What We Heard: Minister Gould’s Roundtable at the University of Guelph
Re-posted from the article on the Arrell Food Institute's website dated March 1, 2023.
On January 18, 2023, 18 stakeholders spanning academia, school boards, school food and community food groups met with the Honourable Karina Gould, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, at the University of Guelph to discuss the development of National School Food Policy. The roundtable consultation was moderated by Dr. Evan Fraser, Director of Arrell Food Institute and Co-Chair of the Canadian Food Policy Council.
The conversation focused on four questions that are covered in detail in this report. The thematic areas covered topics included (1) who the program should serve and how to reduce stigma, (2) nutrition guidelines, (3) governance mechanisms and accountability measures, and (4) strategies for incorporating local and sustainable food. The following are key insights from this roundtable:
Canada’s School Food and Nutrition Program should serve all JK-12 students. Strategies for reducing stigma include making programs free, universally available, involve students, utilize a cashless system if applicable, and unify all school food offerings.
A National School Nutrition guide, curricular enhancements, adequate teacher training, and paid food service staff will be important component to enhance nutrition and promote lifelong healthy practices.
A dedicated Canadian School Food Evaluation Structure to conduct research, evaluation, and share best practices would help ensure the program is accountable and transparent. This body could be informed by a Canadian School Food Monitoring System based on harmonized metrics. Every province and territory should also convene a cross-Ministry working group to provide comprehensive support to programs and ensure there is adequate staffing and oversight to complete reporting requirements.
For a national school nutrition system to support local and sustainable food systems and economies, local food procurement targets and policy that enables culturally important practices like harvesting traditional country foods in Indigenous communities would be helpful. Dedicated funding to enhance schools’ food service and other production and preparation equipment would also help enable these practices.