Thursday August 31, 2017

Canada needs national school lunch program, say advocates

With math test scores slipping and a push to remake parts of the curriculum, you might not think much about the importance of school lunch time. But advocates pushing for a national school lunch program says it really does matter.

With math test scores slipping and a push to remake parts of the curriculum, you might not think much about the importance of school lunch time. But advocates pushing for a national school lunch program says it really does matter. (Shuttershock)

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As school bells start ringing again across Canada, many parents are back to worrying what to put in their kids lunches so that they will eat it.

And it's not just what kind of food that's a concern, but also if kids have enough time to eat their lunches — creating a challenge for teachers in the afternoon with "hangry" students in class.

Zoe Traiforos, mother of three, tries to provide nutritious lunches for her kids but says the food just kept coming back half-eaten. So she got involved in the lunch program at her local school at Howard Public School in Toronto.

'The [school] board is not obliged to supervise these children.' - Zoe Traiforos,

"It just began out of frustration with the daily throwing out of soggy lunches and my concern about my children not eating during the day," she tells The Current's host Matt Galloway.

"It was a very irregular thing to find that they had found the time to consume whatever I'd sent them … and the kids came home from school starving."

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Canada is the only industrialized county without a national school food program. ( Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

When she investigated why her kids never came home with an empty lunch bag, Traiforos found a flawed system in place, pointing to an overcrowded space with very little adult supervision.

"There's really no leadership in terms of what meal time should be and we're talking about very young children,"  she tells Galloway. 

"They sort of cram them in wherever they can … sometimes they don't even have tables and chairs."

Traiforos says in the wintertime, children are eating in their snowsuits.

'One out of six Canadian children lives in a food insecure household.' -Sasha McNicoll with Food Secure Canada

In addition to the chaos, Traiforos points out a major factor to lunch challenges is time due to the pressure kids are under to get out and play.

Traiforos contacted the school principal, trustee and student nutrition advisory committee to address this and found the policy is children should be going home for lunch.

"But the reality is that children — I would say more than 90 per cent of children — stay at school for lunch. And the board is not obliged to supervise these children. They will do it but, technically, they are not obliged to," Traiforos explains.

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What's your kid having for lunch at school? (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

It means that advocating for funding to improve the lunch situation at schools is difficult, says Traiforos, because it's seen as a parental problem. 

Beyond the time constraints to eat lunch at school, there's also the issue of not even having a lunch to eat.

Canada is the only G8 country without a national food strategy for schools. It's something Sasha McNicoll, a coordinator with the Coalition for Healthy School Food at Food Secure Canada is trying to change.

"One out of six Canadian children lives in a food insecure household," she tells Galloway.

She says four million Canadians suffer from food insecurity — from skipping meals to an entire day of not eating.

So why isn't there a national school lunch program when there's clearly a need?

McNicoll says it's because the federal government doesn't see education as its jurisdiction — it falls to the provinces and territories.

"What we're asking for is for the federal government to ... give funding to provinces and territories to ensure that they're meeting the needs of more Canadian children."

Listen to the full segment near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ramraajh Sharvendiran and Ines Colabrese.