Boston Public Schools Mulls Simplifying Meal Menus

school_lunch

Boston parents and food service employees are concerned by a plan to cut cafeteria costs through a reduction of choices offered to students at Boston Public Schools, worrying that students will not be able to find anything they want to eat.

The changes are set to take place in schools next month in 40 schools who have on-site kitchens.  Prior to the decision the schools offered a wide variety of food choices for both breakfast and lunch.

The largest change will come at breakfast time, when schools will not be offering a hot and cold choice any longer.  Under the new plan, hot items will be offered twice a week.  Some mornings, children will only be offered Cocoa Puffs, which are new to the menu as a “vegetarian” option.  The cereal comes with two pieces of fruit, writes James Vaznis for The Boston Globe.

Lunchtime offerings will contain two or three options with entree dishes only served on occasion.  Cafeterias will offer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead, as well as such popular items as macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, hamburgers, meatballs and cold-cut sandwiches.

The change has caused a number of parents and child nutrition experts to come to a school budget hearing held last week and voice their concerns publicly.

“I’m so disappointed to hear that decreasing the nutritional value of school lunch by limiting choices and variety to ultimately offering more chicken nuggets, hamburgers, pizza, and hot dogs is under consideration,” Stephanie Shapiro Berkson, an Eliot K-8 School parent and a professor of public health who specializes in childhood obesity, said during testimony.

According to school officials, all items offered on the new menu follow federal school nutrition guidelines.  That includes the Cocoa Puffs and Trix cereals, which they say contains less sugar than what is sold in grocery stores.

The changes to the menu have been made as a reflection of what are popular choices among students in an effort to bring an end to wasting food in schools while at the same time increasing participation in the school lunch program.  In addition, the changes will put BPS in line with other area schools who do not have kitchens and must have their meals shipped in.

“If you have fewer choices, you gain more efficiencies in ordering,” said Naveen Reddy, the school system’s director of business improvement.

However, school food service directors in Cambridge and Watertown who were in attendance at the budget hearing, said reducing the number of food options does not reduce waste in schools.

Melissa Honeywood, the director in Cambridge, home to the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, said the school has one of the lowest food costs in the city despite having a wide variety of options including a pasta station, two deli counters, two salad bars, two soup stations, a grill, and a vegetarian station, among other options.  “Overproduction creates food waste, not the number of options,” Honeywood said.

Boston is currently trying to combat an operating deficit within its food service program.  The program has lost over $20 million in the past 8 years, most of which they say is due to food cost, with about 60% of the budget devoted to food.  The program was on track to lose an additional $4 million this year, but the School Department was able to reduce that loss to $2.3 million through a hiring freeze and other measures.