The Ontario Chapter of the Coalition for Healthy School Food welcomes the Ontario Government's recent announcement of a one-time $5 million dollar investment in the Student Nutrition Program and First Nations Student Nutrition Program to “help ensure the program can continue to deliver almost 90 million nutritious meals and snacks to students” throughout the 2023-2024 school year.
The provincial announcement also included the launch of the Healthy Students Brighter Ontario campaign that aims to raise an additional $5 million dollars through philanthropic fundraising. This campaign has already raised $1.6 million towards its goal.
Throughout 2022 and 2023 the Ontario Chapter of the Coalition has been listening to members and other SNP practitioners about their needs and the challenges that inflation, rising food prices, and rising demand are causing for programs across the province. We have heard that food expenses have increased by 40 to 80%, while participation rates have risen by 25 to 40%. These pressures are seriously impacting the quantity and quality of food served in programs including putting some programs at risk of shutting down (e.g., Waterloo, Ottawa, Niagara, Kingston, Windsor).
Because of this need, Coalition members and other supporters have been reaching out to Ontario and federal decision-makers about the benefits of student nutrition programs and the need to increase investment in them. In Ontario, the Chapter was pleased to work with The Schad Foundation to inform an SNP Roundtable hosted by Minister Parsa (Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services) in July 2023. Coalition staff and members attended this meeting along with other key SNP partners and shared recommendations that could be made to the program.
The Ontario Chapter is pleased to see the provincial Government listening to the diverse group of partners who have brought the need to invest in SNPs forward over the past many months. The additional funds will help address some of the challenges that student nutrition providers have been experiencing, and this investment is a step towards an Ontario where all students can access healthy food during their school day.
In the future the Chapter will be submitting a 2024 pre-budget submission, based on input from partners across Ontario, to advise the government on how much of a core increase is needed in 2024. We look forward to communicating this need with decision makers and continuing to provide recommendations of additional improvement opportunities that are in line with key guiding principles to grow and enhance the provincial program.
We are also looking forward to the release of the SNP review process and to working to support the government’s next steps relating to supporting the program and helping children and youth in Ontario to thrive.
Background and quotes:
Student nutrition providers across the province have been struggling to run their programs as the result of rising food costs and higher program demands, which have soared over the past two years. These pressures have seriously impacted the quality and quantity of food served in programs, including causing some programs to pause or stop their operations in 2022-2023.
The recent increase of $5 million is the second time this year that the Ministry of Children, Families and Social Services have recognized the need for more student nutrition program funding. In May 2023, the government added $1.1 million to the program.
“This government is showing renewed leadership on this issue after almost a decade without a substantial core increase to the Ontario program. We see this as an important step towards a significant increase to the annual student nutrition funding in the next provincial Budget (2024)”, says Sarah Keyes, Provincial Coordinator of the Ontario Chapter of the Coalition for Healthy School Food.
This new funding comes at an important moment as the federal government works towards their commitments to create a National School Food Policy and Program. “We believe Ontario can be a leader in working with the federal government on a cost-shared program that will benefit children and youth across Canada,” comments Keyes. “We are also encouraging more municipalities to contribute to student nutrition programs as they are able. If all levels of government can offer some level of funds our children and youth will be well-supported and set up to succeed.”
School food programs help set children and youth up to succeed, and are recognized internationally as one of the largest social safety nets in the world. Research demonstrates that school food significantly improves children’s access to and consumption of nutritious food, which has widespread benefits for their physical health, mental health, future eating habits, behaviour, and academic performance.