Boston’s fresh, new My Way Cafe school lunch option featured in documentary

A independent documentary film crew has focused on Boston Public Schools’ innovative approach to providing students with a healthier lunch.

VII Foundation Films premiered “Eat Up” on Sunday at the Independent Film Festival Boston, which shows a yearlong look at BPS’s My Way Cafe initiative — a pilot program designed to reduce the amount of prepackaged food in the schools, instead opting for fresher and healthier lunch options.

“It’s a win-win, there is fresh food, more jobs and the kids love it,” said director Fiona Turner.

“Nutrition is a difficult thing, kids complain about it, parents aren’t always happy with it and we have seen initiatives in other places with mixed success and so I was intrigued,” added Turner. She told the Herald that programs like this require a systematic change within districts to be successful.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s announced last week that the district will be expanding the program this year. The program started in 2017 in four East Boston schools, and earlier this year, 29 more schools, in Roxbury, Mattapan and East Boston. Up to 30 more schools will be added later this year in Dorchester and South Boston.

“All young people in Boston deserve access to fresh and delicious food to make sure they’re healthy and able to do well in school,” said Walsh. “My Way Cafe is a program that promotes students making healthy choices and receiving the nutrition they need to help them focus on their education. I am proud that this public-private partnership is making a big difference in the health and food habits of our students across the city.”

One of the difficulties with the program is that most Boston schools were built before World War II, when kids would walk home for lunch and the schools didn’t have kitchens. Because of that, Turner said, the program had to change the dynamic for those working in food service because instead of getting frozen food to put into a warmer, employees were now expected to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables for children.

The $7.9 million investment will put new kitchens into the schools as well as pay for the increased labor costs for the program. All the students will have a choice in the menu, with options that reflect the cultural and nutritional needs of the thousands of students.

“This is setting up a blueprint for other districts,” said Turner.

The film will be shown at the Museum of Fine Arts for the first week of June, which all BPS students can go and see for free, and Turner said she is talking to distributors about distribution rights.