School meals in Boston Public Schools will be healthier and more locally-sourced this fall and students will have a regular role in planning menus as part of a new three-year food service contract with Whitsons Culinary Group. After a competitive review involving three main vendors, the BPS selected Whitsons for a $12.2 million annual contract to provide meals to BPS students.

In June, after an initial bid process, Mayor Martin Walsh and Interim Superintendent John McDonough directed potential vendors to strengthen and re-submit their proposals to the District.

"We serve millions of meals a year to our students and it's important that we get this right," Walsh says. "Our school meals have to be appetizing, local and healthy. These are non-negotiable requirements and we are proud to deliver these high standards to our students this fall."

“We challenged those vendors to bring something new to the table,” McDonough adds. “We are pleased that this has led us to a food-service contract that strengthens the quality of our school meals with higher-quality, healthier and more locally-sourced options, as well as regular student input in the meals we serve.”

Whitsons had the highest composite rating, which included a blind taste test, among the three vendors vying for the three-year contract. Although its $12.2 million annual proposal was higher than the $11.4 million proposed by a separate vendor, the evaluation committee consistently ranked Whitsons’ proposal higher than the other bids across a variety of factors, according to BPS news release. Under state contracting guidelines, public agencies can select a vendor that did not offer the lowest bid when this occurs.

Under the new deal, food service in Boston schools this fall will include quarterly taste-tests by students and regular student and parent involvement in school menu cycles. BPS will also resume a salad bar pilot project, which will initially cover six schools. Whitsons has previously served as food vendor for the district, most recently providing summer school meals.

This fall BPS will also organize a citywide Food Service Council comprised of parents, students, educators and community partners. The Council will provide input into the District's food service program, including meal planning. The district serves approximately 11 million meals a year to more than 57,000 students. This past school year BPS became one of the first major districts in the nation to offer universal free breakfast and lunch.

In addition, earlier this year, BPS had asked the Council of the Great City Schools to examine the its Food and Nutrition Services department. The review, posted on the BPS website, found widespread management and inventory tracking concerns. Although the challenges were not related to the food service vendor, the results of the review prompted McDonough to review all aspects of the Department, including the bid for the next food service contract.