In Boston Public Schools, John Costantino, Catherine Franzetti and Robert Hoare, a trio of chefs, are reinventing the way we think about school meals.
When you walk into a cafeteria in the district, you feel the respect these chefs and the staff have for children. Kids feel they have a voice. They can choose between different healthy options including vegetarian dishes like falafel and tofu. There is variety on the menu. And students can share their feedback about new meals.
“We are not slapping things on plates,” said Franzetti, and Hoare added, “We are educators and we are the front line of educating the students on their meal choices, and educating them on their food choices is as important as education in the classroom.
These chefs work as culinary trainers at the district. They coach cafeteria staff to ensure the majority of meals are cooked from scratch and the best possible experience for kids. They know how important it is for kids who might be experiencing challenges at home.
John Costantino, who was born and raised in Boston, describes the moment it hit home for him.
“I just remember…being super excited about the Thanksgiving meal that we put together for the students,” he shared. “The manager was telling me that this could be the last time the kids eat for four days.”
Franzetti also described situations in which kids put on their hoodie to go back into the lunch line and get extra food. The chefs know that many kids in Boston are experiencing poverty and hoemlessness; many only eat food at school.
The school district is making a difference in the lives of kids. Since before the pandemic, every child in the district receives breakfast, lunch and dinner for free. As Costantino described, “it takes away food shaming…there's never gonna be a kid that's gonna show up and sit there through their 25 minute lunch while everyone else around them is eating. And the kids aren't like ‘why don't you have food?’”
Not only are the meals universally available and offered in a wide range of options, the three chefs bring their experience in the restaurant industry to create delicious plates that everybody can enjoy. Even adults working in the district eat the meals.
“They [kids] are the ones who are like our clients; they're our customers,” said Hoare. “And I think that's a more mindset change that we've started to instill in some of our staff and in, in the city, in general, not just our staff on the front lines, but we've started to instill a sense of pride and a sense of this customer satisfaction piece. We have to make sure our customers [the kids] are happy.”
The chefs want to continue improving the meal experience of kids. They know there are many challenges like short periods of time in which kids have to eat lunch and the ongoing supply chain disruptions. And the work is hard; Franzetti described waking up at four in the morning and working long hours.
But she also said, “I pinch myself every single day that my job is real…just that little kid gets excited about a cucumber, man! That's why I keep coming back… I get up every day and, and I'm a part of something that is beautiful. I'm a part of something that I feel blessed to be a part of.”
With your support, No Kid Hungry provided a grant to chefs Hoare, Costantino and Franzetti to expand taste testing in middle schools and high schools in the district. Kids in Boston continue to have their voices heard and have experiences with food that they will never forget. Boston is becoming a leader when it comes to school meals.
Join us to support organizations and school districts like Boston Public School making school meals the best possible experience for kids.
*Photos and videos courtesy of Boston Public Schools