By Barbara Taormina
Starting in September, there will be universal free breakfast and lunch in public schools throughout Massachusetts, despite student income levels. The food services program in Revere is ready for the change.
This week, Cheryl Cole, director of Food and Nutrition Services for Revere Public Schools, presented an overview of the program to the School Committee. Cole said that like other school food services, Revere has faced challenges with staff shortages and the increased cost of food. Costs of products are expected to increase seven percent over the next year. Cole said increased prices and supply chain disruptions have been challenges for the food service program.
Also on the horizon are changes to the USDA dietary guidelines which have proposed a 10 percent reduction of sugar in foods served, a change in the type of milk offered, a reduction of sodium or salt in food and a change in whole grain products served. Those changes are not official yet and would not go into effect until the 2027-2028 school year. Cole said that would give food manufacturers time to adjust their recipes to be in compliance with the guidelines.
Cole said one of the biggest problems was finding a supplier of halal and kosher products. Once a month, schools serve halal burgers or halal chicken tenders, but supplies limit the offering. Cole is continuing to search for consistent suppliers and to increase vegetarian and diversity options. Despite the challenges, Cole said, participation in the breakfast program has increased from 42 percent to 48 percent, while lunch numbers have jumped from 71 percent participation rate to 74 percent.
Cole also said the National School Lunch Program has launched a Culinary Alliance made up of executive chefs from districts around the country. The Alliance develops and shares ideas and recipes. Maria Davis, executive chef of Revere Public Schools, is a member of the Alliance and has contributed the recipe for an Aloha Bowl, a dish with pineapple salsa and halal chicken tenders.
“It’s exciting to think students across the country will be eating food designed in Revere,” said Schools Supt. Dianne Kelly.
The state has pledged $1.7 million in aid for schools now required to provide free lunch for all students. Cole said Revere was recently awarded a nearly $70,000 grant to purchase supplies from farms and manufacturers within a 300-mile radius.
School Committee Member Jacqueline Monterosso suggested a survey of students to see what they liked and expected from the school food service. Cole agreed a survey would be useful and suggested asking parents about their expectations.
Committee members praised Cole and the staff for their work. “Everyone is knowledgeable, they have a great relationship with students, and they are proud of what they serve,” said Acting Mayor Partrick Keefe, chair of the School Committee.