School food initiative expands to 9 Island schools

Students from nine Island schools will get their chance to weigh in on the changes they want to see to their school food programs.

Province aims to roll-out healthy school food pilots at 9 schools by fall 2019

The first brainstorming session for the program was held Monday and included students from East Wiltshire Intermediate and Eliot River Elementary. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Students from nine Island schools will get their chance to weigh in on the changes they want to see to their school food programs.

It's part of the province's broader plans to develop a school food program that aims to get more local, healthy options in P.E.I.'s school cafeterias and increase student education and awareness about food.

The first of the sessions was held Monday and included students from East Wiltshire Intermediate and Eliot River Elementary.

Students were put into groups and asked to reflect on their current school food programs and come up with ways healthy food options could become more accessible and affordable — and what those healthy options should be. 

'We're hoping to see is some very real changes made in the fall of 2019 in these potential [school] communities that are prepared to kind of take the leap with us,' says project co-ordinator Morgan Palmer. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

The schools participating in the brainstorming sessions this week will also be part of the province's school food pilot programs. 

Those schools include: 

  • East Wiltshire Intermediate. 
  • Eliot River Elementary.
  • Kinkora Regional High School.
  • Somerset Elementary.
  • Amherst Cove.
  • Montague Regional. 
  • Montague Consolidated.
  • Montague Intermediate. 
  • Southern Kings Consolidated.

Morgan Palmer, the co-ordinator hired to work on the food environment initiative project, said the provincial school food program launched over a year ago and until now her goal has been collecting research. But the project is shifting away from collecting data toward looking at what implementation will look like, she said. 

"I understand people are tired of talking about it and really what we're hoping to see is some very real changes made in the fall of 2019 in these potential [school] communities that are prepared to kind of take the leap with us."

Province exploring centralized kitchen pilot 

The province is exploring the option of a centralized kitchen model, where healthy meals and snacks are prepared at the three larger schools with kitchen facilities that can accommodate extra food production and then delivered to the other participating schools. 

"The idea is to centralize both the kitchen equipment and the workers in the current infrastructure that exists in the school system," Palmer said.

The province is trying to get healthier options in P.E.I.'s school cafeterias and increase student education and awareness about food. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Palmer said the province aims to roll out central kitchen pilot projects in the nine participating schools by fall 2019. But, she is still looking at whether the schools will have the capacity to produce the amount of meals needed and how the pilot will align with existing school food programs. 

"Do we have what we'll need in the kitchens? Who are we going to hire to run these programs and what will the menus actually look like? A lot more of those tangible details that we're going to need to be ready for fall 2019," Palmer said.

Students looking for more 'options'

After their brainstorming session, the students were given a meal prepared by culinary students at Bluefield High School. Palmer said the menu for the day was intended to show students how nutritious foods can be incorporated into a school food program.

Summer Cutler, a Grade 6 student at Eliot River Elementary, said while she likes her current school food program she would like to see some more options on the table. 

"I just feel like we don't get as many options, every day there's something specific," Cutler said. "I don't like having the exact same thing every day."

It's really about getting student input on … where school food might be headed and give them an opportunity to really feel like they've had a chance to contribute to the program.— Morgan Palmer, project co-ordinator

Olivia MacDougall said she's happy to have to chance to talk about some of the things she doesn't like about her current food program.

"We're actually acknowledging that there's barely any fruit or vegetables here that are served," MacDougall said. "I'd like to see that there's more healthy options."

"It's really about getting student input … and give them an opportunity to really feel like they've had a chance to contribute to the program," says Morgan Palmer, the co-ordinator hired to work on the food environment initiative project. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Palmer said having students engaged throughout the project is important to ensuring the final strategy is successful once it's implemented.

"Student engagement has always been a really big component of this project and for good reason," Palmer said. "It's really about getting student input on … where school food might be headed and give them an opportunity to really feel like they've had a chance to contribute to the program."

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