Q1: When the Coalition for Healthy School Food talks about the need for a national school food program, what does it mean?


Across Canada school communities are implementing school food programs that provide meals and snacks to students. By asking for a “national school food program” the Coalition is asking the federal government to invest in healthy, universal school food programs across Canada with the vision that all students in Canada would eventually have access to healthy meals at school every day. Coalition members would like to see the following qualities reflected in any federal investment:

  • Health-Promoting: A federal investment in school food would provide an excellent opportunity for schools to model the revised Canada’s Food Guide and enable students to learn about nutrition and food skills to order to eat healthier diets. The Coalition would like to see any school food programs that receive federal funding focus on providing a substantial amount of whole foods, and in particular, vegetables and fruit.
  • Cost-shared: Currently a small percentage of children in Canada have access to a school food program. We are asking the federal government to invest, as a partner along with other funders, in a cost-shared model to expand these programs and their impacts. Current funders of school food programs across Canada include provinces, territories, municipalities, charities, communities, families, schools and school committees, and the private sector. Federal government funding would allow for a sustainable source of funding on which schools could plan, budget and deliver high quality nutrition programs.
  • Universal: Children come to school hungry for a number of reasons including lengthy commutes, early morning sports practices, not being hungry first thing in the morning while getting ready for school, busy family routines in the morning, and household food insecurity. A universal program means that all children and youth in schools would have the opportunity to access a meal or snack provided in a non-stigmatizing manner. (See Q5 for more info about why the Coalition is calling for Universal programs).
  • Flexible Food Service Model: School food programs look different depending on the particular context of the school and the region. Some schools find that a breakfast program works best while others prefer lunch or snack programs based on their school population and particular circumstances. The Coalition would like to ensure that federally funded programs respect local conditions and needs so as to be culturally appropriate and locally adapted. Program funding should therefore be flexible and support a wide range of innovative food service models.
  • Supporting and Enhancing Existing Programs: An investment in school food programs would build on the local knowledge, skills and relationships already in place in provinces and territories with the goals of: expanding existing programs; enabling existing programs to further improve the nutritional quality of the food served; offering programs in new schools; and building new food programs from the ground up.
  • Guided by National Principles: We encourage the federal government to establish national principles as a condition for cost-shared funding. National principles would help to provide consistency across the country. These would include food quality guidelines based on the new Canada Food Guide and Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy, and may include minimum common national criteria for program evaluation, food literacy programming requirements, and local food purchasing targets. Conflict of interest safeguards for program governance should be put in place to ensure that programs can attain the highest quality possible and that programs are not vehicles for marketing or encouraging students to develop a preference for specific consumer products or unhealthy foods.
Download a summary of qualities that members of the Coalition would like to see in a School Food Program for Canada.




Q2: What would the ideal school food program look like?


Members of the Coalition for Healthy School Food are passionate about the potential for creating healthy food environments in schools. The Coalition’s Guiding Principles share our longer-term vision for school food programs. In addition to the qualities described in Q1, ideally school food programs would:

  • Enable food literacy and the development of food skills. Food literacy themes would include nutrition and health as well as the hands-on skills of food growing, preparation, budgeting, management and other themes. The program would encourage food that is prepared from scratch, use minimally processed ingredients, and encourage students to eat in each others’ company. Students would also be exposed to a school culture of valuing and respecting food, especially local and healthy food, and minimizing food waste. Such a program would support the development of healthy eating patterns for all children, regardless of income. It would be a natural extension of the new federal Healthy Eating Strategy, Food Policy for Canada, and 2019 edition of Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Support small-scale local producers and create economic multipliers. A preliminary University of Guelph study ​suggests that a national program could contribute $4.8 billion to the local economy by 2029 if 30% was spent on local food purchases as well as stimulate the development of as many as 207,700 new jobs. This can be achieved by establishing local food procurement targets to guide purchasing decisions. Targets could be developed by each province / territory so as to be appropriate to their specific region and circumstances.
  • Be connected to and engage the broader community including parents, grandparents, local businesses, and community leaders to foster program sustainability.
  • Enable environmental benefits and more sustainable food systems. School food programs provide a great opportunity for students to experience food literacy education about our food system including where food comes from, how to choose local and sustainable food sources, how to minimize food waste (a huge contributor to climate change), and how to compost. A program that follows and promotes the 2019 Canada’s Food Guide Snapshot would also help students develop a palate for fresh vegetables, fruit and plant proteins, which is consistent with a diet that emits low amounts of greenhouse gasses.
The Potential of School Food Initiatives Diagram captures some of the ways that the different aspects of school food can contribute to each other, and how an investment in one area can support the whole picture. We know that every investment in school food will put another piece of the picture in place and bring us closer to achieving a strong school food environment. It is possible that additional funding could be provided to programs that achieve more aspects of a healthy school food environment and system.




Q3: What should be the goals of a national school food program?


The Coalition is asking the federal government to make a federal investment in school food with the goal of improving the physical and mental health of our next generation. When kids get healthy, nutritious food they learn better, eat better, feel better and are more likely to succeed. In addition, a federal investment could aim to enable children and youth to:

  • Develop the skills and literacy needed for a lifetime of healthy eating.
  • Be ready to learn at school.
  • Support and connect with farmers and food producers.
A national school food program could also have the goal of relieving working families from the significant time and financial burden of preparing food for the school day that they experience.




Q4: Who would benefit from the implementation of a national school food program?


  • First and foremost, children would benefit with improved health, a greater capacity to make healthy food choices, an increase in concentration, a variety of academic benefits, increased graduation rates, and a host of other benefits.
  • Teachers and administrators would benefit as studies show that students who are not hungry are easier to teach and are much less prone to negative behaviours.
  • Families would be supported by having their children access healthy meals at school, which would help establish and reinforce healthy eating habits.
  • Farmers and the local economy would benefit from the jobs of running the program as well as local food purchases.




Q5: Why is it important for programs to be Universal?


Coalition members agree that a national school food program should be Universal. This means that, where a program is in place, all students in the school would have access to the meal or snack that is offered.

There are a variety of reasons why a child may have missed breakfast or a meal. Meal skipping and short-term hunger impact children across all socio-economics classes and children come to school hungry for many reasons, as is shown in the infographic to the right, developed by Nourish Nova Scotia.

Research and experience show us that targeted programs (i.e. those that are only offered to students whose families meet a low income threshold) increase parental resistance to a program and reduce student participation because of the associated stigma. In a research study by Raine, K., McIntyre, L., & Dayle, J. B. (2010), only a minority of the intended target population was actually reached and the test programs largely failed in their expressed mandate to feed hungry children. Targeted programs also require significant expenses to assess student eligibility and have proven to not be successful in meeting broader health goals. A universal school food program would provide equitable and dignified access to healthy food for children and provide some support to low income families. It would not be a replacement for needed income supports for the unacceptable number of Canadians living in poverty.




Q6: How would the federal government interact with provincial governments, who are responsible for schools, through a national school food program?


Members of the Coalition believe that an intervention to support our children's health and wellbeing (an issue under federal and provincial jurisdiction) can best be made in schools (an area under provincial jurisdiction) and thus this would be a federal health initiative delivered in the school setting. There are no constitutional impediments to federal conditional funding for programs run by provinces. To enhance these different mandates, one option is for the federal government to enter into a cost-sharing relationship with provinces and territories to support healthy school food programs in schools across Canada. The Coalition is suggesting that in this situation the federal government could provide a best practice framework with expected goals and outcomes (discussed as national principles in Q1) as a requirement for funding while provinces and territories would continue to make decisions about how their programs are implemented.




Q7: What, exactly, would federal funding go towards?


School food programs are complex and a variety of features need attention to ensure a strong program: food costs, staffing, administration and coordination, training, and infrastructure (such as equipment, space modifications, or maintenance). Much of the existing funding that programs receive is limited to food costs. Those who operate successful school food programs, however, know that staffing and equipment is important. For example, without refrigeration it is impossible to serve many fresh foods; we cannot rely solely on volunteers to cut up food or make food from scratch, staff are needed. That is why some countries, such as Japan, use federal funds for investing in infrastructure. School food programs themselves will be able to determine what budget allocations are best needed to help their programs thrive.




Q8: How would the federal government get started with a national investment in school food?


The federal government has a variety of of options for initiating an investment in school food. Federal funding could immediately be provided to all provinces / territories through a cost-shared agreement with the province or by means of a direct funding model through Health Canada or another Ministry. National principles would enable programs to achieve minimum federal criteria. For example:

  • Funds could immediately be distributed to existing programs across the country.
  • A pilot could be conducted in 1 or 2 provinces / territories to gauge how national principles, reporting requirements, and federal funding could work.
  • Pilot programs could be established in each province / territory in Canada so that each province / territory can learn and grow from the experience with the aim of scaling up after they feel that they have a strong model in each region.
All of these options would require strategic discussions and engagement with provinces / territories, Indigenous leaders, key program implementers, and other relevant governments and stakeholders to develop a strong means for implementation. It would be important for the federal government to have conversations with Indigenous leaders, both in Indigenous communities and in urban centres, to discuss the design and funding of programs in Indigenous communities.




Q10: Many schools are not built to serve food. How can we expect them to offer a school food program?


Unfortunately many schools in Canada are not built with kitchens or food service facilities, especially elementary schools. Schools continually devise creative ways to serve meals and snacks, ensuring food safety. Options exist such as mobile food carts and many schools work with external agencies, commissary high school kitchens, or centralized kitchens who prepare and serve food to students. Part of a federal investment could be directed towards space modifications and other investments that could better enable schools to prepare and serve food. This funding could also be used as a policy lever so that provinces and territories can ensure that all schools that are constructed in the future are built with kitchen facilities.




Q11: Why is an investment in school food something that the federal government should prioritize?


School food programs offer a wide range of benefits to students and their communities that would advance the federal Healthy Eating Strategy and Food Policy for Canada. A cost-shared investment in healthy, universal school food programs would address many of the issues that Canadians identified as priorities across the Food Policy for Canada’s four themes of: food security, health and food safety, environment, and economic growth: Food Security:

  • Healthy, universal school food programs give children and youth access to nutritious and safe food in a non-stigmatizing manner where they can enjoy eating in the company of their peers.
  • When children attend school hungry or undernourished their energy levels, memory, problem-solving skills, creativity, concentration, and other cognitive functions are all negatively impacted. They are also more likely to repeat a grade. An evaluation of a morning meal program in the Toronto District School Board found that students who consume a morning meal most days show at least a 10% increase in skills such as independent academic work, initiative, conflict resolution, class participation and problem-solving at school.
Health and Food Safety:
  • School food programs can increase students’ consumption of fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods. Studies have shown that school food programs can contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular events and chronic disease such as stroke, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer by increasing the intake of vegetables, whole grains, and macro- and micro-nutrients.
  • School food programs have been linked with positive impacts on children’s mental health, including reductions in behavioural and emotional problems, bullying, aggression, anxiety, and depression, as well as fewer visits to the school nurse.
  • Children who eat a morning meal are sick less often, have fewer problems associated with hunger, such as dizziness, lethargy, headaches, stomachaches and earaches, and do significantly better than their peers in terms of cooperation, discipline, and interpersonal relations.
Environment:
  • When designed with sustainability goals in mind, school food programs provide a strong opportunity for students to experience food literacy education about our food systems including where food comes from, how to choose local and sustainable food, how to minimize food waste (a huge contributor to climate change), and how to compost.
Economic Growth:
  • When local food procurement targets are set and local food is served in school food programs, the local multiplier of the increased local food purchases will impact regional food production, household and business earnings, long-term gross domestic product, and part-time jobs created or sustained.
Citations and more information about each of these impacts is available on the Coalition’s Why It Matters webpage.




Q12: Isn’t feeding kids the responsibility of their families? Why should our broader society contribute to school food programs?


Unfortunately poverty-related food insecurity is an urgent public health challenge in Canada, affecting 1.15 million, or one in six, Canadian children under age 18 (with the percentage being much higher in Indigenous and northern communities - a staggering 72% in Nunavut). However, it’s not just vulnerable youth who are lacking healthy food. A lack of time and capacity means that even families who are not experiencing food insecurity are struggling to manage to provide healthy food to their kids.

  • Over 50% of the total energy intake of children aged 4-18 is from ultra-processed foods. (Data from the Heart and Stroke’s 2017 report Ultra-processed foods in Canada)
From a broad perspective, universal school food programs are an opportunity to level the playing field so that ALL of our children have access to healthy food at school, enabling them to be prepared for their learning day and develop healthy eating habits that could stay with them for their entire lives. From a purely financial perspective, the economic burden of nutrition-related disease is estimated to be $13.8 billion per year in Canada. This cost on society could be reduced with an investment in school food programs.




Q13: How could a federal investment in school food link with a Food Policy for Canada?


The following statements are from the Government of Canada’s “ What We Heard – a Food Policy for Canada” report.

  • Some groups such as children, Canadians living in poverty, Indigenous peoples, and those in isolated northern communities, remain particularly vulnerable to food insecurity and there is a need to increase their access to affordable, nutritious, and safe food.
  • During consultations many specific calls for the implementation of school food programming were made. Participants thought that school nutrition programs could help alleviate food insecurity and help ensure that all children eat a sufficient quantity of healthy food.
  • A number of participants suggested that supporting institutions like schools and hospitals in procuring food from local sources would support local food systems and contribute to food security and health. Supporting the growth of local and regional food production was identified as a priority requiring near-term action.
  • Strong support emerged through the consultations for building a food policy based on the four themes of food security, health and food safety, environment, and economic growth.
The Coalition believes that a national school food program would provide benefits across these four themes and could make a strong contribution towards A Food Policy for Canada.




Q14: Has a national school food program been recommended by other Canadian and international leaders?


The benefits of a healthy school food program for improving students’ diets, school performance, attendance, and social cohesion have been recognized by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance (1997), a landmark Harvard University study (2008), Dr. David Butler-Jones - a former Chief Public Health Officer for Canada (2008), the World Cancer Research Fund (2009), the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (2012), the Ontario Government’s Healthy Kids Panel (2012), the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (2016), and UNICEF Canada (2018). In June 2018 Senator the Honourable Art Eggleton introduced Motion #358: “ That the Senate urge the government to initiate consultations with the provinces, territories, Indigenous people, and other interested groups to develop an adequately funded national cost-shared universal nutrition program with the goal of ensuring healthy children and youth who, to that end, are educated in issues relating to nutrition and provided with a nutritious meal daily in a program with appropriate safeguards to ensure the independent oversight of food procurement, nutrition standards, and governance.” We applaud Senator Eggleton’s motion and believe that schools would be an ideal setting for this health initiative to be implemented.




Q15: Who can I talk to if I have more questions?


For more information contact Debbie Field, schoolfood@foodsecurecanada.org, 416.537.6856




Q9: What food would be served by schools that are a part of a national school food program?


The Coalition fully supports Canada’s 2019 Food Guide, which includes eating a substantial amount of whole foods, in particular vegetables and fruit. In addition to engaging students as much as feasible in the production, selection, and preparation of food we encourage local sourcing of food where possible, and recognize that diverse cultural and community needs across Canada will inform the types of foods served at schools. We recommend that school food programs reference the Food Guide Snapshot and consider their own community contexts when making the decision about what foods, including proteins, to serve in their programs.





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© 2018 by the Coalition for Healthy School Food. The Coalition for Healthy School Food is a network coordinated by Food Secure Canada.