By Nikki Jamieson
It’s a question of if you ate versus what you ate when it comes to students.
During their regular July 12 meeting, the Municipal District of Taber council met with the new Family & Community Support Services director for Barons-Eureka-Warner, Zak Morrison. Dominating the discussion was something that concerns every school in Canada; what students eat, or rather, what they don’t eat.
“A concern of mine is what works in the school division,” said Ben Elfring, M.D. councillor. “There’s a lot of kids that don’t have breakfast and don’t have lunch. If there’s nothing in the fuel tank, you can’t go very far. Is there some way that FCSS can work with Horizon School Division… could there be a program with Horizon School Division, that could cover all the schools, basically the whole area?”
According to a 2006 Statistics Canada report, approximately four out of ten Canadians say they skip breakfast.
Seven out of ten children, ages four to eight, do not eat the minimum of five fruit and vegetable servings each day, and over a third of four to nine year-olds do not have the recommended two daily servings of milk products.
Additionally, one out of six children will not have enough to eat, and many will go to school hungry, and their school work will suffer for it.
When students face problems of not having enough food to eat or are not eating the right food, these problems are often called food security or food insecurity. Morrison, who had previously worked at Alberta Health Services, says that the NDP government had promised to start a food program in their platform, and are currently discussing how to do it.
“Our role as FCSS could fit with helping figure out what that would look like, and support to try to bring it together or find grants or money or something in order to support that,” said Morrison.
“It’s a sensitive topic, right? And so, for the admin, school admin team and staff, what comes up sometimes, from what I’ve heard is hand up versus hand out, these types of things. My personal feeling is you don’t want kids to go hungry, but there is always other things to consider, setting precedence, more or less.”
However, there is a stigma associated with school meal programs. There is also the issue of cost and whowill run it. But Morrison says that food items can be purchased inexpensively, and anyone, from teachers, youth groups, committees to councils, can volunteer to run it. Additionally, there is an emphasis on running the program without singling the kids out.
“It can be done in a respectful way, and it can be done fairly inexpensively for the school,” said Morrison.
“The main thing is, what is the consistency for nutritional value? The well being of children is that, you know, chips and hot dogs might be cheap and easy, but is that what we really want children to be eating?”
While the example of chips and hot dogs might be a more affordable option for schools, the decision boils down to who you involve in the conversation of running the meal program. A dietician — who believes that kids would be better off eating nothing over hot dogs — would have a very different opinion of what children should eat versus a teacher — who believes that anything at all would be great.
The example was raised of a organization in Pincher Creek and Fort Macleod, called Kids First Family Centre, which aims to enhance the participation of children and families in education, recreation and the arts, support healthy early childhood development supporting parents and provide food security for families. It serves these communities and the reserve, and works because of the willingness to help out, the success of which Morrison attributed to “good practices all around”.
While in an ideal world, every kid will be going to school with a stomach full from a happy diet, some councillors believe that it is more important is their school work isn’t suffering because they are hungry.
“The thing is the kids are key to our future,” said Dwight Tolton, M.D. councillor. “It’ll be good to have them fully educated and developed.”
Ultimately, it will be up to the school community who will be running the meal program, once a program is given the go-ahead and is put in place, on what gets put on the menu, but Morrison said that they might change their stance on it.
“How you used to coach certain things, coaching practices have evolved. Someone who played a sport 30 years ago, and is coaching the way they were coached, they might need a little bit of updating,” said Morrison as an example. “Hot dogs and chips might be good right now to fill the gap, but if that’s a behaviour that they learn and that’s what they get used to, will that continue or will we want to establish some good habits? It’s trying to play all the angles, what’s best.
“You never get what’s best, you just get what’s close to it, hopefully.”