Did you know that school nutrition programs are feeding 800,000 children each day? That’s about 1 in 6 kids.
What’s one of the things we try to ensure for our kids in the morning as parents? It’s that they eat a good breakfast. I’ll skip the hair brushing but won’t let them skip a meal. This isn’t the case for all kids.
The more I’ve been learning about The Grocery Foundation and school nutrition programs, the more my heart tightens. There are various reasons why kids are using the programs, and thank goodness they have these options. We all know what it’s like sitting through a work meeting or trying to hit a deadline with empty stomachs, but imagine being a child and not having a choice in that matter.
The Grocery Foundation will be raising money at participating grocery stores in Ontario from February 4-February 18 with their Toonies for Tummies campaign. All it takes is a toonie at the check out to help contribute, however, read on. You may find you are inspired to do even more.
One of the initiatives that peeked my interest is the Toonies for Tummies Agents of Change Summit being hosted this winter. The Grocery Foundation will be bringing together a number of high school students to discuss the importance of nutrition and kids. Not only will industry leaders be present, but the students will be speaking at the summit on a variety of topics and how they want to help direct the future of health and nutrition not only in their schools but in our country.
I had the chance to speak with one of those students recently. Khadeeja is a part of an IB program here in Ottawa and is attending the Summit. She began volunteering at her school’s breakfast club after taking a nutrition class and becoming interested in how important nutrition is in the lives of everyone, especially kids. Her school’s breakfast club feeds 80-120 students each day which represents a significant portion of the entire school population. She thinks the reason some students need to use the program varies – from lack of food at home, stressful situations, choosing not to eat when they first wake up, and weight concerns/food avoidance. All of these reasons are so important to discuss, and while I won’t be touching on them in this post, I think it’s worth noting that there are many factors in play here worthy of attention.
Khadeeja did her own nutrition survey at school in preparation for her Summit presentation and discovered that her fellow students aren’t realizing the importance of nutrition on their health.
“Children think the breakfast club is important, yet they do not know why it is important.”
-Khadeeja, Grade 12, Ottawa
Khadeeja’s hope is that schools begin implementing mandatory courses for nutrition that are not electives but that all students participate in. She hopes to see the interest and attention rise in schools similar to athletic programs and cited ideas like cooking competitions to help bolster these programs. She points out that after high school, as students become adults and live on their own, there won’t be anyone ensuring they are eating well. Lack of education about good nutrition will be a problem.
At her presentation in Toronto for the Summit, she will be discussing diversity and multiculturism and how food brings so many of us together. How the sharing of food, and food culture, is an important aspect in the lives of many students at her school. I think this is something many of us can relate to as our family histories are enriched by food.
How can we help?
Parents, for those of us who have younger kids we know that we get to help them eat healthy. Are we doing enough to help support their education about why they should eat healthy too? Yes, we give them a fruit or vegetable with every meal, but are we telling them why? Are we making positive eating choices to model for them? Helping educate our children is one of our roles. But as Khadeeja told me, parents only play one role in teaching kids about nutrition. She feels school is an essential component in this.
Khadeeja wants to see a non-elective class introduced into the school system. However, she says, there needs to be an interest in it too. It can’t just be another class that students sit in and try to get a passing grade for, but something that excites them.
The integration of eating well into a child’s daily life is something she hopes to see. She feels that learning to cook is a skill that carries through life, and is just as important (or more important) than other lessons kids are being taught in class.
As we closed our discussion, Khadeeja left me with one thought that has really stuck with me. She really hopes that after the Summit there continues to be a dialogue about changes. She worries that while people talk about change often, actualizing it doesn’t always happen and she wonders about the next steps. This is important for all of us to think about.
“Without it, we will be left with a generation that has food disorders and complications because of nutrition.” She says.
For More Information
Want to learn more about The Grocery Foundation and how you can help Toonies for Tummies between February 4 and 18? Visit their website. You’ll also find a list of participating grocers where you can make a donation.
If you are on Twitter, hop onto the two-part Twitter Chat on February 2 for more discussion.
Disclosure: I was compensated for this post, however, as always, opinions are my own and choosing to support this project was an easy decision. It was a pleasure speaking with Kadeeja and I hope all the students at the Summit continue to inspire change.