School lunch? Perkins School for the Blind serves so much more. Food Services Coordinator Gregory Primo oversees the team that plans, prepares and serves three meals a day, seven days a week, for day and residential students and educational staff members. In this “What I do” blog, he explains how he juggles a variety of nutritional needs and dietary requirements for Perkins students – while making sure everything tastes great, too. This story was compiled and edited by Karen Shih.
The students will ask for chicken nuggets or fried mozzarella sticks, but you can’t just give that to them. I work with my boss Bryce McKnight, nutritionist Erica Klag and my lead cooks to plan menus months in advance. We started planning the summer menu in February, for example. This gives us time to tweak the menu, then retweak it. We’re trying to keep the nutritional value in the meal, while also making it tasty and yummy.
My day starts around 7 a.m. and goes as late as 4:30 p.m. I start in the Lower School kitchen, which feeds both the Lower School and Deafblind Program in the Hilton Building. Then I go over to Brooks kitchen, which feeds all of the Secondary Program.
On an average day, we’re serving about 500 people, which includes students, teachers, teaching assistants and residential staff. I oversee six cooks, three dishwashers and six or seven other staff members who help out with dishes and setting tables. We’re a seven-day-a-week operation, with three meals a day. Lunch is our biggest meal.
We do a wide variety of dishes – it’s not just standard American comfort food. We make sure we’re not serving too much sugar or too many carbs at one meal, like mashed potatoes and glazed carrots together. For breakfast, we might do buttermilk blueberry pancakes with turkey sausage. For lunch, we’ll do falafel with pita bread, tzatziki sauce and hummus and fresh diced tomato and onion. For dinner, we might have stir-fried pork with stir-fried vegetables and rice. We try to incorporate different ethnic foods. It’s great to see a student who’s a picky eater in September now trying different things.
Our students have different dietary needs, so we create some special meals. There are kids who are gluten-free or dairy-free, and also students who need their meals to be fine-chopped, pureed or thick-pureed. We do our best to keep it so all the kids across the board are getting the same meal, even if it’s in different forms. I’ve only been here since August, so there’s a learning curve. We’ve had some difficulties working out how to puree rice to the right consistency, for example, but with everyone’s help, we’ve got it covered.
Food is family – it brings people together. Growing up in a Portuguese-Italian family, I’ve always loved cooking. My dad has even been running a soup kitchen in my hometown of Fall River for 27 years. To see the smiles on the kids’ faces, even if I can’t communicate with all of them, is the best part of my day.