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Expired school food prompts outrage

Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil | 3/29/2011, 6:54 p.m.

For Hedgepeth, this isn’t good enough. “If I personally find something in my freezer past the expiration date, regardless of USDA guidelines, I toss it, and I expect no less from Boston Public Schools,” she said.

Parents and students also voiced concerns over the nutrition of school food. Anne White, a parent of two children in BPS, was horrified to learn that her daughter was served Cookie Crisp for breakfast one day, with no healthier option available. “Why should we give a single penny to cookies for breakfast?” she exclaimed.

Students took aim against the common myth that young people only want junk food  —  and will never eat healthy food. Alana Huntsburger, a student at Brighton High School, explained that kids resort to junk food only when they don’t like the food served to them in school.

Esha Sherley, a student at Boston Latin School, agreed. Students at her school organized to grow a garden on campus and set up a salad bar in their cafeteria. Soon, “there were more people lining up for the salad than there were for the cupcakes,” she said.

Daniel Nicklas, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital and the father to a BPS student, also testified to the importance of nutritious school meals.     School meals account for up to 50 percent of most children’s daily nutrition, and up to 100 percent for poor children dependent on the School Lunch and Breakfast programs, he explained.

“In my opinion, because the Boston Public Schools provide such a large portion of our children’s nutrition, it is imperative that it shows leadership in establishing the highest standard of nutritious food.”

Money was another concern for parents. Linda Barrels fought BPS earlier this year to keep her child’s school open in the wake of massive closings and mergers. While she was told “to look for every single penny to keep the schools open,” the district was wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars letting food go bad  —  a situation she said is “not acceptable.”

 According to Connolly’s findings, the Food and Nutrition Services department at BPS has been plagued by inventory mismanagement problems for nearly a year. The district spends close to $75,000 annually on storage fees in Wilmington, much of this to house expired food.

Three BPS officials also attended the hearing, but offered few apologies or explanations. Jill Carter, executive director of the health and wellness department, spoke at length about the district’s nutritional standards, but failed to acknowledge the moldy muffins Hedgepeth’s children received.

Interim Director of the Food and Nutrition Services department Shamil Mohammed, however, told parents and students, “We heard loud and clearly.” Stressing that he, too, grew up on school lunches, he said, “When I see those kids, I know what they’re going through, because I’ve been there.”