School food initiative continues at 3 Island schools

A program aimed at trying to get more local, healthy options in P.E.I.'s school cafeterias and increase student education and awareness about food will continue in three Island schools this year.

Initiative will involve public consultations with parents, students, producers

The school food initiative is back for another year at three Island schools, trying to bringing healthier options to their cafeterias. (Hans Pennink/Associated Press)

A program aimed at trying to get more local, healthy options in P.E.I.'s school cafeterias and increase student education and awareness about food will continue in three Island schools this year.

Morgan Palmer, the co-ordinator hired to work on the food environment initiative project, said she's spent the last year working with students and staff at the schools to come up with ways to incorporate more nutritional, local food options into their meal services. 

This year, Palmer said she plans to share her research with students, parents, and food producers to recommend options for expanding the program further.

The initiative received $30,000 in provincial funding when it launched last year. Officials say details surrounding how much funding the program will receive this school year are still being sorted out.

Palmer said three schools — Tignish Elementary, East Wiltshire and Morell Regional High School — participated in the program and will continue with the program throughout this school year.

"Those schools were really interested in increasing access to healthy, local foods in their schools," Palmer said. 

Menu changes, educational meals

Palmer said in some cases that included making changes to cafeteria lunch menus to include more nutritious foods as well as special events, like group meals where students learned about food literacy and met with local farmers and growers. 

"We really focused on student engagement and building student knowledge about healthy local food," she said. "We worked with food service operators in the schools and various food programs to try to explore options to use more healthy local food." 

Windsor White, principal at East Wiltshire Intermediate School, says they were able to get feedback from students about what they wanted to see in their cafeterias because of the program. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Windsor White, principal at East Wiltshire Intermediate School, said the program was a big success. 

"Trying to get a cross-culture of students within our school to sit down and talk to Morgan a little bit about what they see as food for them, and have them involved right from the day we started here about what they needed ... we learned a lot in that process."

Moving toward a provincial strategy

Throughout the upcoming school year, Palmer said the program will host public consultations where she will present the research she's collected over the past year. The goal, said Palmer, is to present the community with options and get feedback that informs a broader provincial strategy for school food programs.

East Wiltshire students sit in the cafeteria, ready for some lunch. Program co-ordinator Morgan Palmer says kids are excited to have healthier food options at school. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"Now we're looking at developing a strategy for school food and we're really looking to get a lot of feedback from the school communities and from students," Palmer said. 

"I think that there's a real desire for healthier options in schools and for more local options in schools. They got really excited about thinking about school gardens and how they could be more involved in the culinary aspect of school food.

"I think they're overall really excited to see something new." 

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