I thought it would be appropriate as Congress 2012 wraps up a week of learning and research sharing at the two local Universities to focus on an issue that should be of major importance to students at all levels of education - the food that is served in their schools.
On September 1, 2008, The Healthy Food for Healthy Schools Act was introduced by the Ontario government which required schools to eliminate trans fat from food and beverages sold on their premises. This included deep fried food, prepackaged snacks and baked goods. This was part of a broader effort to develop healthier learning environments and improve student achievement since research has shown that children who eat a healthy diet are more ready to learn and more likely to be successful in school.
Schools, however, are starting to speak up about the financial costs of feeding healthy food to our kids and are questioning whether their efforts are effective.
Schools in the local region saw a 25-30 percent decline in cafeteria sales in the last year and say they are barely breaking even.
Reasons for the lack of interest in the healthy fares? The cost: Healthy food are more expensive. A chocolate bar, for example, can sit on a shelf until it’s expiry date; but a salad has a much shorter shelf life. Another issue is that students are moving off school property to purchase their “fix” of unhealthy food. Cafeteria staff are getting frustrated, feeling the initiative is wasted if it doesn’t carry on past the school doors.
What is to be done to counter this lack of interest in healthy food? First, I think it is the responsibility of the parents and older students to demonstrate an appreciation of healthy food. That means packing healthy lunches and preparing nutritious meals. Second, it is the responsibility of the school to explain to students the dangers of putting trans fats and processed foods into their bodies. Beyond that, the question is whether parents and students are willing to pay more for food that is more nutritious.
What do you think is the answer? Your comments would be welcome!
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As I read the previous comments about who's responsibility it might be to encourage teens to eat healthy (at school and at home), I am reminded of the tons of advertising that we've seen over the past 20 years defining the health issues relating to smoking. Similarly, when my kids brought home information from school in 1981 about some new kind of recycling program, I wasn't interested. But now I'm the recycling "fanatic" of the family.
We don't have time to educate parents about the benefits of healthy eating. Those who don't subscribe to that culture are not readily going to do an about face, especially where money is an issue, and begin baking their own whole grain bread. It took my wife's diagnosis of diabetes last year to prompt a total review of what we eat in our own house and make significant changes in what we buy.
My first thought about what is available in a typical school cafeteria is to comment on the photo in Jessica's article above. I never ate in the cafeteria at WCI during the early 60s because I always biked home. But I can tell you that my mother would never sit me down with a slice of tomato and a lettuce leaf like you see in the photo. Nor would I get an apple. I'm not sure what's in the bottom half of the tray - is it a hamburger and fries with veggie sticks? - but surely we can do better than that for the kids.
I'm sure that with all the talent available to this roundtable, we can all remember back to the favourite meals we had at home. I can remember spaghetti and meatballs, a special cabbage salad that my wife and I still make today, apple crisp (instead of the apple), sloppy joes, orange jello with almost any kind of fruit floating inside, chicken pot pie, and a whole herd of other delicious meals that did not involve french fries.
If the government that instituted the healthy cafeteria mandate is not prepared to help schools financially to implement menus that kids will enjoy, then the whole program is a waste of time.
But first, we as parents and grandparents have to go back to our own roots and dig up the recipes we enjoyed so much at home. I have a recipe for an awesome mac and cheese dish that uses curry, dijon mustard and worcestershire sauce! Apply those recipes to mass production and encourage the government to apply some non-smoking advertising dollars to showing teens how delicious healthy eating can be.
Forget about educating parents about healthy eating at home. That will take too long to create change. Hit the kids between the eyes with a statement that is as powerful as wanting to buy tickets to the next One Direction concert.
There are many aspects that need to be considered when trying to get kids to eat healthy. It is one thing to say that parents should model an appreciation of food and make healthy choices, but what a lot of people forget to think about is that for many parents they do not have the financial resources to be buying healthy food. I think a big problem with trying to implement healthy eating among students is that the students who can afford the healthy food, and hence where the programs are likely to be implemented, can also afford the unhealthy food. Young kids and teenagers, for the most part, are not too concerned with how much fat or calories is in their food. Educating them could help. But the issue of eating healthy foods extends beyond the school environment and into the home. So now you're looking at educating the parents. And as I mentioned before, many parents simply do not have the financial means to be buying nutritious food. I think this is a huge, multi-dimensional issue that needs to be approached from different sides in order to get the message across to the young people of this country that healthy foods mean a healthy body.