Working Towards a Comprehensive National School Food Program
Updated: Jun 10
On April 28th, 2021, Coalition members met to discuss how the Coalition can work towards a comprehensive national school food program (i.e. a program that integrates with curricula to incorporate food literacy, nutrition education and food skills). Members heard about strong examples of comprehensive programs and their benefits from leaders across the country and then separated into breakout groups to discuss comprehensive models. Each presentation is summarized below. You can also watch or listen to the session here.
In the 10 minutes Gary spoke, it was clear why student nutrition and Farm to School (F2S) programs are vital, because our kids deserve it all. Over the last few years, Gary, along with a team of co-investigators from George Brown College, explored best practices for student nutrition and F2S programs. The three facets of their research included: 1) an analysis of results from a survey and interviews that examined best practices and conditions necessary to support farm to school, 2) a review of literature to understand links between the benefits of school meal programs and F2S and a healthy diet, nutritious meals, and food literacy education for children and students, 3) a snack pilot project that featured local foods where students participated in both a hands-on culinary class and a theoretical workshop on food security and food literacy.
The snack pilot project received an overwhelmingly positive response and, by word of mouth, the appetite for the workshops amongst schools grew. A key takeaway from the research thus far is that school meal programs can play an essential role to support the health, well-being, and academic success of children. Further, to make these programs even more effective, hands-on food literacy education and community engagement are needed. The presentation wrapped up with a recommendation for a fully funded national school meal program to include hands-on learning, food literacy, and school and community connectedness. To read the full report click here or to view the recipes and kitchen manual that the faculty and students of George Brown developed for the school workshops click here.
Emmanuelle Berthou, Project Manager, Écollation (16:09-34:02)
Écollation is a blend of the French words school (École) and snack (collation). As the manager of the pilot project, Emmanuelle works hard to provide snacks that consist of fresh, local vegetables and fruits to low-income schools in six regions and 24 schools in Quebec. Having upped the offering from 3 to 5 days per week, per child, Écollation’s pilot project is serving approximately 1.2 million servings of vegetables/fruits annually. The objective is to reduce social inequalities in health by promoting healthy eating and sustainable development.
In addition to exposing children to a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, the program focuses on food literacy. Écollation established partnerships with community agencies so that they could offer training and tools to teachers to facilitate food literacy in the classroom. The program emphasizes sustainable development, and works to source locally, minimize packaging and food waste, and reduce greenhouse gases. While Emmanuelle shared some of the challenges with this approach, such as the limited time of teachers and the need for programs to become autonomous, they identified that the key to success lies in the ability to empower communities to foster program sustainability.
Richard Han, Provincial manager, Farm to School BC (35:10-48:14)
Farm to School BC (F2SBC) is a healthy eating program administered by the Public Health Association of BC with over a decade of experience working with school communities that include health, agriculture, and education sectors.
Their mission is to empower and support schools in building comprehensive F2S programs that support vibrant, sustainable, regional food systems, develop student food literacy and enhance school and community connectedness. As a member of a team of 9, Richard shared five ingredients that contribute to the program's recipe for success: 1) Locally adapted 2) Non-prescriptive 3) School and community-driven 4) Equity centered and 5) Community animators. On the ground, this means that no two programs are alike and they meet schools where they are at (no step is too big or too small). For example, Jackson Secondary School established Foodie Fridays in collaboration with Shuswap Food Action Society to offer soup, buns, and fruit to students at no cost. Relationship building is again at the core, and Community Animators work to help communities help themselves. They fill the need for human resources and assist in coordinating and connecting school food programs to BC/local food suppliers. This program is supported by the Province of British Columbia and the Provincial Health Services Authority. To read more about the work of F2SBC and to explore new school grant opportunities visit www.farmtoschoolbc.ca.
Lael Kronick, high school food studies teacher and Adam Guimond-Pishuktie, former student chef and recent graduate, Inuksuk high school (48:45-1:04:32)
If you are unsure about the benefits of school food and food literacy programs, this food studies teacher and former student duo will show you how it’s done. What started as a conversation with students about food insecurity in Nunavut turned into the Inuksuk student-led high school lunch program that serves over 100 hot lunches three days per week. Tasty, well-balanced meals are prepared from scratch by food studies students, student employees, and volunteers. The program aims to be free from stigma and welcomes all students, teachers, Elders, and school community members to participate. The program not only nourishes students physically, but it also provides an opportunity for students to access and teach about local country foods such as seal and to connect school to community and culture.
The presentation ended with Adam sharing the student perspective about the impact the program had personally and professionally. Of the lessons Adam learned, such as how to guide others in the kitchen, how to compost, and how growing veggies can be fun, what stood out was not something that can be taught. Adam shared how he came away from the program with confidence in the kitchen, a desire to cook more at home, a sense of appreciation at school, new friendships, and a job.
Next steps and food for thought
While these initiatives offer a taste of the work happening to improve school meal programs and food literacy education for children and youth in Canada, further research is needed. Programs experience a lack of long-term funding and human resources, and have a need for data collection and evaluation. Despite how unique each program is, many speakers shared similar lessons such as the importance of relationship building, that communities must be the ones to define their own needs, and that, if given the opportunity to participate in food literacy programs, students can experience benefits to their health and well-being. The programs that were spoken about live up to many of the guiding principles of the Coalition.
A big thank you to all the speakers who shared their time and valuable experience with the Coalition members.
During the small group breakout discussions, Coalition members discussed several questions including: What do members see as the role of different levels of government, the health and education sectors, industry, civil society, and households in building a comprehensive national school food program?
The Coalition looks forward to continuing this discussion and exploring how to build a comprehensive School Food Program for Canada.