You’ve Got to Measure the Hum: Why Kids In Boston Love School Meals

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

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.

Resources and Mentions:

Jill Shah

President of the Shah Family Foundation, a Boston-based philanthropic organization supporting game-changing initiatives at the core of education, healthcare, and community. Prior to that, she was the Founder and CEO of Jill’s List – an online marketplace for Complementary, Alternative and Integrative Healthcare. Before Jill’s List, Jill was Senior Vice President, Business and Corporate Development for Mercator Software, a publicly-traded software company which she helped turn-around and sell to Ascential Software. She moved to Mercator from Monitor Group’s investment banking practice, MAST, where she served as a Vice President, and before that was part of an entrepreneurial team that helped to build the marketing and internet solutions company, Larry Miller Productions, which was then sold to iXL and taken public.

Laura Benavidez

The Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services for the Boston Public School System where she is responsible for overseeing the department, developing and executing the strategic plan, and providing nutritious meals to help students learn as well as educating students on making nutritious choices. Prior to Boston, she was the Deputy Director of Food Services for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has a PhD in Hospitality Administration and Management from Iowa State University.

No Kid Hungry

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is ending child hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.

Root Cause Coalition

The Root Cause Coalition is a national, member-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the root causes of health disparities by focusing on hunger and other social determinants leading to nationwide epidemic of preventable chronic health conditions.

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