Photo by Michael Piazza
“You get to feed kids,” Laura Benavidez tells her staff, “the best job.” As director of food and nutrition services for Boston Public Schools she’s giving kids the power to make choices about what they eat.
Laura, who came to Boston in 2016 from the Los Angeles school system, grew up in Texas and planned to become a doctor. But after taking a food science course in college, she became “focused” on finding ways that food could be “good tasting and nutritious” and bring people together. For school children, her quest is to discover “that magic formula that will get kids to love your food.”
Effortlessly upbeat about what might seem like overwhelming challenges of budget, sometimes-limited facilities and student and parent participation, Laura thinks her concept, “My Way Café,” can help children feel empowered to try new foods. The program, which allows kids to customize their meals, is being rolled out gradually and will be in 30 schools by the end of the school year.
So Laura visits schools often, talking to kids, asking them what they like and don’t like, whether it’s like Mom’s—valuing their honesty. The mission is so important, she says, because “when children eat, they are ready” to learn. One critic has turned in a positive review: Her daughter, age 6 and in a Boston public school herself, recently told her: “Look, Mommy, everybody’s eating what you picked out. And they like it!”
This story appeared in the Winter 2019 issue.
ALISON ARNETT is a freelance writer, concentrating on food and agricultural topics. She was formerly the restaurant critic and food writer of the Boston Globe. She also teaches a Writing about Food class for Harvard Extension School.