By Paula Ebben

WALTHAM (CBS) — We know kids who eat nutritious food at school think better during the day, but for many reasons that can be a challenge when it comes to school lunches. Project Bread, the statewide anti-hunger organization, has a successful program that highlights the importance of food education.

Dylan Remage-Healey, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Plympton Elementary School in Waltham, said she’s enjoying the food in the school cafeteria.

“I get excited to come down here and take a break from school,” Dylan said.

What she’s really noticed is that the pizza is better this year.

“Before it wasn’t good and everyone didn’t really like it, and then they switched it and now everyone really likes it!”

Starting in the fall, Waltham Public Schools partnered with Project Bread for the first time to bring in chef educators to train their cafeteria staff to boost menus and improve food choices – turning the cafeteria into another classroom.

A new school lunch at Plympton Elementary School in Waltham. (WBZ-TV)

Project Bread’s Chefs in Schools program currently operates in six districts across Massachusetts. Chefs come in for the year to work with cafeteria staff to help provide food that is nutritious, appealing and culturally appropriate. Sam Icklan, director of the program, said he loves his job.

“I love the work that we do,” Icklan said, “I love the partnerships that we have with our districts. The students are incredible. They tell you so many great things about the dishes you serve them. They really guide us a lot in the choices that we make and the menus that we choose for them.”

Since 2006, the Chefs in Schools program has partnered with school districts where about 40% of students qualify for free or reduced-cost meals. In Waltham, that figure is closer to 50%.

“And the staff–we’re here providing on-site training for them, and we do district-wide professional development as well,” Icklan said. “So we really get to engage in a lot of different aspects.”

The professional education is appreciated by Waltham Food Service Director April Liles.

“I’m thrilled to have Project Bread work with us,” Liles said.

Liles is also a dietitian. She said it’s not nutrition until her students actually eat the food, so appealing to kids is important.

“Project Bread is an unbelievable organization,” Liles said. “To be selected to work with them really helps elevate our program, and to leave us with these recipes and this pride and this feeling of being able to cook wonderful food for children. When they leave and go to the next district they’re going to be leaving us with that. That is our goal, really, is to make kids really understand how important food is to fuel them for learning success.”

For more information about Project Bread, visit their website.

Paula Ebben

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