news & trends

Healthy eating at school – insights for menu planning and nutrition programs

student eating a healthy lunchImage Health Canada

Back-to-school is in full swing, including educational opportunities for dietitians and food professionals! We attended an international seminar on back-to-school success with USDA’s Team Nutrition.[1] As you may know the US funds school lunch programs and has a robust support system – both financial and practical – for feeding kids in schools. We discovered some amazing new content, lots of tips and highlights that you can use to nourish students whether you’re a parent, educator, or foodservice professional.

Scientists and health professionals agree on the importance of healthy eating at school to optimize health, development, and academic performance. Since children and youth spend a large portion of their day in school, they consume a significant proportion of their daily energy intake while in school.[2],[3] This means it’s key to provide food for students that gives them enough energy and nutrients they need throughout the day.

Here are some tips for your school’s food and nutrition program to help kids grow up healthy:

Food Focus

  • Align school nutrition policies with recommendations in Canada’s Food Guide and promote nutrient-rich foods and beverages that are lower in saturated fat, sugars, and sodium.
  • Involve students in the menu development to find the right balance of nutritious foods that are ‘fan favorites’ that kids are going to eat. [4]
  • Encourage student taste-testing and get their feedback on food items created by chefs.
  • Monitor food waste. Are you watching what foods kids throw away? Finding the reason why kids are not eating their lunch provides insights for creating lunches they will enjoy eating.
  • Reach out to a dietitian for support with healthy delicious recipes and meal plans for kids, analyzing recipes and menus to meet school food nutrient standards.

Make an impact beyond the food

  • Provide a safe space to enjoy all foods without fear of food judgement.
  • Advocate for sufficient time for eating lunch. Experts recommend students have at least 20 minutes of seated time to enjoy their meal and socialize. [5]
  • Find out if there is a health committee you can join or start one for your school.
  • Invest in educating your school community about how to build healthy relationships with food. A dietitian can help. Ask them about resources to teach nutrition in the classroom, parent resources on packing lunches, school presentations, and referrals for student nutrition programs.[6]

As Dietitians we look beyond fads to deliver reliable, life-changing advice. Do you want to unlock the potential of food? Connect with us with your comments or questions.

 Written by Lucia Weiler, BSc, RD, PHEc – Award-winning dietitian and Co-Founder, n4nn

 

Tags; Foodservice management, back to school, school nutrition policy, student nutrition, dietitian, Lucia Weiler, n4nn

[1] United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food & Nutrition Service (2022) https://www.fns.usda.gov/team-nutrition

[2] Health Canada (2021) Healthy eating at school – Canada’s Food Guide

[3] Canadian Paediatric Society (2020) School nutrition: Support for providing healthy food and beverage choices in schools

[4] ABC News (2022) Chicago Public Schools lunch menu https://abc7chicago.com/cps-school-lunch-menu-chicago-public-schools/12213616/

[5] CDC (2019) Making Time for School Lunch  https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/school_lunch.htm

[6] Dietitians of Canada (2019) Eating Right at School. https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/School-Health/Articles/Eating-Right-at-School.aspx

What’s the benefit of eating locally and in season?

vegetables and fruit displayed at a market

Have you ever wondered if buying local food is a better choice? You’re not alone as more people want to know how and where their food and other products are grown and handled. Local food is also trending in the mainstream of grocers, restaurants, health care facilities and schools. In this article we consider what the term local really means and look at some of the benefits of eating local food.

What does the term ‘local food’ mean?

Most people think that ‘local’ refers to a short geographic distance between where the food was grown and sold. Since the term ‘local’ is largely unregulated and undefined, the area could mean 1 kilometer or 1,000 kilometers away from the point of purchase. Some advocates promote the ‘100-mile (160 km) diet’ as the geographic limit of local, but local food does not have to be such a short a distance.  The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) says local food claims are valid for food produced within in the province or territory in which it is sold, or if sold across provincial borders it’s within 50 km of the originating province or territory.  The best way to find out what local means for a specific product is to ask the food seller – be that a grocery store retailer, the farm stand supplier or restaurant owner. You may get some different answers.  How would you define local food?  For the purpose of this article, we’ll go with the CFIA term local food, that is grown within your province or territory.

What are the benefits of buying local food?

Local food is fresh and tastes great

Local food is often harvested a few hours before it’s sold so food produced close to home is usually the freshest it can be.  Local fruits and vegetables are also harvested close to peak ripeness and flavour. When food is picked and eaten at the peak of freshness, it retains more nutrients and tastes better.  Check online what grows in season in your region. You can also eat local food during the winter months because root vegetables, pulses, grains, meats, dairy products are available year-round.

Local food offers seasonal variety

Local farmers may grow a variety of unique foods such as heirloom produce, which you might not find at the grocery store. Look for various types of your favourite vegetables and fruit and try different products.  Seasonal eating may mean eating in step with the agricultural harvest calendar and enjoying foods at peak flavour and ripeness. Embracing foods that are in season may also increase the variety of foods you’re eating. Dietitian’s tip: If raw produce is not in season locally then it probably is not locally produced.

Buying local can save money

Food produced close to home is often sold at a good price, and seasonal produce may be sold for even less. For example, if all the farmers have a lot of tomatoes, they may be willing to lower prices to sell them all. Planning meals around what’s in season also helps you save money. Canning or freezing well-priced seasonal vegetables and fruit is a good way to take advantage of lower prices and eating local all year long!

Local food supports communities

Local food creates community and connections. As we emerge from a long, socially isolating pandemic, loneliness is a rising problem. Meeting local growers, discussing foods unique to your region, discovering how your food is grown and harvested counters this trend.  Local food is a great experience and offers a place for people to meet each other and build meaningful human connections. Local food can also spark healthy conversations, whether at the farmers’ market, grocery store, local restaurant or farm-to-table gathering with family and friends.

Buying local preserves farms

Choosing local food aids your local economy. It helps keep local producers in business, creates jobs and promotes economic growth. When you buy local food, you are also helping to preserve valuable farmland. This also helps protect green space and habitats for wildlife to exist locally your communities.

Where to find local food in your region?

Farmers market

Farmers markets help meet the growing demand for locally produced food by providing a retail hub intended to sell foods directly by farmers to consumers. They’ve become an important connection between rural and urban communities with benefits that are felt throughout the community. At a farmers’ market you may discover products you can’t find elsewhere such as different variety of vegetables and fruits, unique cheeses, fresh or potted herbs, cut flowers, oven fresh baked goods, meat, fresh fish, poultry, or eggs from nearby producers.

Farmers markets are also a place where you get a chance to directly talk food growers, producers and vendors. Many small farmers are eager to talk about their growing methods and how they care for their animals. Take time to connect with them and discover more about the foods you buy and enjoy.

With more farmers markets opening every year, check online and with your local community associations to find out where they are in your region. In Ontario you can find a farmers’ market at this link Find a Farmers’ Market – Farmers’ Markets Ontario (farmersmarketsontario.com)

Pick your own

Some farmers may invite you to pick your own produce at the farm. By making a trip to a local farm you’re treating yourself to an experience of choosing your food from the field where it’s grown. Pick your own is especially valuable during the peak growing season and harvest times.  Check online for local farms that open their gates to pick your own customers.  In Ontario you can find an on-farm market or pick-your-own operation near you to purchase Ontario food at this link: Find a Farm – Farm Fresh Association (farmfreshontario.com)

Grocery stores

Some grocers are offering more local food.  Many of these foods will be clearly labeled in the store so you know what you’re buying and where it came from. At the grocery store, identify the area of origin for foods you buy and look for ‘local’ when possible.

Restaurants

When dining out, consumers are attracted to local foods especially while on vacation. Check out the menus online and look for menu items with local and seasonal ingredients. Some regions have government co-ordinated ‘eat local’ initiatives that include participating restaurant listings. In Ontario, the Culinary Tourism Alliance created the FeastON Certification. You can find a restaurant serving Ontario food on their menu at this link https://ontarioculinary.com/restaurants/

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

CSA provide a way to buy local seasonal vegetables and fruits directly from Farmers – often at a more affordable price. Farmers sell a set of number of shares, or memberships, to customers. The shares usually provide a container of vegetables or other seasonal farm products on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule during the growing season, depending on the growing conditions. CSA’s provide a market for local farmers, and both raw product and a farm connection for consumers.  You can find CSA’s near you by visiting your local community centre, municipal office or searching online.

Bottom Line:

Canadians increasingly value supporting a thriving local agricultural system. There are many benefits to exploring local food for individuals and the community.  Let’s start a conversation about the benefits of including some local foods in the diet and in menus.  Dietitians share credible information and can help find ways to maximize this opportunity and navigate around challenges.

Further Reading and more information:

Written by Lucia Weiler, BSc, RD, PHEc – Award-winning dietitian and Co-Founder, n4nn

Contact us for comments or questions.