Ask any parent or teacher, and they’ll tell you: if you want children and youth to engage with something, it is important to meet them where they are. Nowhere is that axiom more relevant than when it comes to young people and their food. What, where, when, and with whom they eat is important to children—just ask them!
UNICEF Canada’s One Youth program takes youth voice seriously. That’s why we’ve developed U-Report, a digital polling platform where we ask young people about their views on a wide range of topics. Last fall, we conducted a poll to see how young people felt about school food programs. The results can tell us a lot about what a successful school food program should look like.
Most of the young people (64%) who took our poll did not have a meal program in their school. A significant majority (70%) of them said they believed students in their schools would benefit from a school meal program, and most (69%) said they would use a school meal program if they had one. Six percent of respondents said they wouldn’t use a school meal program because they’d be worried about what other students would think – a small but important reminder that school food programs should be universal in design to avoid the stigma that can be attached to selective or targeted meal programs.
A comprehensive, universal school food program is a foundational step towards better social, educational, and health outcomes for Canadian children. If designed right, it would help families and local economies, too. All of that begins by talking to young people about what they need and want, and keeping their opinions central to any system’s design.
All data courtesy of UNICEF Canada’s U-Report as highlighted in UNICEF Report Card 15: Youth-Friendly Canadian Companion, The Equalizer: How Education Creates Fairness for Children in Canada. UNICEF Canada, Toronto (2018).
UNICEF Canada is a proud member of the Coalition for Healthy School Food. To find out more about UNICEF Canada’s One Youth, and our journey to make Canada the best country in the world to grow up, visit our webpage at oneyouth.unicef.ca.