summerlunch+ Helping to Build the Strategy for a National School Food Program
Article written by Parul Verma, a 2018 summerlunch+ Community Food Leader and 3rd year student at Ryerson University's School of Nutrition
While many Toronto residents do not have to think about where their next meal is coming from, sadly this is not the case for 1 in 4 families in the city. With 25% of families experiencing unreliable access to appropriate food, Toronto is one of the most food insecure cities in Canada. Food insecurity is more than not having enough to eat, it is also not having nutritionally or culturally appropriate foods. Paired with the alarming fact that $31 billion worth of the food produced in Canada goes to waste, this paints an interesting and complex picture of the food landscape in our city.
summerlunch+ was founded in 2016 and, like the many children it serves, it has been growing ever since. After a successful first year, we have now expanded to a total of four of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods; Thorncliffe, Alexandra, Regent, and Moss Parks. At our foundation are three pillars – nutrient dense meals, food literacy and minimal food waste. We provide mouth-watering, nutritious, accessible and acceptable food to children in our four summer camp locations. We work with community leaders, employees and the children themselves to tailor our menus and programming to best suit their needs. In doing this, we are able to serve culturally appropriate foods and a mixture of familiar and new flavours.
Many of our meals are served ‘do it yourself’ style, meaning children get to chose what they would like to eat, providing dignity, independence, and the option to eat intuitively; all important factors in growing a healthy eater.
As a member of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, we share in the mission of having no child go hungry at school (or over the summer!) and we want to help build the strategy for a national school food program. Our contribution is to deliver food and food education programming throughout the summer months, which ensures that children are ready for school in September and haven’t fallen behind in the summer months.
We partner with over a dozen local community agencies and organizations to help work towards our goal. Each of these partners contributes in some way to our ability to deliver healthy food and education while reducing food waste.
For the first time this year, we received rescued foods from Second Harvest to enhance our snacks and meals. Having the children see us repurpose all this wonderful produce is an incredible teaching moment for the campers.
Each of our locations also has a gardening partner, allowing children to get hands-on experience with food from the growing stage. In this way, our partners contribute to our goal of teaching children about food as well as feeding them. Teaching children the importance of food and cooking instils in them the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. We hope that every summer we will make a healthy difference in someone’s life.