National School Food Programs

From our summer intern, Isabela Cravo:

The number of children who are overweight or have type 2 Diabetes is increasing, largely because of what they eat. Five days a week, children are at school, making this environment an important factor in the effort to raise healthy children. The food kids eat at school should be a matter of concern to us all.

A National School Food Program could guarantee a safe, fresh, healthy and delicious meal to children in school, directly improving concentration and ability to learn. It would improve the nutritious status of our children, and be doubly impactful if nutrition education were included in the academic curriculum – ideas like food security and sustainability. We could also support the local economy by using products from local farmers.

This idea is already a reality in my home country of Brazil. We have had a National School Feeding Program (PNAE) since 1955. Over the years it has been through modifications, such as a 2009 law that acknowledged that food is indeed a human right. This law also requires that at least 30% of the funding provided from the government destined to school meals have to be used on the purchase of products from local family agriculture, with organic produce being a priority. By buying local, we guarantee that children have a fresh and culturally appropriate meals. Read more through the Global Child Nutrition Foundation or World Food Programme. My sister and I enjoyed some of the same dishes my dad remembered having as a student, particularly macarrao com salsicha.

Farmers, schools, federal and provincial or territorial governments have to work together to arrange logistics, such as distribution and production sufficiency. The rewards of the effort include reduced rural exodus, and more farmers earning a viable income.

Canada is the only G8 country that does not have a national nutrition program which ensures school-age children are well fed. Since education and agriculture are under provincial jurisdiction, there are several different nutritional policies across provinces, school districts and within districts. This makes it difficult to establish a healthy, safe and economically viable program. Ontario developed a school food policy that stipulates what food can be served in schools and that all children have access to healthy nutritious meals, it also recommends nutrition education to be included in the academic curriculum, teaching kids skills like how to grow food and how to cook it. Another provincial initiative is the BC Farm to School Program, administered by the Public Health Association of BC.

Without a national program, Canada mainly relies on nonprofit groups, volunteer efforts, some provincial government funding and corporate donations to make it possible for children to have access to healthy and fresh meals at school. You can learn more about different initiatives and help advocate with the Farm to Cafeteria Canada website, Breakfast for Learning and Real Food for Real Kids.

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