About This Episode

Where does the food come from that we feed our kids in schools? Laura Benavidez, Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services for the Boston Public Schools, discusses a program she’s spearheading aimed at transforming how food is sourced, prepared, and served throughout Boston’s public schools. Currently, most of the food is prepared in New Jersey, frozen, and transported to Boston. “We’re going to revolutionize how we feed kids,” says Benavidez. Jill Shah, serial entrepreneur and president of the Shah Family Foundation, is providing the funding to build school kitchens in the 75% of schools who do not have them so that meals can be prepared on-site with fresh ingredients. Eventually the program, which has the support of the Mayor, will be expanded throughout the district and impact 57,000 kids. The ultimate goal is to create a blueprint for other school districts to replicate its success. “We’re more than happy to share [what we’ve learned] throughout the country,” says Shah. The ultimate judges of that success are the kids who are thriving on the fresh food prepared in the new kitchens. Students are given a choice from a menu of healthy options. “Kids are choosing what they eat and they’re going to eat what they choose,” says Benavidez. The kids are even embracing vegetables. Shah relates a story about walking into the cafeteria at one of the schools in the program. “There was this quiet hum, and every kid was leaned over a tray eating, happily. That’s not how a lunch room in a public school usually is!,” she exclaimed. In addition to this overwhelming anecdotal success, they are funding a study to gather data on how the program is affecting educational outcomes. This ongoing research will inform continuing improvement of the program. “Some of it is important to measure with studies, but some of it is just a vibe that you feel when you walk in to a place,” concludes Shah. Listen and learn about an innovative program that is transforming the way kids interact with healthy food at school.