Boston Plans School Menu Change

Facing $2.2 million deficit, department plans to streamline, standardize choices

School lunch is always a punch line for kids -- but for the Boston schools, it's turned into a $2.2 million dollar deficit problem. And that is driving some big changes on the menu for 57,000 public school students across the city starting next month.

Naveen Reddy, director of business improvement for the financial office of the Boston Public Schools, said the overall principle is: “How do we make our kids eat more, eat healthy, while also adhering to stricter standards we have through the USDA (Department of Agriculture)? So we want to increase participation, decrease waste, but also offer healthy food which kids like.’’

Some of Boston’s changes coming next month, first reported in The Boston Globe Monday morning, include cutting back hot breakfast to just two days a week, and reducing the number of lunch options.

“We’re still offering a hot entrée and a cold entrée and another alternate,’’ said Deborah Ventricelli, deputy director of food and nutrition for the BPS. “We have fresh salads, fresh fruits and vegetables also available.’’ But those lunch options would likely be stripped down to choices among peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, meatball subs and deli sandwiches. BPS officials stress that as much as possible, they use whole-grain, lower-fat, and lower-sodium ingredients in menus.

Many parents have protested that replacing hot breakfasts with sugary cereals and carbohydrate-rich foods and a restricted range of predictable lunch foods sets a bad example for kids.

Katie Fitch, a nurse practitioner and nutrition expert who has two daughters in Boston elementary school, said, “I’m very disappointed in this. We know the data is there about what these types of foods provide to our students -- which isn't much … It's less choice, it's choice in the wrong direction. if we're going to decrease choice -- which I'm not fully in support of -- let's look at the choices we provide and let's provide good choices that give a good example to our students’’ and encourage them to sample and learn to like a wide variety of foods.

Another aspect to the planned BPS food changes is to standardize the menu. Currently, 46 Boston schools have their own cafeteria kitchens and offer a more diverse range of items than the 82 schools that don’t have on-site kitchens and get foods prepared off-site and warmed up for serving there. With these changes, all schools will offer the same choices. “We're trying to have equity amongst all the schools, so we have the same number of options,’’ Ventricelli said.

BPS officials said they have heard and appreciate concerns expressed by dozens of parents about the quality and range of new food options to be offered, and they will do regular research with students to make sure the items they’re serving are ones kids actually want to eat.  

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