Welcoming Tom Houle and Permanent Free School Lunch in Bedford 

August 22, 2023

Tom Houle is excited to start his first year as Bedford Public School’s new Director of Food and Nutrition. He has more than 20 years of experience working in food and nutrition and was a past president of the Massachusetts School Nutrition Association. Houle also previously worked for the Nashoba School District for 11 years. 

Houle was drawn to the position because of Bedford’s size and he found the strong sense of community intriguing and unique. He believes his values and philosophy align with the schools’ teaching style and goals, and overall, “thought it would be a good match.” 

Some of his goals for his first year include working with local farms to increase the amount of fresh and in-season ingredients, especially produce. Some farms he is looking to form a partnership with are Walden Local, which processes chicken, beef, and pork, Lucky Leaf, and World Farmers. 

Houle is also excited about forming more collaboration and communication with students by involving them in future meal planning sessions, allowing them to submit their feedback and requests, and having taste tests with students and families. Houle is also focused on growing the breakfast program across the district. 

In exciting news, the Massachusetts Free Lunch Bill was signed by Gov. Maura Healey on Aug. 9, making Massachusetts the eighth state to have school lunches be permanently free for everyone. 

Free or reduced meal plan forms should still be signed, however, as it is important for the state to have that data which is used for funding purposes. 

Houle is very pleased by this progress as it opens the door for everyone and now there is less of a stigma around food insecurity. In Bedford, one in seven people have struggled with food insecurity so the free school lunch bill is “a win for Bedford as well as the whole state.”

With free lunches, food is viewed just as much an important tool for learning as any classroom material. Many education experts say a hungry student cannot concentrate on learning, and it is important to recognize that and provide them with the fuel they need to do their best. 

The food preparation process in the Bedford Public Schools begins with the lunch staff starting their day at either 7 or 8 a.m., depending on the school, and working four-to-five-hour shifts. Across the schools, the lunch staff prepares three-to-five meal options per day. Each day, the schools offer a salad option, a sandwich option, and a rotating hot lunch menu item. Younger students are also offered a bagel meal, while BHS serves pizza daily.   

There are currently 15 lunch staff employees across the schools and three office workers. They are looking to grow their numbers to at least 20 and positions are available. Anyone interested in open positions should contact Tom Houle at the town’s Food and Nutrition office at https://bedfordpsmanutrition.org.   

Slightly more than 50 percent of students in Bedford eat school lunches, which is the highest the number has ever been, due to free school lunch following the pandemic. Houle is looking to grow this number and hopes to encourage even more students to participate. Since school Food and Nutrition is a self-fulfilling entity, the more meals that are served, the more reimbursements are received from the state and federal government, therefore allowing for more opportunities for growth, new upgrades, and purchase of high-quality food. 

Houle describes his philosophy as “caring and serving our customers to the best of our ability.”

At the end of the day, Houle views his job’s goal as “feeding kids nutritious, delicious food so they can concentrate on learning.” Houle finds this extremely “rewarding” and recognizes “lunch is the best part of the day for some students and we get to be a part of that” for which he is very grateful.  

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Bridget Sheahan is a Bedford High School, Class of 2024 student.

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