by Paul Romani (M.Ed.)
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B.C. School Food Guidelines & The Importance of Healthy Food

by Paul Romani (M.Ed.)
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A whole-child approach is a crucial component of creating an effective learning environment.

This means giving as equal importance to a child’s socio-emotional and physical development as their academic development – something that few schools can claim to do and why, therefore, the new B.C. School Food Guidelines are necessary.

It is not possible for a school to suggest that they help their students reach their full potential if they neglect healthy eating, daily physical education, and socio-emotional development in their approach.

Recently, I wrote about the importance of fostering mental health in schools in support of the BC Ministry of Education’s Mental Health in Schools Strategy.

Around the same time, the BC Ministry of Education also launched their new B.C. School Food Guidelines, addressing one of the physical aspects neglected in many schools.

Hopefully, a physical activity guideline is set to follow!

Let’s explore the B.C. School Food Guidelines and why they should be viewed in a positive light.

BC School Food Guidelines

https://healthyschoolsbc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/BC-School-Food-Guidelines_Confidential-Draft-for-Consultation.pdf

The two aspects to the BC School Food Guidelines that I want to highlight are:

  1. Why healthy eating is so important at school
  2. The limitations of the guidelines in what they pertain to

Why It’s Essential to Ensure Healthy Eating in Schools

As noted at the beginning of the BC School Food Guidelines, the Ministry’s goal is to increase students’ access to healthy food and to limit their access to unhealthy food.

As the Ministry states:

“Research shows that eating healthy food and beverages:

  • Provides students with fuel for optimal growth and nutrients for strong bones, teeth and muscles
  • Helps students’ brains develop
  • Improves school performance, learning ability, attention span and behaviour
  • Supplies energy for daily activity
  • Reduces the risk of getting sick now and developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer later in life
  • Sets the foundations for healthy eating behaviours as adults”

On our own hot lunch program page, we simply point out that:

“What your child eats and drinks determines their academic, social-emotional, and physical performance. Good eating habits in childhood set good eating habits for life.” (Pear Tree School)

healthy hot lunch program
Mandatory lunch program at Pear Tree School

The Limitations of the BC School Food Guidelines

In terms of the guidelines’ application, they affect the sale of food and beverages in BC schools.

This means that schools are not allowed to sell or provide unhealthy foods in vending machines, stores or cafeterias, including through their food programs or fundraising activities.

The guidelines also apply to classroom celebrations. While this might sound less reasonable, imagine a class of 20-30 kids bringing such food to class every time one of them has a celebration. Even at Pear Tree with smaller class sizes, we have become increasingly strict about bringing treats for birthdays – if only to not have to deal with 16 kids wired with sugar!

There are two limitations that I want to indicate here. These guidelines do not affect:

  1. the type of packed lunches that parents provide their own children
  2. or, food prepared by the students as part of their classes

Limitation 1

The first limitation, for me, is a major disappointment. The majority of the food that students will consume during the day will be the food provided by their parents, unless students are attending schools with food programs.

Having worked with teachers from other schools, I’m well aware of what some parents are providing their children as ‘lunch’: goldfish crackers, dried seaweed, breadsticks with liquid ‘cheese’, chocolate pudding, etc.

And, I’m not talking about these things combined, but literally just one of these things supposedly constituting a sensible lunch for a child.

Not only are these ‘foods’ nutritionally lacking, but they are meagre amounts to eat.

Personally, I would make the guidelines apply to packed lunches, as we do at Pear Tree in our camps, which I’ll discuss more later in this article.

Limitation 2

I think this is a fair compromise on the part of the BC government. If these are occasional treats, they can eat them as part of their lessons. At least the students get to learn some math, literacy, and life skills in the process.

Cooking at School
Pear Tree School students making cookies for the end of term Celebration of Learning event
Cooking at School
An occasional treat? Yes, literally a once-a-season treat!

Limitation 3?

An additional limitation not mentioned in the guidelines is the purchase of food outside of the school by high school students.

In our neighborhood in Kitsilano, it is a daily sight seeing the hoards of local high school students outside of fast food outlets.

Their staple food is pizza. It is not an occasional treat.

Even in Pear Tree School’s high school years, our students will be expected to participate in our food program.

Two Issues with the BC School Food Guidelines

You might consider this more of a difference in philosophy than a major criticism.

However, I have my issues with the following policies:

1. Provide students with the autonomy to select their own food and beverages

The issue with this is that the government has already indirectly acknowledged that there is an issue with schools and enough parents knowing what children should and should not be eating. Now, they are entrusting this decision to children?

At Pear Tree, we provide everyone with the same healthy meal (with dietary modifications made) so that everyone gets to try that food and, because everyone is eating the same thing, there is positive peer pressure that normalises such eating habits. It is also much more cost effective for the school to provide one dish rather than providing a diverse range each day.

If you have everyone eating different things, you lose those benefits.

2. Commercially processed meat – except traditional meats, fish and other traditional foods that are prepared using Indigenous methods and are part of traditional food systems.

This somewhat paraphrased comment is a little vague.

I understand the wish to prevent children from eating processed meats, particularly those that contain nitrites, as well as the high sodium content and saturated fats that they contain.

Nevertheless, I think it’s important to recognise the diversity of Vancouver and their traditional foods, rather than one ethnic group getting that privilege.

Many cultures use preservation methods, such as salting and smoking. I’m not sure if the comment about “traditional food systems” is implying all cultures, but I don’t get that impression.

Irresponsible Journalism!

It is a sad fact that Canadian newspapers do a poor job of objective journalism.

There is a heavy emphasis on presenting polarising ideas that create fear, anger, and social division, not on an U.S. media sensation level, but not that far off.

COVID policies are a perfect example of this.

Instead, of presenting balanced perspectives of COVID policies (by the public, small business owners, scientists, and politicians) or pushing back on restrictions, their coverage has been pretty much page-to-page fear mongering and pro-restrictions (with some exceptions), and an outright attack or censorship of any even remotely opposing perspectives, particularly the truckers and their supporters.

The same is true with the BC School Food Guidelines.

CBC, Global News, and CTV have all given platforms for the most negative individuals who don’t seem to have one positive thing to say about a government that is trying to look after children’s health.

When these articles are created, they should include multiple perspectives to avoid the one perspective presented being construed as the truth.

In the case of the food guidelines, why didn’t they question opposing views from other parents that support the government’s programs, teachers, nutritionists, or doctors?

Given that the news networks didn’t ask for any other perspectives, it is confusing how they can claim that “B.C. parents are voicing concern” when they only spoke with one parent. Presumably not everyone thinks that the guidelines are bad?

It is a clear case of irresponsible journalism and prioritizing ‘clicks’ over public health.

Let me do their jobs for them by presenting some parents with views that would align with the Ministry:

“Is there really no other way to raise $14.30 per kid than selling them, and normalizing, weekly (or multiple times per week) junk food?”

http://www.weightymatters.ca/2019/09/weekly-elementary-school-pizza-sales.html

“[J]unk food, garbage, advertising and reinforcers of class differences have no place in our classrooms in the midst of an obesity epidemic”

https://www.todaysparent.com/kids/kids-health/why-i-hate-pizza-day/

Bizarre Parent Perspectives!

Among the Debbie Downers exclusively interviewed by these news networks was a mother and PAC president of a public school in Surrey.

This parent makes some, quite frankly, bizarre comments, which I’ve provided my thoughts about below:

  1. “It definitely impinges on what a parent can decide for their child, what they can eat and what they can’t eat.” (Source)
  2. “Kids won’t eat it.” (Source)
  3. “The impact to the community, let alone fundraising dollars, is just too great based on these very restrictive and very expensive guidelines.” (Source)
  4. “I’d like (the government) to stop policing what people want to feed their children. That’s totally out of their purview.” (Source)
  5. “To eat healthy, like they’re suggesting in those guidelines, is super expensive, and the average family can’t afford that.” (Source)
  6. “It’s not every day that kids are eating these foods, just let them have fun … It’s about healthy habits. Everything in moderation – including treats – needs to be a part of that.” (Source)

Quote 1

This claim is false.

The guidelines clearly state that they do not apply to food provided by parents for their children.

So, it only ‘impinges’ on what 3rd parties are able to provide other people’s children.

At a time when the media is harnessing tools to censor ‘misinformation’ by non-mainstream voices, you would think that they would do their job and add a correction to their articles about this false claim about the Ministry guidelines.

Quote 2

This claim is again is false.

Firstly, if you believe that children won’t or can’t do something, you make it inevitable that they will fail. It’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you believe that they can, they more likely will.

At Pear Tree Education, we have been running a healthy hot lunch program since 2013, which over 60% of families sign up for. So, we are talking about hundreds of children that have participated in and enjoy our hot lunch program.

We believe that children should, can and will eat healthy food. And, our results speak for themselves!

We get rave reviews from parents about our hot lunch program and requests every year for our recipes. Here is a tiny sample:

“He loved his hot lunches… and out of curiosity because I love to cook, are recipes or a cookbook available?”

Pear Tree spring camp parent

“My daughter loves your lunches and snacks. And I’m delighted to hear her raving about zucchini and bean soups! Any chance you can share your recipes? I’d love to make these dishes with her at home.”

Pear Tree summer camp parent

“Thank you so much for the wonderful hot lunch program! [My son] can not stop raving about the lunch he had today. He really loved it, and begged me to make it for him. May I please trouble you to tell me what it is and possible the recipe for it? He’s a very picky eater possibly because he has nut allergies. He gets anxious with food and is not very receptive to new taste.
So it means a great deal for me to see him enjoy your lunch so much.”

Pear Tree summer camp parent

Bear in mind that the students that attend our camps come from public and private schools across the Lower Mainland, as well as international families here on vacation.

Quote 3

I find it baffling – if not disturbing – to hear someone, especially a parent, prioritising money over a child’s health and education.

As mentioned earlier, healthy eating has a direct impact on a child’s day-to-day performance, as well as their long-term prospects – academically, physically and socio-emotionally.

As such, healthy food is a health and welfare necessity.

I know she means well with the fundraising. However, if money is the issue, the focus should be on complaining to the government about investment in public schools, not on criticising measures designed to improve children’s health and wellbeing.

If you’re raising money to improve education, don’t undermine that by providing food to kids that will harm their education!

And, there are other ways of raising money that don’t rely on selling junk food.

Quote 4

If it’s in the purview of governments to ban nuts to protect children’s health, then the same is true for food in general, because healthy food protects children’s health.

Healthy food also improves student’s behaviour and performance, which is something that will help students, teachers, and parents.

Why would you not want this?!

Quote 5 & 6

These two quotes seem to be contradictions. On the one hand, this parent is arguing that they don’t eat unhealthy food every day, so what’s the harm in the occasional treat. At the same time, she’s saying that parents can’t afford to feed their kids healthy food. Am I missing something?

In either case, I don’t believe that these are ‘occasional treats’ for some families. In fact, as I’ve stated, there are parents that will send their kids to school with fast food every day or the goldfish cracker-style nonsense that doesn’t constitute real food. These treats are the norm, therefore, not the exception.

What this parent is trying to state is that, at her school, they only have ‘pizza day’ every so often. This may be the case at her school, but I know of public schools around us that have Pizza Mondays – weekly.

Here are some examples of schools that advertise precisely this! 1, 2, 3, 4.

Also, it is not expensive to feed a child healthy food; you just need to be smart about how you do it. If you’re buying exclusively for one child for one packed lunch, yes, it’ll be relatively expensive. It’s always proportionately more expensive cooking for one person, than a group. If you cook a healthy dinner for the whole family and send your child to school with the leftovers, it’s actually very cheap! If the school prepares the food for everyone, it’s even cheaper!

Pear Tree’s Healthy Hot Lunch Program

In 2013, a year after Pear Tree opened, we launched our Healthy Hot Lunch Program at our 2013 Spring Camps.

At the same time, we introduced a food policy that banned parents from bringing fast food into Pear Tree, and required them to provide a lunch that is healthy and well balanced.

We did this because there were families providing the most atrocious food for their kids for their lunches.

Parents admitted to us that they didn’t know what to pack for their kids, that they couldn’t cook, and that they couldn’t get their kids to eat anything apart from the food that they were packing.

While not every parent has supported our food policy (leading to them having to withdraw), we have been successful at creating an environment where every child eats well, whether they are on our healthy hot lunch program or bring their own packed lunches.

Today, we offer our hot lunch program at 3 of our 5 summer camp locations in Kitsilano, North Van and White Rock.

Since the launch of our school back in 2016, we’ve had the luxury of having a mandatory healthy hot lunch program. Even staff participate in the food program, free of charge, creating an environment that positively normalises healthy eating and healthy living.

One of Pear Tree School’s classes eating lunch together

Students eat three times a day, including the morning and afternoon snacks.

All of the food at Pear Tree School is freshly cooked from scratch by our in-house chef.

Pear Tree School’s chef, Borja Serrano

Each year, our students experience around 40 different types of healthy meals.

While some dishes are repeated in following years, our chef is constantly coming up with new ideas and recipes to challenge the students and himself.

An example of the variety of dishes prepared by our chef at Pear Tree School

And for Friday Funday, is there pizza? Nope!

Instead, we have had things like Eggs Benedict, Sushi, Scrambled Eggs, Taco Salad, and so on.

No fast food on the menu for Friday Funday!