On January 28, the Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE) and the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health (COMOH) sent a joint letter to Premier Ford urging the province to better support Student Nutrition Programs (SNPs), as well as to encourage “Ontario Ministries to engage with federal partners to facilitate the development of universal SNPs across Ontario.”
This letter came about when COMOH asked the Ontario Dietitians in Public Health (ODPH) to prepare draft recommendations given their expertise in the area of SNPs. COMOH then reviewed and submitted the joint statement to CODE for approval and the final joint submission was sent to Premier Ford from CODE-COMOH. It is important to note that the letter was also sent to multiple Ministers, specifically the Ontario Minister of Education, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, and Minister of Health, with specific recommendations for each Ministry as CODE-COMOH recognizes that it will take “all of government” to make these initiatives happen.
The letter stresses that “school food programs are increasingly seen as vital contributors to students’ physical and mental health”, noting the growing research that shows the value of school food programs to improve food choices and support student success, including academic performance, reduced absenteeism, and improved student behaviour.
Yet, as the letter explains, SNPs have been consistently underfunded and under-supported.
Recognizing the significant value of school food programs, CODE and COMOH explain that “COVID-19 presents an opportunity for Ontario to augment its investment in SNPs as a way to improve student performance and readiness to learn."
The letter offers five recommendations:
The Ministry of Education’s (MEDU) Guide to Reopening Ontario’s Schools should be revised to enable Boards of Education to add enabling language in their Return to School Plans. (The suggested language changes would exempt SNPs from the list of prohibited visitors and state that individually portioned foods such as whole apples, cut carrots, etc… can be safely portioned out if following appropriate food safety practices.)
Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) is requested to release and post online the updated SNP Nutrition Guidelines and mandate Public Health’s participation in local implementation.
Ministry of Health (MOH) should be requested to create a free, online SNP-specific Food Handler Training and Certification for SNP volunteers across the province.
MEDU and MCCSS are requested to jointly develop a funded universal SNP program for student success. This should include funding for a paid Coordinator at each participating school.
and Future considerations include infrastructure support as well as the encouragement of Ontario Ministries to engage with federal partners to facilitate the development of universal SNPs across Ontario.
Each recommendation offers a background and explanation as to why this support is needed and what it can accomplish.
For instance, #4 shares:
“Where school food programs exist, students show improved diet quality, academic success, and student behavior and better attendance. The Ministry of Education’s (MEDU) Foundations for a Healthy School framework identifies important components to a learning environment that promotes and supports child and student well-being, one of the four core goals in Ontario’s renewed vision for education. SNPs model an integrated approach where school, home and community partnerships intersect to promote student well-being. Important healthy habits students learn at SNPs reinforce curriculum teaching, are shared at home and contribute to family health and success. Having an identified coordinator as a lead for every school would help facilitate a universal approach.”
The letter reminds us that “Canada is the only G7 country without a harmonized national school food program to guarantee the consistent delivery of nutritious meals to students.” Page 4 links to the Coalition’s advocacy work and states that “Due to Ontario’s successful SNP programming, Ontario Ministries are well-poised to lend their voice and support to these advocacy efforts. In addition, the many unintended consequences of COVID-19’s impact on families makes this a vital time to pilot new approaches to SNPs. Ontario could pilot hot meal programs in select schools to build evidence for federal efforts.”
It’s clear that momentum continues to grow for school food programs, as the importance of student access to healthy food cannot be ignored, particularly during the time we find ourselves in. The Coalition for Healthy School Food is thrilled at this joint letter from the Ontario Councils of Directors of Education and the local Medical Officers of Health (COMOH). This visionary and important document demonstrates the leadership is emerging in provinces and territories to both expand their own commitments and enter into dialogue with the federal government about working together to expand school food programs. The Coalition is looking forward to continuing to push for Healthy School Food for all.