British Columbia

B.C.'s proposed new school food guidelines 'go too far,' some parents say

B.C. is changing its guidelines for food and drinks served and offered in schools, and some parents fear the proposed update could hamper beloved fundraisers like hot lunch programs, while stigmatizing some foods over others.

Province looks to secure feedback on proposed 2022 B.C. School Food Guidelines by April 30

Proposed voluntary guidelines for food offered, served or sold in B.C. schools have been released by the province, and some Parent Advisory Councils are concerned the guidelines overstep dietary choices parents make for their kids. (John Moore/Getty Images)

B.C. is changing its guidelines for food and drinks served and offered in schools, and some parents fear the proposed update could hamper beloved fundraisers like hot lunch programs while stigmatizing some foods over others.

The province unveiled its proposed 2022 B.C. School Food Guidelines to parents this month as it looks to secure feedback by April 30.

Under the proposed voluntary system, schools would move towards a "gold standard" in nutrition with a larger number foods placed on a "foods to avoid" list, including fruit juice, hot dog wieners and deli meats, energy and protein bars, sweetened milk, frozen treats, and anything deep fried. The guide suggests items like pizza that aren't 100 per cent whole grain should also be avoided.

The guidelines apply to food that's offered, served or sold in schools, including school food programs, as well as parent-organized events like hot lunches, fun fairs, and bake sales. It doesn't apply to what kids bring to school for lunch.

Some school Parent Advisory Councils are raising concerns that the proposed voluntary guidelines could lead to policies at schools that limit food options served at popular hot lunch programs.

"This is really about food policing," said Cindy Dalglish, a mother of two and PAC president of Ecole Woodward Elementary in Surrey. "It definitely impinges on what a parent can decide for their child, what they can eat and what they can't eat."

Cindy Dalglish says the new food guidelines, while voluntary, could lead to food policies adopted by districts and schools that are restrictive of food choices. (Cindy Dalglish)

Fundraising concerns

Dalglish says events like 'Pizza Day' and 'Freezie Day', which only happen every so often, go a long way to raise money for schools like hers.

She says typically the programs raise about $20,000 annually for items like computer and sports equipment.

"PAC-sponsored events, they are solely about having fun a few times a month, a couple times a year," she said.

Dalglish says the guidelines could also promote a culture of food shaming.

"There are lots of people in this province living in this poverty, and the foods that are considered healthy on this list are very expensive, especially over the last couple of years with our grocery bills going up and up," she said.

Parents say a growing number of foods have been put on a list titled 'foods to be avoided' and could pose challenges to PAC fundraising events, like hot lunch. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Dietary challenges

Other parents have voiced concerns that the guidelines don't take into consideration the dietary habits of many students and families — particularly for children with disabilities.

"Disabilities were not mentioned whatsoever [in the proposal]," said Chantelle Morvay-Adams, a Nanaimo mother of two neurodivergent children. "Folks with disabilities and neurodivergent people have food sensitivities, they have a specified diet, and there are challenges."

Morvay-Adams is a board member of BCEdAccess Society, a volunteer organization that serves children with disabilities.

"If a district decided to mandate [the guidelines], that would cut out most of the foods my kids eat," she said.

In a statement, the province said the guidelines align with Canada's 2019 food guide evidence related to promoting health and reducing the risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases.

"They are intended to support school staff and PACs in creating a healthy school food environment," wrote a spokeserson from the Ministry of Health.

The ministry says it's consulting with public health experts, the education sector, the food and beverage industry and parents. Feedback will be considered for the final draft due later this year.

The B.C. Chapter of the Coalition for Healthy School Food said it supports the proposal but notes that "there will be different levels of acceptance and ability to implement the new guidelines due to differences in resources, staffing and infrastructure."

It says schools should also be provided with government funding in order to meet criteria set out by the new guidelines.

As for parents like Dalglish, she hopes the ministry will reverse course and stick to current guidelines.

"This is one of those things that the ministry needs to butt out of, and let families do what they need to do for their own children," she said.

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