The provincial government is spending $3.5 million on a school nutrition pilot program to be rolled out across 14 publicly-funded school boards.

"Research clearly shows that students who have a healthy, nutritious diet have more energy and are better able to do their work in school," said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley as she unveiled the plan at St. Peter School in Calgary on Monday.

The money will go to the school boards, which will each choose one K-6 school to participate in the pilot.

A government spokesman says the program could be expanded to $10 million next year and $20 million in 2018. 

Alberta Education says the program is aimed at students with the greatest need and the money for the first year of the program will come from the department's existing budget.

Both the Calgary Catholic School District and the Calgary Board of Education are taking part in the project, along with the two major boards in Edmonton and 10 rural boards.

notley and eggen

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley takes questions after unveiling the government's plans for a school nutrition pilot program on Friday, as Education Minister David Eggen looks on. (CBC)

"We know that education is the cornerstone of a healthy Alberta economy. We also know that in difficult economic times in our province, there has been a strain on household incomes, and some of our families may need a helping hand," Notley said. 

The premier said bringing in a targeted school lunch program fulfills a promise the NDP made during the last election, and a commitment she made when she sought the leadership of the party.

The programs being set up at the 31 schools taking part in the pilot show great creativity, many of them involving partnerships with businesses and non-profit groups, said Education Minister David Eggen.

"So it's not just a way by which we serve food in our schools, but it's a way to connect schools to our communities as well," he said.

Notley said the individual programs in the pilot will be watched and evaluated so that the province can follow best practices as it moves to expand school nutrition programs Alberta wide in the coming years.

These school boards are taking part in the pilot:

  • Calgary Board of Education
  • Calgary Catholic School District
  • Canadian Rockies Regional Division
  • Edmonton Catholic Schools
  • Edmonton Public Schools
  • High Prairie School Division
  • Holy Family Catholic Regional Division
  • Livingstone Range School Division
  • Medicine Hat School District
  • Northern Lights School District
  • Red Deer Public District
  • St. Paul Regional School Division
  • Westwind School Division
  • Wetaskiwin Regional Division 

With files from Canadian Press