With the announcement of a one-time $60 million grant for school districts to “expand school meal programs” last month, the Coalition for Healthy School Food is calling on School Trustee candidates to commit to healthy, universal school food programs.

The Coalition seeks support from Trustee candidates to put in place a program where all students in the school have access to the meal or snack that is offered. 

The organization believes that school boards can advocate for sustained public investment by both Provincial and Federal Government in order to develop school food infrastructures across Canada. 

The Herald reached out to the four running candidates for School Board Trustee in the upcoming elections on October 15, to see what their thoughts are about the idea of a universal school food program. The following are their responses: 

Robert Leech

“It is a fact that proper nutrition improves a student’s ability to learn and retain the knowledge gained. With the announcement of the government’s intention to provide School Districts with $60 million to expand school meal programs, it is important to note if the funding is an annual event or simply a one time infusion of funds. If the funding is a one- time incentive, this gives the Board flexibility to develop new programs that respect cultural and traditional food practices and pedagogies, as has been stated by Sue-Anne Banks, of the B.C. Chapter of the Coalition. Boards should develop an infrastructure to meet specific goals and objectives to provide a greater range of meal options. This might involve facility alterations as well as added equipment purchased to broaden the scope of meal delivery. If the funding is on-going Boards will have a greater ability to provide culturally diverse menus, thus increasing student awareness of the different foods that are healthy alternatives. This in itself becomes a learning event.”

Justin Jepsen

“I believe that students that are hungry do not learn as effectively as those that are fed. Children that are underfed or aren’t properly fed can’t focus and retain information in the same way that they could if they weren’t hungry. I think that it is the School District’s responsibility to ensure that all our students are reaching their full potential, and Universal Food Programs have proven to be an effective tool in doing so. 

 SD58 has successful food programs in place at some schools, and I believe there is opportunity to expand those programs to others. These programs are most effective when they are available to every student in the school, and that’s how I believe they should be offered. These programs would be ensuring that our students are not only fed properly each school day, but teaching them about healthy eating along the way.” 

Gordon Swan

“In my past role as President of BCSTA I have advocated to both the provincial and federal Ministers of Health regarding my support and Trustees support of universal school food programs.  A key factor in ensuring the life-long health and success of children and youth is proper nutrition.  The establishment of healthy eating habits, along with the provision of appropriate foods during a student’s developmental years, is critical to building not only a base for success in school but a foundation for life-long health.

We know students come to school hungry every day and that only 1/3 of children in Canada eat the recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables. School food programs increase children’s consumption of healthy foods and decrease the consumption of unhealthy ones; improve students’ mental health, improve cognitive skills; and increase scholastic success.  Establishing these healthy habits will also lead to lower future health care costs.”

John Chenoweth

“I am in support of a universal food program for school aged children. The news release speaks to support for school fees and food programs. Anything the Province can do to support more access to resources and healthy foods for students will be welcomed by parents and this school district.

 Our school district currently offers a hot lunch program at all schools, but the model is a user-pay model whereby parents must fund the program on a voluntary basis. The funding will support the lowering of these costs and that is welcomed. However, we can and must try to do better.  The pandemic, floods, and fires have exposed how important access to healthy foods are to children and have stretched our school district’s imagination on how to support families during these tumultuous times. We have demonstrated a strong willingness and ability to advance this topic and we must go further.

 I will bring this forward at both the local and provincial levels as a trustee.”

Aside from being accessible and healthy, foods in the proposed program are also requested to be culturally appropriate. The Coalition operates based on eight guiding principles. One of which is commitment to Indigenous control over programs for Indigenous students. 

“With this new provincial funding, we need to hear and support all voices, and the diversity of Indigenous voices across BC,” said Sue-Anne Banks, Indigenous Lead at the BC Chapter of the Coalition. “As new school food programs are developed or expanded, it is critical that they respect cultural and traditional food practices and pedagogies.”

School boards are believed to be an integral part for ensuring the Province invests in school food programs. 

“School boards can develop district-wide policies and frameworks that support healthy, universal school food programs in their school district, and support schools and teachers in hands-on teaching and learning activities that promote food literacy and healthy eating,” said Samantha Gambling, Lead of the BC Chapter of the Coalition.

“We are urging school trustee candidates in all 60 school districts to commit to investing in food programs that promote health and learning for all students this election.” 

To learn more about the Coalition for Healthy School Food. Please visit www.healthyschoolfood.ca.