Dear PSB Community Members,
As you may be aware, at the beginning of this school year the school district began working with a professional food services management company to manage our school kitchens and provide menu options that are more in line with community standards and School Committee policy. With the endorsement of the Town’s Wellness Committee, the School Committee decided to partner with Whitsons Culinary Group in order to improve the quality, variety, and freshness of the breakfasts and lunches prepared at our schools. This decision was also made to respond to a compliance audit of our food service programs, conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), that documented a significant number of findings.
By partnering with Whitsons, our cafeterias are now able to provide healthier, more nutritious, and fresher food options than in the past. We have also been able to increase the amount of ingredients that are locally sourced and minimally processed. This year our menus have fewer ingredients such as trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors and flavors than in previous years. Our food options are also lower in salt and lower in sugar and have introduced new items made with whole grains. The Town’s Wellness Committee and the School Committee have been instrumental in these improvements because they have provided us with clearer guidelines and unwavering support.
Working with Whitsons also allows us to be fully transparent about what we are serving to our students. We now provide easy access to our menus, ingredients, and nutritional information so students and parents can make smart food choices and more easily manage food-related allergies. None of this information was available prior to this year. In addition, we are also assured that all of the food we serve adheres to the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program and is in compliance with federally mandated guidelines set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In addition, this year’s DESE audit cited significant improvement and few findings.
Whitsons is managing our kitchens, developing menus, training district employees, and sourcing and supplying ingredients. Our kitchens remain staffed by the same capable food service workers as in years past who are still responsible for preparing, cooking, and serving lunch and breakfast every school day. Unlike Boston Public Schools, our food is prepared on site by our own district PSB food service employees who use fresh food and cook meals in fully operational restaurant quality kitchens. I want to especially thank our dedicated food service employees who take great care and pride in preparing and serving meals to our students.
I’d like to also thank the parents who have provided direct feedback to our schools, our food services director and myself. We acknowledge that there have been some growing pains during the first year of our partnership with Whitsons. Being able to hear feedback and respond to it will make a good food services program into a great one. At the beginning of the year, parents voiced concerns that some a la carte items were not healthy enough to meet our district wellness goals. While many of these items had been available for years in our cafeterias and are on the accepted John Stalker A-List, we responded to parent feedback by removing them from all K-8 cafeterias. We currently only carry what you read on our menus as a la carte options.
Recently parents have contacted the school department directly with concerns that some schools have run out of hot meal lunch entrees before all students are served during the last lunch of the day. In reviewing recent data on lunches prepared and lunches served we have learned that, on occasion, different schools have sold out of hot lunch entrees.
Each day our food service employees do their best to estimate the number of meals to prepare based on patterns and choices students make throughout the year. At every lunch each school offers all of the following:
- The Day’s Featured Entrée
- Ham & Cheese Sandwich
- Turkey and Cheese Sandwich
- Tuna Sandwich
- Peanut Butter or Sunbutter & Jelly Sandwich
- Garden Salad with Cheese
- Chef Salad
- Bagel Lunch
- Chicken Caesar Salad
* In addition, on Mondays and Thursdays, students are offered the choice of these hot sandwiches: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, veggie burgers, chicken patties, and turkey burgers.
Except at Lower Devotion, where students order meals at the beginning of each day, our food service staff is trying to anticipate what hundreds of students at each school will choose to buy and what percentage of students will bring lunch on any given day. Essentially they are trying to balance the desire to make all choices available to all students in all lunches with the need not to over produce food and create a significant amount of food waste. Recent data show that we typically prepare between 8% and 15% more meals than are actually sold. However this can range from a high of 30% overproduction to occasionally not having enough prepared to meet the demand for the day’s featured entree. On the occasional day when the featured entree is not available, the options listed above are available for students to choose from. We will continue to monitor these data in an effort to better anticipate meal requests.
We have also been contacted by parents who shared that their children don’t find some of the new options to be tasty enough. While it is hard to respond to personal preference when providing food for thousands of students across many schools, it makes sense that in the USDA’s requirement to transition to lower salt, lower fat, less sugar, and more whole grain ingredients, that some students will find the new food options less tasty to start. For example instead of white flour pizza dough, we now use whole wheat dough for our pizza crusts. We serve whole wheat dinner rolls, brown rice, and steamed vegetables. By design these foods and others are prepared with fewer fats and more natural ingredients. While we cannot address individual taste preferences, we do realize that introducing new foods or healthier options can sometimes cause some dissatisfaction among children as they become familiar with new tastes or ingredients. Despite this concern, the School Committee remains committed to improving the quality and the healthiness of our school lunches.
If parents or students have concerns about meals at school, it is best to first talk to the kitchen manager at your school and then, if necessary, contact our Food Services Director Gus Travassos directly. Mr. Travassos is located at the PSB administrative offices at 24 Webster Place in Brookline Village and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (617) 730-2499.
Thank you again for the comments, suggestions and feedback. The Wellness Committee, School Committee, Food Services Staff, and families all share the common goal of providing Brookline’s students with nutritious and delicious meals. Working together, I am positive we can reach that goal.
Mary Ellen Dunn
Deputy Superintendent for Administration and Finance