.

High school junior Tanashe Mapp has diabetes in her family, and now she is taking home the lessons of Meatless Mondays.

"Junk food is cheaper – it's much cheaper. That's why we eat it," she said. "(Vegetarian options are) good for your heart, good for your body."

High blood pressure and other health concerns run in Malachi Aaron's family.

"I have high cholesterol, and regular meat has a lot of fat in it," Aaron said.

And can cutbacks on meat aid in childhood obesity?

"Cutting back on meat would be a small piece of the puzzle, so it depends on what they replace it with, said Dr. Victor Scarmato of Nassau University Medical Center.

Pediatricians advised not replacing meats with fatty cheeses, breads and pastas. They also advised that if sugary desserts give way to fruits, then Meatless Mondays can be a success

The students said they area also learning about environmental reasons to reduce meat consumption, such as greenhouse gas emissions.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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