The Conversation: Federal budget pledges a Canadian school food program but recipe requires funding

Original Publication Date: March 21, 2019
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The Conversation just published an an interesting piece entitled “Federal budget pledges a Canadian school food program but recipe requires funding” which discusses the budgetary needs this new initiative will face. Included in this article is a nice comparative list of school lunch programs from around the world (excerpted below):

In many countries, parents’ main focus in the morning is getting their kids out of the door on time because schools handle lunch as part of a larger health, education and economic strategy.

In France, school lunches are part of the school day, not a break from it. Children are served a four-course meal while sitting at a group table with a supervisor who teaches them about nutrition, healthy eating and table manners.

In Italy, school meals are locally sourced and certified organic, with special meals provided for children with food allergies, intolerances and religious restrictions. School lunch menus are sent home on a weekly basis to help parents avoid overlap at home.

In Japan, where food education is mandated by law, lunches are cooked in school. In an effort to reinforce a culture of self-sufficiency students serve one another and when lunch is done everyone helps clean up.

Much like Japan, it is likely that the Canadian government is looking at the program as a way to bridge the economic divide that can influence health of students. As the article notes, while most districts do have some sort of school lunch program, there is no cohesive standard. There is also the fear of food companies worming their way into the schools (much like how it is for their southern neighbors).

The authors of the article, Sara FL Kirk, PhD Candidate in Geography and Arrell Food Scholar, University of Guelph and Sara FL Kirk, Professor of Health Promotion; Scientific Director of the Healthy Populations Institute, Dalhousie University also share the recommendations of six key characteristics to guide a national school food program in Canada developed by a national research team. They include:

1. Universal and offered to all students at no cost or subsidized cost, and administered in a non-stigmatizing manner.

2. Health Promoting, thereby focused on providing whole foods, specifically vegetables and fruits.

3. Respectful of local conditions and needs, serving culturally appropriate foods.

4. Connected to communities, supporting local food producers when possible.

5. Multi-Component and integrated with curricula to incorporate nutrition education and hands-on food preparation for the development of food skills.

6. Sustainable and so receiving ongoing funding, staffing and training along with regular monitoring and evaluation.

Right now is an exciting time in Canada, as they have the opportunity to forge the way for a new system in North America. With many other countries serving as international models, one can only hope that the knowledge and lessons of others will be applied.