School Lunch Made Awesome, Thanks To Revolution Foods

What comes to mind when you think of your childhood school lunches?

I grew up in the Boston area as the sixth of seven kids, so not surprisingly, my Mom was not down with packing seven lunches every day. (Quite frankly, when I think about this daunting task, I wonder why she didn’t take advantage of said seven kids to form a school lunch assembly line!) I subsequently grew very familiar with the ritual of the school lunch line. In fact, since I like numbers...if you multiple 13 years of school lunches x 180 days of school per year, that’s 2,340 school lunches. Subtract (generously) 40 of those days for field trips where I was required to pack a brown bag lunch and that’s about 2,300 school lunches I consumed from kindergarten to 12th grade. That is a lot of school lunch.

My siblings and I totally could have formed an epic school lunch assembly line! Guess which bowl cut is mine!

My siblings and I totally could have formed an epic school lunch assembly line! Guess which bowl cut is mine!

Yet when I try to remember what I actually ate, the offerings were so remarkably unremarkable that the only things I can remember are rectangle slices of pizza and preservative-laden pre-packaged desserts. Nutritional balance was not part of the discussion; I don’t recall ever eating fruits or vegetables at lunch. Given how much I love food, and also given that I am currently on Day 18 of a food intentionality practice, I find the reality that I ate 2,300 worth of crappy school lunches pretty depressing.

But let’s not dwell on the past. There is some serious good happening right now in the school lunch department!

Today I want to tell you about Revolution Foods, which was co-founded by two moms on a mission to transform the way America eats by providing access to healthy, affordable meals to students and families throughout the country (including right here in the Greater Boston area!). Their mission is simple in terms of word count (“To build lifelong healthy eaters by making kid-inspired, chef crafted food accessible to all.”) yet the former psychologist in me can’t help but notice the deeper importance of four things encompassed in this mission:

1. The importance of giving kids control

I mean, let me be clear, everyone wants control of something, but I have shared repeatedly in my work how important choice is to get kids on board. For example, kids will freak out less if you give them a choice vs. bossing them to do something. Kids will be more likely to explore and experiment with something if you let them choose what that thing is. Kids will be more willing to try a food if they help cook it. And so on. It’s not rocket science but it can be difficult for parents to hand over the reigns. So the fact that kid input is part of the Revolution Foods model is huge. To get this input, they host mini food shows in different neighborhoods, during which students review meals and provide feedback. A dish must receive a 75% approval rating to make it on the menu!

2. Quality matters

What you present to someone is directly related to how it will be received. In retrospect, given the poor quality of the 2,300 school lunches I consumed for 13 years of my life, it’s not surprising that I remember almost none of what I ate. (And not trivially, I wonder if questionable nutrition was part of why I struggled so much in school.) In contrast, Revolution Foods takes the aforementioned inspiration from kids to create chef-crafted healthy meals made from high quality, all natural ingredients that are free from artificial ingredients, colors, flavors, or sweeteners and no high fructose corn syrup.

My school lunches looked nothing like this. Image credit: Revolution Foods

My school lunches looked nothing like this. Image credit: Revolution Foods

3. Access matters

Man, I think a lot about access. My family was low-income growing up and I live in a city that is extremely diverse socioeconomically. One thing that is super exciting about Revolution Foods is that they have expanded to schools in Boston! Since becoming the healthy school meals provider for Boston Public Schools and select charter schools in Fall 2017, Revolution Foods has served 5.3 million meals to students in Boston area. Also important to note: this is not a “for wealthy schools only” situation. Revolution Foods operates within a school system’s budget so the school does not lose money through the meal program.

Image credit Rose Hodges Photography

Image credit Rose Hodges Photography

4. What you do now impacts you later

Food is such a tangled web for so many people and no doubt, I have spent a lot of years untangling some seriously bad childhood food habits to get where I am today. Revolution Foods understands that proper nutrition is essential to help kids lead successful lives and help them fulfill their academic potential. They know that healthy habits must start both at home and at school and work to tackle half of that equation.

So those are four pretty major things related to their mission, but there are three other awesome things Revolution Foods is doing in Massachusetts specifically that warrant mention:

They cater to diverse preferences

Just a couple of weeks ago I was at a diversity summit at my undergraduate university and one thing we talked about was food, and how challenging it is as a person of color to not see the foods you know and enjoy represented in a predominately white school setting. I mentioned the kid tasting/voting process in #1 above. In Boston schools this has led Revolution Foods to introduce menu items that reflect the diversity of the area's students and families; for example, bean and cheese pupusas, sweet potato-crusted fish sandwiches, chicken drumsticks with rice and collard greens, and more. YUM.

They understand the power of collaboration instead of competition

Just the other day on Instagram I dropped a comment on a post where I said something like, “YES TO COLLABORATION INSTEAD OF COMPETITION!” Partnerships are so important to grow in meaningful ways so I love that for their work in Boston, Revolution Foods has partnered with local organizations, including Food Corps, CommonWealth Kitchen, and Cooking Matters, to implement nutrition education programs, monthly vegetable tastings, and cooking workshops for students and families.

They continue to look forward

Finally, it takes so much to build a program like this, yet Revolution Foods clearly continues to look forward. In the Boston area, they recently opened a new facility to help serve an even larger set of schools and also enable a wider selection of fresh local and regional produce, high quality proteins, and rBST-free dairy products in school meals.

Are you intrigued to learn more? Are you wondering how to get Revolution Foods into your school? Here’s a list of the locations they currently serve and how to inquire about expansion to your location.

Original image credit: Revolution Foods

Original image credit: Revolution Foods

Disclosure: This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with Revolution Foods. All thoughts about mission statements, company philosophies, and my questionable childhood nutrition are, of course, my own.